Lots of Lakes Region memories in charred remains of Woodshed restaurant

MOULTONBOROUGH — The fire that destroyed The Woodshed restaurant on Thanksgiving night also destroyed one of the more noted landmarks in this small town at the top of Lake Winnipesaukee.

From some of the autographed pictures of stars of stage and screen who came through the Lakes Region to the old open-style, barn-like architecture with its open wooden beams and wood walls, many memories were lost to the entire region in Thursday's blaze.

"It made a big star on the map of Moultonborough," said Road Agent Scott Kimmond, who remembered the restaurant as one his family's favorite places to eat.

"The last time my whole family was together was my mother's 70th birthday and we ate there. It was her favorite place," he said.

According to WMUR television , six fire departments battled the blaze throughout most of late Thursday night through Friday morning. At 10 a.m. yesterday, the structure was still smoking heavily and at least one firetruck remained on the scene.

The restaurant had been open for Thanksgiving dinner and had closed at 6 p.m., said chef Scott Ouellette who is one of the four co-owners. He said he received a call at 9:45 p.m. and when he arrived, the building was completely engulfed in flames.

He said there were no employees or customers in the building and was grateful no one was hurt. "A lot of employees will be out of work during the holidays," said Ouellette.

According to Norman Atkinson, the webmaster of the Moultonborough Historical Society, the first commercial use of the circa 1800s farmhouse was in the early 1960s when Kathleen Wright used it as the Star Haven Doll Shop.

Atkinson said The Woodshed Restaurant was started in the early 1970s by Dick and Geraldine "Jerry" Tower.

Jerry Tower said her and her late husband got the idea for The Woodshed when they were visiting friends in Wickenburg, Arizona and they went to Pinnacle Peak in Scottsdale.

"It was cowboy steaks and potatoes all cooked outside," she said. "Dick said he thought it would be a great idea for Moultonborough."

She said they bought the house in 1954 and started cleaning out the barn in 1971 for use as a restaurant, even bringing pieces of other barns made with wooden pegs to expand the area. Gradually, she said the lower part of the house became part of the dining area.

She said the cleaning and construction of the restaurant took two years and they opened in 1973. She said they had to have six entrees to qualify for a N.H. State liquor license and prime rib was the noted house specialty.

"We cooked the prime rib outside," she said. "On Thanksgiving, I remember Dick cooking the turkeys outside on a spit."

Jerry said she was "too sad" to drive by Lee Road yesterday and said her son advised against it. She said she had some wonderful memories of the property that include raising her two sons there and having one of her son's wedding on the front lawn.

She said celebrities often came to the Woodshed when the Winnipesaukee Playhouse was open. She remembers Jack Cassidy, who she said was "such a handsome man" who would tell her that he didn't want anyone to know he was there.

"Of course all that changed after a few martinis," she said.

Jerry remembers selling The Woodshed in 1975 to a Massachusetts couple who later sold it to Lyn Seley and Bob Fee who also ran it as The Woodshed for years.

Bruce Garry lives less than one-half mile away from the restaurant on Lee Road. He said yesterday that he smelled smoke but thought it was someone's wood stove.

When he saw the television news, he said he and his wife went to the top floor of their house and could see smoke and flames pouring from the area.

Garry said one of the things he remembers about the establishment is the Rusty Hinge Bar and the drink call Skip and Go Naked.

"It had rum, fruit, whatever," he said, remembering that the bartenders had made jugs of it ahead of time and that there was a pin or a badge for finishing one.

"I just lived down the road," he said. "I could walk home."

The Skip and Go Naked was the brainchild of Fee and Seley, the people who operated the Woodshed from 1979 until 2008.

"I saw (the restaurant) the first time during the blizzard of 1978," Seley said yesterday, noting they bought it in April and opened in late May.

"For me it was perfect," Seley said. She lived there until the 1980s when the couple moved. She mostly remembered all of the life-long friends that were made at The Woodshed.

She told one story about a New Jersey couple who came to Melvin Village for vacation and stumbled upon the restaurant. She said they saw the sign on the highway and drove down the road, thinking they really were in the "middle of nowhere."

When they came upon a full parking lot, they were shocked. She said they came in and ended up being seated next to Henry Fonda, who was a regular there along with his daughter and Kathryn Hepburn during the filming of "On Golden Pond".

Seley said there were a number of other celebrities like Sean Penn and Robin Wright who ate there and politicians such as Sen. Bob Dole "but they were such a small part of what The Woodshed really was."

For her and Fee it was the hundreds of local customers, thousands of tourists, and the many students who worked there during their college years that bring back the fondest and most wistful memories.

Some of them have reached out to her through Facebook yesterday to console her and to remember the good times. "Now I know why I have Facebook," she said.

She saw people meet and later get married, watched their children grow up and said the real legacy of The Woodshed is a being an integral part of the Moultonborough and Lake Winnipesaukee community.

"I remember one couple getting married there and when their daughter turned 21, serving her her first Skip and Go Naked," she said. "Twenty-nine years is a long time."

Lyn said she and Fee drove by the fire site and were "broken-hearted" by what they saw.

Both Seley and Tower said they had heard good things about the latest incarnation of The Woodshed and hope that by some miracle the new owners can rebuild.

But they both also acknowledged that the real history and charm of The Woodshed was in the hearts and minds of the many people — many of them life-long friends — who made it so successfully and so enjoyable for so many years.