St. John's on-the-Lake, a vibrant worship space for 90 years


MEREDITH — Those who have been to Bear Island for more than a brief visit have probably explored the hiking trails that lead from the shoreline to the wooded interior. Soon, the trail begins to climb toward the island's highest point, where the tall pines give way to a grassy clearing, and at the center, a small stone chapel sits attached to an observation tower. St. John's on-the-Lake is an active place of worship, and this summer the chapel is celebrating its 90th year.

The association that manages the chapel held a birthday celebration following the service on July 23. Celebrants enjoyed cake and iced tea, and had a chance to have John Hopper sign copies of his history of the building, "The Bear Island Chapel," published this year by Lilac Printing of Rochester.

In his introduction, Hopper writes that the chapel was built on the site of the island's first farmhouse, and that the farm's stone walls still lay across the island like stings of pearls.

"The St. John's on-the-Lake Chapel has become an iconic symbol for generations of people who summer in the Lakes Region," writes Hopper. "...The Chapel has endured and prospered through 90 years of changing times and generations. It is a living time capsule, containing reminders of those who built it as well as all of those who ventured through the woods to its doors. No visit to the island is really complete without a hike to St. John's. It is the embodiment of spirituality, in whatever way one finds that in his or her life, and the Chapel remains today a vibrant, thriving place of worship. While the old farmer's walls serve as monuments to the earliest settlers, the Chapel is the enduring testament to all who came afterwards."

As Hopper relates in his book, the creation of St. John's was the idea of Bishop Edward Melville Parker of the Protestant Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, who selected the location because the 60-foot tall observation tower made it a site already frequented by summer visitors. Parker was joined in his effort by the Rev. Kenneth Ripley Forbes, an Episcopal minister who purchased a summer home on Birch Island in 1922. Parker began the process of purchasing the land for the chapel, but died before the transaction could be completed. His successor, Bishop John Dallas, purchased the lot on Sept. 2, 1926. The lot includes 110 feet of frontage in Deep Cove, which is the southwestern shore of the island, and which is where the association continues to maintain docking for a handful of boats.

By June of 1927, a fundraising effort had succeeded in collecting $4,482 for the church. Ground was broken on the construction project in May of that year, and the chapel was complete by the end of that summer. Though a remarkably fast construction, the building has proved its quality in the decades since. James P. Leighton, of Center Harbor, was the builder, employing nearby field stones to build the walls and placing screens in the windows. Leaded glass windows were added later. The total cost of construction was $6,000.

Though founded by Episcopalians, the chapel was envisioned from the very beginning to be a place for all to worship, regardless of denomination. That tradition continues to today, with Sunday services led by a rotating cast of visiting pastors.

In fact, not much at all has changed inside the doors of St. John's since its first services held nine decades ago. There's no electrical service to the building, so illumination is provided by candles and sunlight streaming in through the windows. Congregants – there's room for about 70 – sit on wooden folding chairs.

Musical accompaniment is provided by a 19th century pump organ, although the chapel's current organist is unable to provide services this summer. On Sunday, the Rev. Robin Stoller played her flute in the organ's stead.

Sharon Doyle, president of the St. John's Association, said that casual attire has always been the norm for the chapel. And, well-behaved dogs are welcome in the sanctuary, even during services.

"That's been a feature of the church since the beginning – the dogs, the Bermuda shorts... It was really about friends who wanted to get together and be together in worship," she said. "That casual atmosphere has always been a feature of the church. You can't help it, you're coming in a boat!"

Although church attendance is declining across the country, and especially in New England, Doyle said that St. John's will regularly see around 50 people each Sunday, and will reach its capacity a couple of times each year. And, the church has its devotees who have never even attended a service. It's not unusual for the association to receive donations from people who simply enjoy hiking up to the clearing and sitting for a few moments in the building's clearing."

"It is one of those things, it's the highest place on the island, it's the place where hte first settler built his homestead, it's where the tower is, it's a natural place to hike to," Doyle said. "It's an experince almost everyone has of going through the woods and coming to this clearing and there's this beatuiful stone chapel.

"I think people have a great deal of affection for the chapel... I think it will be here 100 years from now, I hope."


07 28 St. Johns Association

The St. John's on-the-Lake Association, in the front row: Rip Forbes, Mike Taranto, Carmel Hanson, Jim Hanson, Sharon Doyle Marjorie Burdette, Linda Hopper, Barbara Griscom, Margie Kreitler. In the back row: Ellen Nelson, Paul Nelson, Reverend Phil Polhemus, Nancy Scanlon, Tom Scanlon, Leslie Hopper Keeler, John Hopper. Missing from photo: Hal and Karin Lyon, Dave and Cyndy Mernick, Dwight and Norma Keeler, Doffy Falk, Patti Jean Collins, Valerie and Richard Cross. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun photo)


07 28 St. Johns Interior

Sharon Doyle, St. John's Association president, welcomes congregants prior to the service on July 23. The experience of worshiping at St. John's, located at the highest point on Bear Island, hasn't changed much over the past 90 years. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)


07 28 St. Johns Exterior

St. John's on-the-Lake, which is marking its 90th year, was built onto a 60-foot observation tower that once offered commanding views of Winnipesaukee. Today, the view from the tower is obscured by pine trees, but people still hike to visit the chapel. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

Antique Boat Show at Wolfeboro docks on July 29

WOLFEBORO — The poster for the 44th annual Lake Winnipesaukee Antique and Classic Boat Show, which will be held Saturday at the Wolfeboro Town Docks, depicts a gathering of boats in the 1950s for a picnic at a beach on Ragged Island, now a Lakes Region Conservation Trust property.

Alton artist Peter Ferber, who has been creating boat show posters since 1994, said the boats depicted are a 1953 35-foot Chris Craft Commander cabin cruiser, a 1934 30-foot Hutchinson Sedan, a 1950 18-foot Chris Craft Sportsman, and a 1941 30-foot Gar Wood Commuter.

In the background are Mt. Shaw and Bald Knob.

The 11.4 acre island, which has one mile of shoreline and is located between Little Bear Island and Cow Island, has an interesting history. It was acquired by the LRCT from the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center in 2007 and is open to the public with a hiking trail around the island and educational programs, including a nature guide for the trail.

Wheeler and Jane Beckett owned the island for more than forty years, purchasing it, along with Little Ragged, from Alice E. Lilly on October 1, 1936.

Wheeler Beckett was a world renown composer and conductor, working for Richmond Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic Orchestra and San Francisco Symphony.

At one time there was a studio on the north end of the island, where Beckett's grand piano was located as well as other buildings, including a main lodge, a kitchen and dining room, as well as a boathouse. Most of those buildings are now gone.

The Becketts owned the island until they sold it on 1978.

The Winnipesaukee Antique and Classic Boat Show, held in Wolfeboro for the first time last year, drew 58 entries, the largest number in four years, and featured classic wooden boats from earlier eras, including marques such as Chris Craft, Garwood, Hackercraft and Century.
The show had been held at the public docks at Weirs Beach in Laconia for nearly 30 years, starting in 1974, and was moved to the Meredith town docks in 2003.

In 1993, after almost 20 years of producing an annual Weirs Boat Show advertising flyer, which usually pictured the previous year's Best of Show winner, Phil Spencer of Wolfeboro accepted the challenge of the chapter's board of directors to improve the show posters. Phil, a local boat restorer and past president of the chapter, contacted Ferber, whose works were becoming well respected and included many scenes featuring boats. Ferber was very enthusiastic about the prospect of perhaps memorializing each year some aspect of antique and classic boating in New England and said, "I've been waiting for your call to do this."
In 2009, Ferber began working with the then Boat Show chairman Bill John, owner of the Vintage Boat Shop in Wolfeboro, to more closely tie the poster with the current boat show and use it as a marketing tool to promote each show.

The posters featured a different line of boats each year, set in a scenic, historic setting on beautiful Lake Winnipesaukee. The series so far has featured Garwood, Chris Craft, Hacker, Century and Lyman.
Ferber, whose family owned a summer camp on Sewall Road in Wolfeboro, where he spent his summers while growing up, said he has always been fascinated by Lake Winnipesaukee and its scenic beauty and serene landscapes.

The boat show has its roots in the Roaring Twenties and those years in which pleasure boating really started to come of age. There were hundreds of boats that came to Lake Winnipesaukee, and in the 1930s organized racing among the high-powered runabouts on the lake became big events, attracting national news media and thousands of spectators. Speedboat rides were big business by the late '40s, and it was during that time many of those attending the show experienced the thrill of their first ride in one of these mahogany beauties. The Miss Winnipesaukee speedboats, which made daily trips out of Irwin's Winnipesaukee Gardens, were some of the '20s vintage craft offering "thrill rides" on the lake.
The Winnipesaukee Antique and Classic Boat Show began because Jim Irwin of Irwin Winnipesaukee Gardens and Irwin Marine and Vince Callahan, owner of Channel Marine at the Weirs, business competitors and friends for years, attended the Clayton New York Antique Boat Show in 1973. It was clear to them that the preservation of old boats was an exciting thing that could best be achieved through a boat show. They started planning that summer and fall and the result was the inaugural Northeastern Antique and Classic Boat Show in 1974.
Jim Irwin wrote of that first show: "Under sunny skies on beautiful lake Winnipesaukee, nestled at the foot of the New Hampshire White Mountains, the dream of two local boat dealers came true. The show displayed over 50 power boats, creating all the color and nostalgia of yesteryear. Vince Callahan and I put together an 'in the water' show that delighted thousands of spectators and old boat lovers. Working directly with city officials, the public docks at the Weirs became the stage for a wide variety of beautiful wooden boat masterpieces.''
In 1976, the New England Chapter of the Antique and Classic Boat Society was formed as a result of gathering at the Boston Boat Show when a group of wooden boat enthusiasts gathered in admiration around a couple of show winning woodies: Ted Larter's "Scotty Too" Goldcup Racer and Ray Hawe's prized possession, 18-foot Garwood "Norma Jean."
In the years following the formation of the chapter, the boat show became its major event, with Jim and Vince providing valued direction and support. The show was a competitive one from the beginning, with numerous classes, a panel of judges, and sometime had special featured race boat events. Consequently it developed a prestigious reputation. Only one year in its history, 1980, did it try a new approach — no judging.
Despite dire predictions of failure without judging and awards, 85 boats registered and the quality was as good as ever. A truly successful event, proving that giving antique boat owners a chance they'll show up even if there are no judges.

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A poster by Alton artist Peter Ferber depicts a scene from Ragged Island in the 1950s when the island was owned by composer and conductor Wheeler Beckett. (Courtesy photo)

No place to skate


07 28 BrendanHart GlennHartMemorial RosieHilyer

Brendan Hart sits at the locked gate of the Glenn Hart Memorial Skate Park in Meredith. (Courtesy photo/Rosie Hilyer)

Skateboard parks in Laconia and Meredith in need of rebuilding


MEREDITH — Skateboarding may be on the rise internationally after being confirmed as an Olympic sport due to debut in the 2020 summer Olympics. However, within the Lakes Region the sport has suffered the deterioration of the local skate parks.
With a lack of resources available to keep the Meredith skate park maintained, the Glenn Hart Memorial Skate Park has become a shadow of what it once was. The wooden elements have become weathered and the metal frames rusted, which has left the park looking decrepid and unappealing, according to Brendan Hart, son of the man the park was built to honor.
Recognizing that the skate park would not fix itself overnight, Hart began a GoFundMe campaign earlier this summer to raise money for full park renovation. The goal of the initiative is to raise a portion of the money needed to build a concrete skate park, and assist the town in finding ways to extend hours of supervision, which the park requires in order to operate. If these goals are achieved, the park will not only once again properly honor Glenn Hart, but will also be a place where local skaters can go to foster skills and passion.
“For me, it’s a combo of a good cause with a strong emotional appeal, and also a cause with a widespread appeal for the community to provide kids with a safe place to go and build a skill,” said Hart, who shared that he had grown up going to the skate park and wanted other kids to have the same experience.
As the campaign kicked off, it became apparent that the dream Hart had for the revitalization of the Glenn Hart Memorial Skatepark was mirrored by many others in the community. With over 100 donations made in the past month, the total amount of money raised has now reached $12,125, nearly halfway to the $25,000 goal set when launching the campaign.
The outpouring of support has not gone unnoticed by town officials, as Town Manager Phillip Warren Jr. has stated the town selectmen were receptive of the campaign, yet the full role they aim to take in the process will not be known until more funds are raised and a plan is proposed. Other community groups that have taken an interest in the campaign include the Meredith Rotary Club, according to Hart, who said he has been in correspondence with them during the recent weeks.
As more people have come forth and publicly supported the initiative, Hart became aware that others wanted to support the campaign, but wished to do so in other ways than a GoFundMe campaign. So, to address this request Hart has now made it possible for people to send donations to Friends of Meredith Parks and Recreation, which can be mailed to the Meredith Parks and Recreation, 1 Circle Drive, Meredith, NH, 03253 Attn: Vint Choiniere.  
In addition to donations, community members are encouraged to attend the fundraising dinner “Thanksgiving for Glenn: A Fundraiser for the Glenn Hart Memorial Skatepark,” which will be held at Hart’s Turkey Farm on Wednesday, August 30. During that evening, customers can present a flier when dining that recognizes they are there to raise money for the skate park and 15 percent of their check will be donated toward the campaign. Fliers will be made available in the coming weeks.
“I hope my dad would be proud of me,” said Hart. “Not just for honoring him, but trying to do something nice for the community.”
Even with fundraising initiatives in full throttle, Hart recognizes that it is going to take some time for enough money to be raised to build a proper park. Ultimately, Hart hopes through the collaboration of the community donations, town funding and support from other community groups, the required $100,000 for a concrete park will be met in a timely manner.
Unfortunately, the neighboring city of Laconia has become an example of what the Meredith Skate Park could become if action is not taken. This summer season, the Laconia Skatepark has been closed due to the extreme weathering of elements, which has left them splintered and unsafe for people to use.
Another local skateboarder, Tom Missert, had grown up at the Laconia Skate Park and spearheaded initiatives to save the park before it was forced to close. Yet, due to the lack of financial support and reception from the community, Missert was unable to produce enough money to repair the half-pipe, the only element that was open for operation last summer.
Because of this, the Laconia Skatepark will remain closed through the end of this season and most likely the next. There are actions being taken by the city to eventually reopen the park, according to Kevin Dunleavy, director of recreation and facilities for Laconia Parks and Recreation.
“The wooden elements are difficult to maintain and deteriorate during the winter months,” said Dunleavy. “What we need are professionally made elements made out of concrete.”
In order to fund the concrete elements, Dunleavy has filed a capital improvement request for $75,000, which will be reviewed in 2018. Although this request could potentially be approved, it could also be shot down, said Dunleavy. To better the chances of the request going through, Dunleavy suggests that a nonprofit be formed that can start raising outside funds like Hart has done in Meredith.
Dunleavy further suggested that surrounding communities might want to consider building a regional skate park, which will make the construction and maintenance affordable for all communities.
Although the skate park revitalization projects in Meredith and Laconia still have a long way to go, other communities, such as Nashua, have rallied around their local skate park and successfully kept it open for their local youth. Recognizing that it was not easy to keep the park open, the outcry of people who showed up to city meetings to vouch for the positive contribution the park had for the community made a large difference, according to a spokesperson for the Nashua Skatepark.
The local voices that have spoken out advocating for the local skate parks can be found as part of the Glenn Hart Memorial Skate Park GoFundMe campaign at or on the Laconia Skate Park Facebook page.

07 28 wood skate park

Wooden ramps like this one have not held up well under the harsh weather conditions New Hampshire experiences. Brendan Hart in Meredith and Kevin Dunleavy in Laconia agree that concrete ramps would make better replacements. (Courtesy photo/Rosie Hilyer)