07-18 RE Bear Island

Bear Island. (Courtesy photo)

LAKE WINNIPESAUKEE — Home to over 72 square miles of immense beauty. When you ask most people about their favorite experience on the lake, they usually respond with memories of shimmering red sunsets, the scent of pine trees and campfires, evening boat cruises to Wolfeboro and Meredith, or hot summer days anchored in one of many protected coves. The lake includes 288 miles of shoreline and 63 miles of driving distance to drive around the lake. At 28 miles long and 9 ½ miles wide, it certainly is a “Big Lake” when you consider its deepest point is 212 feet southeast of Rattlesnake Island. There is a lot of water, estimated at 625 billion gallons.

What makes Winnipesaukee so interesting is the scope of its islands. How many islands are dotted on New Hampshire’s largest lake is a matter of debate. One source states there are 253; another says there are 244, and yet another claims there are 274. The disparity is due to the uncertain criteria for differentiating an island from a large rock such as Becky’s Garden. There are six islands connected to the mainland by bridges. Those included Long Island, Governors Island, Black Cat Island, Oak Island, Worcester Island and Christmas Island. The largest island is Long Island at 1,186 acres followed by Bear Island at 780 acres, Cow Island at 522 acres, Governors Island at 504 acres, Rattlesnake at 368 acres, Welch at 187 acres, Little Bear at 143 acres, Stonedam at 141 acres, Timber at 136 acres, Sleepers at 113 acres and Mark at 102 acres. There are approximately 226 islands with less than 10 acres.

When you look at how these islands have transitioned from their early years and how their rich history has changed, it leaves us all to wonder. For example, Bear Island, so named by Native American and explores who were shocked to come face to face with four ornery bears during a surveying expedition in early 1772, has transformed from its roots as an austere farming community to a seasonal vacation haven complete with a post office, summer camps, a church, and 192 seasonal homes. Some families have been on the island for multiple generations. Cow Island likewise has a colorful history having served as home to the first herd of Guernsey Cattle imported to America, as the site of a wind-powered Grist Mill and as the home to Camp Idlewild, the longest continuous running private boys camp in the United States which operated from 1891 until 1975. The Guernsey Cows were brought out to the island in 1831, and at one time, there was a herd of 40 Guernsey’s. Even Bob Montana, who was the brainchild behind the Archie Comic Strips, spent summer on the island putting together his comic strips. Today there are approximately 133 seasonal residences on Cow Island.

According to Heidi Kephart of Roche Realty Group, Inc and Treasurer of the Gilford Island Association, “there are 240 seasonal homes within the Gilford Islands comprising 19 unbridged islands. The best part of island living is there are no cars. Once you step onto your boat and head to the island, the rest of the world goes away.” It’s hard to say how many island residences have been constructed over the years. I know there are 66 homes on Welch, 57 on Barndoor, 66 on Black Cat, 21 on Diamond, and one individual estimated there are 826 residences on 206 non-bridged islands.

Living on an island does require some planning and logistics, unlike mainland waterfront. You have to transport people and materials, and you have to haul your rubbish back to the mainland. Your boat replaces your car; however, the peace and tranquility you experience is beyond belief. Most island properties rely on lake water for showering and cooking, and drinking water is brought out to the island. The water clarity, views, and privacy with large undeveloped centers of the island providing an ideal environment for hiking and exploring are definite pluses. Many of the larger islands provide underwater electrical and telephone service, and several of the larger islands have common parking/boat launch areas on the mainland as well as some of the towns like Gilford.

In summary, what makes Lake Winnipesaukee so unique in comparison to say Lake Tahoe is the intricacies of its islands and the ability to navigate through the picturesque settings that change regularly.

From January 2019 to today, there were a total of 32 island properties sold on Lake Winnipesaukee, ranging in price from $250,000-$1,050,000. The average selling price was $475,765. Currently, there are 13 properties on the market ranging in price from $349,000 - $1,499,000 with a median price of $695,000.

I can remember the first island property I sold was the castle on Sleeper Island at $74,000 that was back in the late 1970s. You can see from the above that the popularity of island living has increased dramatically over the years for an excellent reason.


This article was written by Frank Roche. Frank is president of Roche Realty Group with offices in Meredith and Laconia, NH, and can be reached at (603) 279-7046. Data was compiled by a NEREN map search on 07/17/2020 and is subject to change. Please feel free to visit www.rocherealty.com to learn more about the Lakes Region and its real estate market.

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