A drive along the northern shores of Lake Winnipesaukee through the lakeside communities seems innocent enough – country roads, little town centers, and a smattering of shops and restaurants. But the reality is that there is a trove of history tucked around every bend in the road. Stop in the village of Moultonborough, sit on the wooden bench outside The Old Country Store, and let me recount for you a tale about the man after whom the town is named.
Late one night General Jonathan Moulton was nodding off as he sat by his fireplace contemplating his financial woes. He had been a very prosperous man but now was struggling. He glanced towards the chimneypiece and was surprised to see a figure sitting on a corner bench. “Who the devil are you?” he demanded. In answer, the visitor threw flaming coals into a mug of rum and drained the blazing liquid. The general now knew the devil had come to visit him “dressed in his Saturday night best, black velvet and all, with an orchid stuck through his buttonhole.” What ensued was a lengthy dialogue between the devil and General Moulton whereby the general sold his soul to devil in exchange for a monthly ration of gold coins to be measured by filling the general’s boots (Wilkin, Winnipesaukee Whoppers, 1949).
After the devil departed, the general, known to be a wily businessman, came up with a plan. “I’ll fool the old buzzard!” he muttered gleefully. Buying the largest boots he could find and cutting a hole in the soles, he nailed the boots over holes in the wooden floor. When the devil came to make good on their agreement, the coins dropped through the boots and into the cellar below. The devil, discovering the deception, promptly burnt the house to the ground. Trapped in his cellar filled with coins, that was the end of Jonathan Moulton (Wilkin).
This is only a small slice of the stories surrounding the legendary namesake of Moultonborough. In the mid 1700s, General Moulton had led a group of settlers from Hampton, having successfully petitioned Masonian Proprietors for part of the ungranted lands in the province. The land encompassing Moultonborough was first chartered in 1763 and is described as “running along the northerly shore of Winnepisseoky Pond, and including a neck and point of land running into the pond.” The party of settlers included other members of the Moulton family (nhes.nh.gov/Moultonborough). As another story goes, Moulton was very friendly with British Governor Wentworth, who controlled the royal province. One day Moulton marched his fattest ox to Portsmouth as a gift to the governor. “The 1,400-pound beast, draped in flowers…could not have been missed by the jealous locals” (Robinson, The Devilish Fall of General Moulton, seacoastnh.com). Pleased with the gift, the governor granted Moulton an additional 18,000 acres of land near Moultonborough. General Moulton “was one of the country’s first big real estate speculators, turning ten’s of thousands of Lakes Region land into New Hampshire towns in what is today the Moultonborough area” (Robinson).
Moultonborough abuts Sandwich to the north, Tuftonboro to the south, and Center Harbor to the west. The town has 60.0 square miles of land area and 15.0 square miles of inland water area (nhes.nh.gov/Moultonborough). It is one of eight towns with shorefront on Lake Winnipesaukee, but it is unique among its neighbors in that its shorefront includes many “fingers” of land that jut out into the lake, allowing for countless surprising spots to situate a home or cabin. The main waterfront areas are along the so-called “Neck.” Down the length of the Neck, Moultonborough Neck Road eventually leads to a short bridge and onto Long Island, which covers about 1,200 acres. This is Winnipesaukee’s largest island and one of only 5 bridged islands on the lake (s21794.p694.sites.pressdns.com/longisland). The early history of the island mostly revolves around farming. At one point the wheat farmed there was purchased by the Federal Government and shipped to farmers in the western half of the US because it was of such high quality. Another farmer, John Brown, developed King Philip Corn on his Long Island property. For 50 years he held the record in NH for the quantity of corn per acre produced (lwhs.us/moult-windermerejewel.htm).
General Moulton may have found himself well at home in one of Moultonborough’s most unique spots. Positioned high in the Ossipee Mountain Range is Castle in the Clouds, also known as Lucknow. Built in 1913-14 by manufacturing millionaire Thomas Plant, the castle is an arresting example of Arts and Crafts architecture and commands mighty views of Lake Winnipesaukee and the mountains. Today it is set up just as it would have been in the early 1900s. The castle has become a popular and intriguing venue for weddings, rehearsal dinners, reunions, fund raisers, and a variety of other functions. There are also many special events such as stargazing, yoga on “Wellness Wednesdays,” and “Jazz at Sunset.” For more information on the castle and its events, visit castleintheclouds.org.
As you sit on the porch of The Old Country Store in Moultonborough village, realize these grounds too are connected to Jonathan Moulton. The building sits on a parcel of land he sold to Samuel Burnham in 1777. The store has been there since 1781. At that, it may be one of the oldest in the US. The building has served as town meeting hall, library, and post office during its 235-year history. The best way to enjoy this distinctive establishment is to wander though its rooms across the wide uneven floorboards. There are things old and new – collectibles, toys, penny candy, clothes, maple products, pickles, books, maps, fudge, gadgets, aged cheddar, and much more. Additional information can be found at nhcountrystore.com.
Now it is time to climb back into your car and continue to explore the beautiful area and colorful history of Moultonborough. Just don’t make any deals with the devil along the way.
This post was written by Mary O’Neill.