Many famous people have owned beautiful homes and estates in Wolfeboro over the years. One of the most interesting was Chiang Kai-shek. He was a Chinese political leader and a major figure in Chinese history from 1927 to 1948. His wife, Soong Mei-ling, often called Madame Chiang Kai-shek, was also prominent in the world scene. Time Magazine named the couple “Man and Woman of the Year” in 1938. In his “New Hampshire Commentary” blog, Dean Dexter says the couple “were what Tracy and Hepburn were to the movies of that era, or what Franklin and Eleanor were to a nation working itself out of the Great Depression.”
According to Nick Liptak’s article in The New Yorker, Madame Kai-shek maintained an estate in Wolfeboro until her death in 2003. When she visited she frequented the antique shops flanked by Chinese bodyguards. She was known to often play hostess to movie star Debra Paget and NH Senator Styles Bridges. Why is this so interesting? For one simple reason – here you have well-known figures from the other side of the world who chose to buy an estate in, of all places, Wolfeboro, NH.
Over the years, other famous people have owned houses in Wolfeboro – people who had the means to choose properties anywhere, such as Mitt Romney. In fact, Wolfeboro has become known for the celebrities it draws, from world and political leaders such as former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Monaco’s Prince Rainier and Princess Grace; to author Kurt Vonnegut; to a myriad of movie stars including Paul Newman, Farah Fawcett, Jack Lemmon, Sophia Loren, Jane and Henry Fonda, Drew Barrymore, Kirk Douglas, Jimmy Fallon, Dustin Hoffman, and many more. Maybe these people saw the same things the Kai-sheks saw. Maybe they saw the same things I see when I drive through Wolfeboro with my clients.
I recently sold a home to a couple moving to NH from the South. They visited Wolfeboro and three weeks later bought a house. As I took them through the main street, they instantly fell in love with the town. The best way to see a place you are familiar with is through the eyes of an outsider. When we show someone else the best parts of where we live, we truly begin to appreciate them ourselves. We can only speculate as to the thoughts the town of Wolfeboro has invoked in outsiders. But at the same time, pointing to the beauty of the unspoiled surroundings and the Dickens-like town would be a safe guess. Wolfeboro looks every bit as charming as Malton in North Yorkshire, the town which inspired Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. When I drove through downtown with my Southern clients, they were greeted by the enormous Christmas tree in front of Black’s Paper & Gifts. Classic wreaths and swags, ribbons and bows, adorned the storefronts. Behind multi-pane store windows sparkled lively and colorful holiday displays. All the houses in downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods were decked with traditional Christmas garlands, festoons, and lights.
Wolfeboro traces its history back to 1759 and many are familiar with its claim to be “the oldest summer resort in America.” It is a classic New England town. The meticulous grounds of Brewster Academy greet you as you drive in from the east. Apart from being a well-respected preparatory school with students from over 20 countries, Brewster is the site for numerous Gordon Research Conferences, which are prestigious international meetings for scientists.
Wolfeboro has no big box stores, franchises, or tacky florescent signs. The main street is dotted with bookstores, art galleries, cafés, pubs, bistros, and restaurants. There are unique shops, some with NH products, including Kalled Gallery, Wolfeboro Casuals, Hampshire Pewter, Back Bay Clothing, The Art Place, and many more.
The backdrop for main street is Lake Winnipesaukee. Picturesque town docks allow boating visitors from all points on the lake to enjoy downtown. On any day in the summer you will see all types of boats lined up. Getting an ice cream at Bailey’s Bubble on the docks is a long-standing tradition. The Wolfeboro Community Bandstand, located in Cate Park on the shores of the lake, provides music under the stars on Saturday evenings in the summer. At the Kingswood Arts Center, the non-profit Great Waters Music Festival, founded in 1995 by Dr. Gerald Mack, brings together professional and amateur musicians and offers a varied program of musical styles. The award-winning Klickety-Klack Railroad is a model railroad and hobby shop. It has been featured in Yankee Magazine and WMUR-TV and has more than 70 trains that visitors can operate themselves. The Wright Museum of World War II received 5 star ratings and the 2015 Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor®. For over 20 years, this museum has impressed and moved visitors with its display of tanks, model aircraft carriers, exhibits about life in the military, and WWII paraphernalia. Wolfeboro Inn is an enchanting stay overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee, and it delights its guests with a quintessential lodging experience. It also houses Wolfe’s Tavern, which is one of the only authentic New England pubs in the Lakes Region.
For a small town in central NH, Wolfeboro has much to offer residents and visitors alike. Though Wolfeboro properties can certainly draw big numbers, particularly for the choicest waterfront locations, in reality the town is a place everyone can enjoy. In 2015, the average selling price for a home in Wolfeboro was $259,781. The former Kai-shek estate was situated on a stretch of shore that was redeveloped under the name Embassy Estates, which today is considered one of the best neighborhoods in Wolfeboro. Current homes for sale in this neighborhood range from $459,000 to nearly 5 million. As a point of interest, the estate President Sarkozy stayed in sold last year for $8,979,000. This 17,000 square foot manor included a 3-bay boat house, 7 acres, and 645 feet of shorefront.
As a realtor, I am constantly traveling along the same roads throughout the entire Lakes Region. A common phenomenon could occur if I let it: an indifference to the beauty surrounding me as I drift down the road. I could miss the expansive views of lakes and mountains, ever-changing foliage, quaint New England towns and homes, and glimpses of wildlife. The next time you travel along accustomed routes, remember to take the time to see the passing scenes through the eyes of an outsider – the Kai-sheks, Romneys, and the rest. You may have a change in your perspective of those familiar places.
This post was written by Mary O’Neill.