John Wingate Weeks Estate
Location: Off Route 3, Lancaster
Activities: Hiking, picnicking
Amenities: Historic stone fire tower and picnic tables are found here.
The Weeks State Park Association hosts a series of weekly summer programs related to the north country of New Hampshire. The programs, which are free and open to the public, are held Thursday evenings at 7:00pm, from June 26 through August 28.
Acreage: 420 acres
Pets: Pets are not permitted at state historic sites.
The Mt. Prospect estate was built at the direction of John Wingate Weeks, leading conservationist, U.S. congressman, U.S. senator, and secretary of war under presidents Harding and Coolidge. Set at the very top of Mt. Prospect, in Lancaster, New Hampshire, the house and grounds provide a 360-degree panorama of mountain splendor, including the Presidential Range of the White Mountains, the Green Mountains of Vermont, the Kilkenny Range, the Percy Peaks, and the upper Connecticut River Valley.
Built as a summer retreat and as a testament to Weeks' affection for the locale of his ancestry and birth, the Mt. Prospect estate typifies a spirit of private land conservation often seen in New Hampshire at the turn of the century. At that time, many of the state's less profitable farms were being abandoned. These were often purchased by private investors who preserved and maintained the land; the Weeks estate was part of this conservation movement. In 1910 Weeks bought several farms on Mt. Prospect, including the land at the summit. The Weeks estate is one of the best preserved of many grand summer homes built in New Hampshire during this period.
In horse and carriage days, a mountain-top retreat in New Hampshire would not have been practical for most Washington politicians. But, Senator Weeks took advantage of the new freedom offered by the age of the automobile. Before constructing the house, Weeks first built a new auto road to the summit of Mt. Prospect, replacing an earlier carriage way.
Because of Secretary Weeks' prominent role on the national scene, his house became the setting for many distinguished gatherings after it was completed in 1913. Among the more prominent guests was President Warren Harding, who visited for several days in 1921.
The main house, called the "lodge," is built of fieldstone and stucco; its gable roof is covered with red terra cotta tiles. The lodge is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The plan and form of the house are mostly original and its architectural style is not easily defined.
The most outstanding feature of the house is the thirty by seventy foot (9.1 by 21.3 meters) living room which makes up the entire second floor. Its many large picture windows are most unusual for the era. Balconies take full advantage of the lodge's mountain-top setting, providing dramatic views of the surrounding scenery. Massive fieldstone fireplaces stand at either end of the living room. According to one popular story, the large moose head over the west fireplace was a gift from President Theodore Roosevelt. The floor and trim in the room, as well as the original furniture, are dark oak. Signed photographs of many dignitaries are displayed on the walls; among them are William Taft, Herbert Hoover, Theodore Roosevelt, and Marshall Joffre of France.
On the ground floor, the dining room lies to the right of the main entrance hall. The dining table and chairs are those used by the Weeks family. The red tile floor is also original.
The area to the left of the entrance hall formerly contained six bedrooms. In 1966 it was converted to a display area for exhibits tracing the history of forestry and conservation in New Hampshire. It also houses an impressive mounted bird collection.
The fieldstone tower in front of the house, listed in the National Historic Lookout Register, was originally built as both an observatory and water tower. At 56 feet (17m) high, its observation deck affords expansive views of the New Hampshire and Vermont countryside. One of Weeks' motives for erecting the tower and for building the road to the summit, was to ensure that local residents and visitors could enjoy the spectacular views from the top of Mt. Prospect. In 1941 a fire observatory was added to the top of the tower, which is maintained by the N.H. Division of Forests and Lands.
John Wingate Weeks (1860-1926) was born in Lancaster, New Hampshire and raised on a local farm. After graduating from the Naval Academy at Annapolis, he spent two years in the navy, became a land surveyor in Florida, and then returned to New England where he helped establish the well-known brokerage firm, Hornblower and Weeks, in Boston. Following several years in local government, he was elected in 1904 as the U.S. representative for Newton, Massachusetts, and was appointed U.S. senator from Massachusetts in 1913.
At the Republican convention in 1916, Weeks was put forward as a possible presidential candidate, but did not receive the nomination. He later served as secretary of war (1921 - 1925) under presidents Harding and Coolidge.
After resigning this job due to failing health, Weeks returned to his home on Mt. Prospect, satisfying a deep desire to spend his last days in beloved surroundings. He died in the lodge on July 12, 1926. President Coolidge wrote about Weeks, "He was blessed with wisdom and discretion, great energy and deep patriotism. He had about him, the vigor of the hills combined with the culture of the city."
Weeks is best known for his efforts at establishing the eastern national forest system. In the early 1900s all the forest lands in the eastern half of the United States were privately owned, and many were in poor condition. There were no national forests in the east, and the government was not empowered to purchase private lands. Congress finally passed the Appalachian-White Mountains Forest Reservation Bill in 1911, largely due to the efforts of Representative Weeks. The "Weeks Law" authorized the federal government to purchase lands to be "permanently reserved, held and administered as national forest lands," for the protection, development and use of their natural resources.
Visiting the Site
The 420-acre Mt. Prospect estate was given to the state of New Hampshire in 1941 by John Weeks' children, Katherine Weeks Davidge and Sinclair Weeks. It is maintained as an historic site by the N.H. Division of Parks and Recreation, Department of Resources and Economic Development. The site is open from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, Wednesday through Sunday, from late June to Labor Day; and then most weekends until Columbus Day.
The Weeks State Park Association hosts a series of weekly summer programs related to the north country of New Hampshire. The public is welcome to attend the free programs that are normally scheduled in the park Thursday evenings. Occasionally, programs are scheduled for other days and times. For more information about the park or the dates and topics of programs call the park on the days it is open, at 603/788-4004.
Follow Interstate 93 north through Franconia Notch to Route 3. Take Route 3 north through Twin Mountain and Whitefield. John Wingate Weeks State Historic Site is located off Route 3, two miles south of Lancaster.
Location: Off Route 1A, Little Harbor Rd, Portsmouth
Activities: Art Gallery, Historical Interpretation, Picnics
Amenities: Scenic views, guided tours, restrooms
Acreage: 65 acres
Waterfront: Little Harbor
Number of Campsites: None
Pets: Pets are not permitted at state historic sites.
The Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion is the former home of New Hampshire's first royal governor, Benning Wentworth. The rambling, forty-room mansion which overlooks Little Harbor, is one of the most outstanding homes remaining of the colonial era. Its stateliness and impressive interior and furnishings reflect aristocratic life in Portsmouth in the 1700s.
Benning Wentworth (1696 - 1770) was appointed royal governor by King George II in 1774 following New Hampshire's separation from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1679. For ten years he rented a brick residence(now known as Warner House) in Portsmouth, capital of the new colony. When the colonial assembly refused to provide the governor enough funds to purchase the house, Wentworth relocated the governmental headquarters to Little Harbor. The mansion he built is one of the few existing colonial governor's residences to survive almost unchanged.
Originally the mansion was part of a one hundred-acre estate which the governor operated as a typical eighteenth-century gentleman's farm. From the council chamber, Wentworth signed the charters that incorporated towns over a wide territory including present-day New Hampshire and Vermont (Bennington, Vermont was named after him.). As surveyor general of His Majesty's Woods, he channeled the forest wealth of New Hampshire to the shipyards and fleets of the Royal Navy. Wentworth served as royal governor from 1741 - 1767.
A widower, the governor married for the second time in 1760 when he was sixty-four years old. His new wife was his twenty-three-year-old servant. The circumstances surrounding the wedding were immortalized by Henry Wadsworth Logfellow, in his poem Lady Wentworth from Tales of a Wayside Inn.
Following the governor's death in 1770 Martha married Michael Wentworth, a retired British army colonel and accomplished musician. They made the mansion a hospitable social center and entertained George Washington when he visited Portsmouth in 1789. They had one daughter, Martha, who inherited the estate from her widowed mother in 1805. She and her husband John Wentworth, remained on the property until 1816 when they sold the house and the 113 acres to the successful merchant Charles Cushing of Roxbury, Massachusetts.
Cushing, his wife and seven children lived permanently at Little Harbor and continued operating the estate as a working farm. After Cushing's death in 1849 the property eventually passed to his nephew, William P. Isreal in 1860. Israel actively promoted the property to tourists, making the house one of the first historic dwellings in the United States to be opened to the public. In 1886 he sold about fifteen acres with various buildings, known as "the Governor Wentworth estate," to John Templeman Coolidge, III, of Boston.
The Coolidge Years
John Templeman Coolidge was an artist and antiquarian and lover of the sea. The Wentworth mansion no doubt appealed to all his interests. Coolidge carefully restored the neglected house and grounds with advice from his friend Sumner Appleton, founder of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. Coolidge added a guest wing about 1920, replacing the former carriage house; however, he was careful to maintain the building's architectural integrity.
The house served as an active gathering place for the family (Coolidge had seven children) and friends, many of whom built residences nearby. Coolidge's first wife Katherine was the daughter of the historian Francis Parkman who used a second floor bedroom as a summer writing retreat during his later years. After Katherine's death in 1900, Coolidge married Mary Abigail Parsons in 1913. The widow Mary Coolidge donated the property to the state of New Hampshire in 1954.
The Wentworth-Coolidge mansion is maintained as an historic site by the new Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation, Department of Resources and Economic Development. A government-appointed commission works with the division and provides financial support for the restoration of the property and its interpretation.
Franklin Pierce Homestead
Location: Off Route 31, Hillsborough
Activities: Historical interpretation
Amenities: Guided tours, restrooms
Acreage: 13 acres
Boyhood home of Franklin Pierce, 14th U.S. President. Built in 1804, the house reflects the graciousness of affluent living in the 19th century. Operated by the Hillsborough Historical Society.