Created By: Mount Washington Cruises
On the left is Diamond Island. In the late 1800s, Diamond was the site of a large hotel called the diamond island house. It was a popular stop for the early steamboats, including the Old Mount Washington The hotel was moved across the ice to become part of the old hotel weirs, later destroyed by fire in 1924.
Article Written by: Lorrie Baird
Just imagine it's the middle of the Great Depression when bread lines are long and jobs are scarce and your husband announces that he wants to buy a 40-acre island for five thousand dollars! Not only do you not swim, but you're petrified of deep water. That's precisely what happened in 1934 when Carroll Spooner, a hosiery business owner/operator from Lincoln, Mass. announced to his wife Sarah that he wanted to own Diamond Island on like Winnipesaukee Before the purchase could be finalized. Frederick Carroll Spooner had to prove that he could afford payments of $50 a month for two years before obtaining a mortgage. Today, most would say that F. Carroll Spooner was a visionary, but back then it must have seemed that this M.I.T. graduate and businessman had taken leave of his senses. During the Great Depression, five thousand dollars was a substantial amount of money to pay for undeveloped land…and especially an island!
David Spooner will tell you that his father was a man of few words when it came to his motivation for buying Diamond Island, but no doubt Carroll Spooner was at least somewhat intrigued with the past history of Diamond Island. In its heyday, Diamond was “a famous picnic resort of the state and boasted a good-sized hotel, (the Diamond Island House) bowling alley, and dancing pavilion” as reported in the Laconia Democrat April 4, 1894. Built in 1861, The Diamond Island House also had its own ice house and was considered a popular Civil War hostelry. The Laconia Democrat goes on to say that the Lady of the Lake ran between Diamond Island and the Weirs and the route was so popular that when “excursionists” crowded the upper decks of the Lady and passengers moved from side to side, the steamer would tip until the “women-folks and nervous people” were almost panic stricken. It was further reported that on one of these excursion trips “the Lady carried a crowd of 1,280 people from Diamond Island to the Weirs.” Clearly Diamond Island had come a long way since 1781 when it was originally granted to two gentlemen by the names of Tomlinson and March!
As for the Diamond Island House itself, in 1870 it was towed across the ice by what was purportedly “every yoke of oxen in Belknap County” to the Weirs where it became part of Sanborn’s Hotel built by Captain W.A. Sanborn; a hotel that catered to an elite clientele. Later, that hotel was enlarged to become the 350-room New Hotel Weirs under the ownership of Dr. J. Alonzo Greene. The Hotel Weirs was mysteriously destroyed by fire in November of 1924.
With all that rich history behind it, did Carroll Spooner see a Diamond in the rough and envision the island a tourist Mecca once again? Or did he buy it for the spectacular fishing? We’ll never know, says son David, who notes that prior to purchasing Diamond Island his family rented local cottages and his father enjoyed the terrific fishing in Lake Winnipesaukee. “Once he bought the island, he never fished a day again…he was too busy working,” Dave recalls with a shrug.
David Spooner was just a young lad of six when his father removed the rusted metal “For Sale” sign on Diamond Island in 1934 and pitched an Army tent on the hill. To get to Diamond Island, Carroll Spooner had to row all the family’s supplies over from “Batchelder’s Cottage in West Alton,” along with his thoroughly terrified wife Sarah. Once there, he unloaded and went back to make another trip. Son David wasn’t much help back then…he was too small. That first summer the family built a tent platform, an outside fireplace to cook on, and a shed that housed an ice box. Water was hauled up the hill with buckets Dave especially remembers, “because that was my job!” Bill Brennan, whose wife was employed at Carroll’s hosiery business, was the first helper on the island. The Spooners and Brennans became good friends. Come August, Carroll would close down his business for the entire month to work on his island. Since Norway pine grew profusely on Diamond Island back then, Carroll Spooner decided to build a log home from timber harvested on his property. It was to be a simple home built on the Northwest end of the island affording a spectacular view “right down the lake toward Locke Island and into the Weirs with views of the Ossipee Mountains and Mount Shaw…it’s an unbelievable view,” says Dave. It was slow and tedious work. A retaining wall had to be built in front of the cabin site. Huge boulders were moved with the use of a cantilever. The logs to build the cabin had to be cut and stripped. By 1936 the cabin’s footprint was laid out and the following year the first floor was laid. The work was agonizingly slow. Every log was “notched out by hand.” Each log had to be hewn and squared on the top and bottom. Oakem was jammed between the logs. “If they finished one log per day, they were doing well,” recalls Dave.
But don’t get the idea that it was all work and no play on Diamond Island! Especially when the Boy Scouts came to visit. Heavily involved in Scouting in Lincoln, Mass, Carroll Spooner invited the Boy Scouts from Camp Manning in Gilmanton to paddle to Diamond Island and spend every Tuesday overnight before paddling back to Alton Bay where the Scouts were picked up. “Dad knew that Diamond Island was a great place for the Scouts to come and I loved scouting, so it was just great! Girl Scouts from Boston also paddled to the island from their camp on Treasure Island to spend the night.”
The work on the Spooner log cabin came to a screeching halt when the Hurricane of 1938 stood in the way of progress. “The island was devastated! It cut a swath through Diamond Island and Sandy Island too! I don’t know how accurate this is, but I think my father said it took down a half-million board feet of lumber. So Dad was forced into the lumber business. He hired a crew from Laconia Unemployment They were a hardworking, hard-drinking bunch.”
To help haul the downed timber, teamster Raymond Dube transported his horses Jerry and Ned to Diamond Island. “At one time we had as many as six teams of horses working,” Dave recalled. During his off hours Dave rode Ned all around the island, but Jerry didn’t fare as well when some visiting tourists gave him a “bad apple” to eat resulting in a severe case of colic. “If we were on the mainland he probably could have been saved,” said Dave.
But Jerry died. “Jerry’s buried right near the old hotel, where there were no rocks.” The logging crew gathered up the fallen timber, piled it up on the edge of the water propped up by retainer timbers and the theory was that when dynamited, the logs would roll in the lake where they could be boomed and towed to Meredith by Captain John Goodhue, owner/operator of the “Swallow".
Good plan. Trouble is, it didn’t work, said Dave. The dynamite didn’t budge the timber pile and the logs had to be rolled in by hand. Because he was so light and nimble at age 11, “It was my job to keep the logs straight to help form the booms for towing.” After working all summer, the logs were finally hauled to Meredith for purchase by the Diamond Match Company. Dave was there when the transaction was made, and although his father didn’t share details, Dave knew it was far from a lucrative transaction from the expression on Carroll’s face when the deal was complete.
By this time the retaining wall was built, the first floor laid out, and work commenced once again on the Spooner log cabin the summer of 1939 with friends and acquaintances helping Carroll and Sarah along the way. Among them were the “Lincoln boys.” So it can truthfully be said that the Spooner log cabin was constructed in part by “Lincoln logs.”
Finally, in 1946 – eleven years after the project began – the log cabin was complete. The cabin had two outstanding features: its central fireplace and large front porch with its drop-dead view. “The fireplace has three unusual stones in it,” says Dave’s wife Joan. “The bottom stone is shaped like a worm. Above it is a stone shaped like a fish and on the top in the middle is a diamond. Dave’s dad used to tell the story that the worm came first and was swallowed by the fish and when the fish was caught and cut open, inside of it was a beautiful diamond. He told that story so many times that we used to leave the room,” she chuckled. As for the expansive cabin porch, many a happy and relaxing hour was spent there eating, talking, playing games, reading, and simply enjoying the spectacular views as recorded in the Spooner family photo album. Now the family cabin was finally finished, but taxes were steadily increasing on his property, so what was the future of Diamond Island under the ownership of Carroll Spooner? Believe it or not, it was President Harry Truman and the War Department that was to step in and shape the future of Diamond Island’s legacy in history.
This point of interest is part of the tour: M/S Mount Washington Cruise to Wolfeboro