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Mt. Washington, A Long and Illustrious History.

Since 1872 there have been only two vessels named Mount Washington to have cruised the beautiful waters of New Hampshire's largest lake, Winnipesaukee.

The first vessel was a wooden side-wheeler 178 feet in length with a beam of 49 feet. It was built and launched in 1872 at Alton Bay, New Hampshire. Referred to today as the "Old Mount", this vessel was built by the Boston & Maine Railroad company for the sole purpose of transporting travelers and cargo from one side of the big lake to the other. The affiliation with the railroad brought this grand steamer worldwide notoriety from the company's vast marketing and advertising resources. The S.S. Mount Washington was only one of many steamships operating on the lake in the late 1800s. However, in just a few short years she had become Queen of the Winnipesaukee fleet and dominated the lake transportation business, mainly because she was the fastest of the major steamers plying the lake waters. It was not uncommon for her to have transported over 60,000 people per season in the late 1800s. This was due to the fact that New Hampshire's White Mountains was one of the most popular destinations for vacation travelers and the most prominent way to get there was by railroad car, which traveled through the Lakes Region. This early exposure to a diverse clientele paid big dividends, as many people bought property and built summer homes around the lake.

Later, when the automobile began to slowly take away from the railroad business, the old side-wheeler was sold and thus began her life as primarily a tourist attraction. The Grand 'ol Lady continued to carry 60,000 plus passengers a year and stopped at the many different ports around the lake. The B&M Railroad continued, well into the 1940's to bring tourists from the greater Boston area to the Weirs.

The home port of Weirs Beach was an attraction in itself with a busy railroad station, large dance pavilion and beautiful grand hotel overlooking Weirs Bay and the surrounding mountains. This beautiful resort area experienced two major fires 15 years apart. The first one, in 1924, sadly destroyed the grand Hotel Weirs. The second fire proved to be more disastrous. On a cold December evening in 1939, a fire broke out in the railroad station and quickly spread down the ramp to the dock where the S.S. Mount Washington was berthed for the winter. Futile attempts were made to set her free; for she was stuck in the mud as a result of the common, low lake water levels that time of year. The ship was completely destroyed as was the entire railroad station and boardwalk.

Leander Lavallee, well known in the area as Captain of the "Mount ", had agreed to sell the old side-wheeler weeks before it perished. Devastated by the loss and in his 70s, no one expected he would start all over again; but this ol' Yankee was determined to replace the lost hull with a new, faster and bigger ship. Upon securing local support and forming a new corporation, the search began. Building a ship would prove to be impossible, as large quantities of steel were unattainable because of prewar munitions build up. Searching throughout New England, a vessel for sale was found in Vermont on Lake Champlain. Built in 1888 and operated under the name of Chateaguay, this vessel fell victim to newer modes of transportation. The Chateaguay was 203 feet long and constructed of iron. After much testing, the hull proved to be sound and just what the old captain was looking for. A purchase price of $20.000 was agreed on, and in April of 1940, less than four months after the fire, the new Mount Washington II started to become a reality. In five more month's time a hired crew from Boston General Ship & Engine Works dismantled the Chateaguay hull, cut it into twenty sections and shipped it by flatbed railroad car from Shelburne, Vermont to Lakeport, New Hampshire.

They reassembled the pieces, constructed a new steel super structure and outfitted the ship with two 750 hp, steam engines, boilers included. The new vessel grew in the welding method of construction and was launched August 15, 1940 with a length of 205 feet, a beam of 32 feet and a draft of 7 feet. Christened the S.S. Mount Washington II, the new ship would sail through some rough financial waters in the beginning, as the final bill for performing the phenomenal feat would exceed $125,000.

Within a year, to clear the indebtedness, the ownership was passed to Carl Hedblom of Boston General Ship & Engine Works. The Hedblom family owned and operated the company for the next thirty years, and it was during this time that the company grew in size with the addition of two smaller vessels, the M/V Sophie C.. and M/V Doris E. Owning a ship building company in South Boston, the Hedbloms' resources were a major factor in the development of the Mount Washington II through these early years.

The S.S. Mount Washington II has undergone many physical changes over the past 57 years. The two most significant changes were the addition of twin diesel engines in 1946 and the addition of 25 feet to her length in 1982. By adding the diesel engines, the ship was rechristened with the prefix M/V which stands for motor vessel as opposed to S .S. for steamship. After a lengthening the ship 25 feet, she was given the title of M.S. (motor ship) Mount Washington.

The future looks bright for Mount Washington Cruises. Times have changed and so has the "Mount". What used to be basically a summer attraction now operates May through October, offering Daytime Scenic, Evening Dinner/Dance and Special Theme cruises. In 1987 a new home port facility was built at Weirs Beach. This new building included an on-shore kitchen, expanded gift shop and modern offices. For the past ten years the " Mount " has been owned and operated by local individuals.

With a capacity of 1250 passengers, the Mount is a popular venue for school proms, college gatherings, and large corporate celebrations, not to mention all the tourists visiting New Hampshire. The Mount is a true fixture in the Lakes Region making the choice of where to get married an easy one. We estimate that over 700 happy couples have tied the knot on the Mount and many return to share the memories.

More history about the Chateaguay:

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