May 23, 2002 - Ed Hart
HISTORY OF SLEEPERS ISLAND, LAKE WINNIPESAUKEE
Sleepers Island, a parcel of land containing approximately 110 acres is located in Belknap County, New Hampshire, lying between the westerly shore of Lake Winnipesaukee and Rattlesnake Island to the northward.
Between 1766 and 1770 a plan of the lake and the islands was made. The islands were divided up and allotted to (15) "proprietors."
No further changes were made until December 24, 1781 when the proprietors met in Portsmouth to formally divide the unallotted
territory in the Winnipesaukee lakes region. The plan that was submitted at the meeting was called
"Draft of the Islands in Winipiseokee Pond, as numbered and coupled in the first plan". The final
plan indicates that some of the larger islands had been subdivided and the smaller ones had been
grouped together. The objective of the 1781 meeting was to confirm and ascertain the title of
previous grantees. According to the final plan, Sleepers Is. (then called Flanders Is. and
thought at that time to be 79 acres) was part of Lot #1 and belonged to Tomlinson and March,
the original grantees. Also included in Lot #1 was the following: (4) Barn Door Is. at 50 acres,
11 acres, 9 acres and 8 acres; the easterly end of Rattlesnake Is., 40 acres; and Diamond Is., 10 acres.
Some time prior to 1869, Sleepers Is. was purchased by Jonas and George Sleeper.
The reference to Flanders Is. is changed to Sleepers Is. On October 22, 1869, Jonas and George
Sleeper conveyed the property to Sarah W. Worster for the sum of $10.00 (most likely an heir of
the Sleepers) since Sarah conveyed the property to James Littlefield three days later for the sum
The island went through a foreclosure on June 14, 1877 and the property was transferred to
the administrator of the James Littlefield estate and then on to Cyrus Littlefield. Cyrus sold
the island to William P. and Edward B. Hale on May 22, 1894. Edward B. Hale sold his interest to
William P. Hale on February 3, 1904. William P. Hale took out two mortgages with the Merrimack
River Savings Bank for the two purchases in the amounts of $2000.00 and $4500.00. It is possible
that some of this money was also used to build the stone house. William P. Hale had taken a trip
to Europe and saw the castles on the Rhine. He liked them so much that he constructed the stone
house to look like them.
On May 8, 1939, June C. Hale (wife of William P. Hale) sold the island to Ivar Swenson, William
having passed away. At the time of this transaction, the property was transferred for the sum of
$1.00 and take over payments of the existing mortgage of $3500.00 with the Merrimack River Savings
Bank. At this point, reference is made to a boat house, wharf and rights of way to the highway on
the main land in Rollins Cove. This property was now included with Sleepers Island.
Ivar Swenson emmigrated from Sweden to the U. S. in 1902. He learned English and studied
electrical engineering at Columbia University. After college, he went to work for the General
Electric Co. He was given the job of estimating the cost to lay a power cable over to Sleepers
Island. This first cable was run over on the ice and the cable sank to the lake bed when the ice
melted. The island was not for sale but he fell in love with it. After William Hale passed away,
his wife lost interest in going to the island. Ivar Swenson purchased the island in 1939 just
after the hurricane had hit the area. There was a tremendous amount of tree damage on the island
and a good deal of work was necessary to put the property back into good condition.
A camp had been established on Treasure Is. called "Camp Mishe Mokwa" (the name for "great
white bear" in Hiawatha) and it operated as a boys camp between 1913 and 1950. In 1950, the
island was sold to the Girl Scouts of America and it operated as a Girl Scout camp for about ten
years. During this time, Ivar Swenson engineered a power cable for Treasure Is. After the cable
was installed, Ivar was made an honorary Girl Scout!
Ivar's grand daughter (Karen, now my wife), vacationed on the island during the 1950s and
early 1960s. There are many happy childhood memories of the island and out buildings. The boat
used during this time was a 14 foot Old Town runabout. It was a beautiful boat, all natural wood
on the forward deck and the inside. It was powered by a 25 hp Evinrude motor. When not at the
island, the boat was kept in the boat house in Rollins Cove. The boat house has been refurbished
but still sits on the same foundation adjacent to the cement pier and sandy beach. Ivar would
keep a glass in the boat house at the castle and would often take a glass of water from the lake,
remarking how wonderful it tasted.
The barn behind the house was a fun place for the children to play. It had horse stalls on
the lower level. Also in the lower level was a 1930 Buick Victoria Coupe. The car had been
driven over the ice to the island. The car had very low mileage and was in excellent mechanical
condition. A rear wheel had been removed and pulley was installed to drive a saw mill. The
interior was still in the car but badly mildewed. In the upper level there was a servant's
quarters. There was also a working player piano with many music paper rolls. One of the
children's favorite songs was an Eskimo love song, "Oogi,Oogi, Wawa"!
Ivar passed away in 1962 and the island passed to his son, John Swenson. The island and all
the contents was sold the following year. There was a great concern for forest fires and fire
insurance for the property was too costly. The island was sold to a developer who had inquired
about purchasing the island a few years before.
Last Updated on June 17, 2003
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