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The John Wentworth Summer House

Wentworth House /
Wolfeboro, NH

Some claim it was the biggest house built in New England in 1769. It certainly was New Hampshire's first vacation home, built by the state’s last British governor on a Wolfeboro lake. Today it is a pile of rocks down a dirt road in a largely forgotten field of broken dreams.



Wentworth House Site
Off Route 109, Wentworth Farm Road
Wolfeboro, NH

NEW:  The Governor's Three Mansions
READ: About Nine Other NH Wentworth Houses

What may have been New Hampshire’s grandest home is now a cellar hole filled with weeds. The exciting thing about Gov. John Wentworth’s 1769 summer mansion in Wolfeboro is that the reconstructed stone foundation survives. The dull part is that nothing else survives. We have no ruins, no sketches, no plans, not even a decent eye-witness account of the magnificent house built by New Hampshire’s governor. A Harvard-grad, Wentworth was also Surveyor of the King’s Woods in North America, and knew the region’s forests well. It was Wentworth who located the site for Dartmouth College and presented the fledgling school with 44,000 acres of land.

Wentworth House in Portsmouth, NHThis spot was, the official sign on the far side of Wentworth Lake tells us, the first vacation home built in the Granite State, then a British province. Gov. Wentworth (1737-1820) lived then on Pleasant Street in Portsmouth, a long long carriage ride away. To get from one home to the other, he had to build roads, setting in motion the modern highway system.

Wentworth House in Wolfeboro once sat on 4,300 acres owned by the native-born governor and employed 150 people. The main house reportedly was 104 by 42 foot and its beams stood over 25 feet high, possibly the largest house in New England at the time. Outbuildings included a sawmill, two stables, a dairy, blacksmith, joiner and cabinetmaker shops, a smokehouse , grist mill and likely many more buildings.

Wentworth House in HalifaxThe house was used for a brief period before the Governor was forced to flee the rambunctious patriots who threatened the health of all who remained loyal to the King after 1774. John Wentworth and his Portsmouth wife Frances went first to Boston and then built an even grander mansion in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Both his Portsmouth and Canadian homes still stand, as does the grand mansion of his father Mark Wentworth.

The Wolfeboro summer house, with other Loyalist properties, was taken over by the newly formed state of New Hampshire and sold at auction after the Revolution. It burned in 1820 when an old shingle, used for kindling, landed on the roof and set the great building on fire. John Wentworth, coincidentally, died the same year.

GO logoLawrence Shaw Mayo, author of a biography of John Wentworth, purchased the property in 1925 and turned it over to the state in 1933. The Friends of the Governor Wentworth State Historical Site formed in 1994 and hopes to create an interpretive museum and park.

Modern visitors will find little more than a mowed area around the cellar hole, an old brass plaque, and a restored well – all surrounded by trees. Archaeological excavation has turned up nothing significant. Even those who know the exciting story of John Wentworth may find this pilgrimage less than fulfilling. It is a memorial to what might have been, if not for the American Revolution. Today it is a field of broken dreams for the last of the royal New Hampshire leaders.

Photos and text (c) J. Dennis Robinson. All rights reserved.

Wenworth Estate Marker, Wolfeboro

Wentworth House (c)

Foundation at Wentworth House

Wentworth House Well /

Inside Wentworth House well

Click for text of two Wentworth House signs, Wolfeboro, NH

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