Kehonka Waterfront and Crafts

Written by A. Cooper “Bally” Ballentine

Kehonka Waterfront and Crafts


Winnipesaukee in size and setting always has been a major attraction to the entire Kehonka flock. Its depth is more than ninety feet; its irregular shore of one hundred eighty three miles forms multiple bays; and its acres of water surface encompass more than two hundred fifty inhabited islands.

Camp Kehonka: Aerial view of Cove

Camp Kehonka: Aerial view of Cove

The Kehonka shore has one of the largest beaches with view over the widest expanse of open water. Several brooks, including Kehonka’s Beaver Brook, flow into Winnipesaukee, but primarily it is spring fed. Around the periphery are lesser, but large lakes among the foothills of the White Mountains. This central part of New Hampshire is well named the Lakes Region. It is wise to have alert respect for Dame Nature while she’s out for a blast over a huge lake. The longer the experience with the fickleness of this Dame, the greater the respect.

Camp Kehonka: Ariel view of Point

Camp Kehonka: Aerial view of Point

When I arrived in 1911, the best access to Kehonka was by a sixteen-foot (wooden motorboat with a one cylinder engine). The spark was supplied by bell batteries. There were no lifesaving jackets in the boat, impossible by today’s standards. The only kind known then were made of eight large bricks of cork sewed into heavy canvas. The weight of them and passengers might have sunk the boat.

As Kehonka’s extensive woodland shore was revealed to me en route from Wolfeboro, I could imagine at that moment how explorers felt upon discovering such an unspoiled, natural haven. What potentialities!

Uncertain as lake, weather and motorboat were, the water route, only 2  miles from Wolfeboro had advantages over the alternative of 5 miles of elemental country hiking, or horseback riding, or conveyance by horse-drawn vehicles. Kehonka’s first over-the-road mechanical contraption, a Model T flimsy, was six years into the future.

An Old Town sponson canoe was the first acquisition after essentials on land. It had bumpy-looking air chambers along both sides. The double bulge did stabilize the canoe somewhat, but was far, far from being an equivalent of safety instruction which began later. Soon two more sponsons, and, contradicting logic, the tippiest imaginable round bottom wooden rowboats were purchased. Clothing was still voluminous for girls and women, and no life jackets were available. Somehow rigid controls kept everyone afloat.

In that era, the cost of a wooden rowboat was $1.00 a foot; foot rowboat cost $14.00. Years later, the last wooden rowboat at Kehonka cost $125.00. When one of several needed painting and part of the transom repaired $110.00. The durability of good aluminum rowboats was irresistible. We goofed by not saving one of the old timers for comparison.

Canoeing counselors came to the waterfront as leadership of activities became professional. Sponsons vanished. Old Town, canvas-covered, regular canoes made up the growing fleet. One carrying eleven paddlers was given by a camper to Miss Mattoon. A mate to it was purchased soon. The pair has been maintained with care; although they are 65 years old, they still are in delightful service. A feature of safety instruction is that any canoe, large, canvas covered, or aluminum (with air chambers), when submerged in up righted position will hold its normal compliment of paddlers seated on the floor of the canoe. Campers are trained how to upright the canoe and climb in, and then hand-paddle their way to shore. They are a humorous sight seated in a semi-submerged canoe.

Eleanor Borden (1922-’69), physiotherapist, had few if any rivals in tenure at Kehonka. She became famous in legend and song for promoting good posture. That was her eternal interest. Her specialty was canoeing. Whatever, the campers flocked to Ellie. Along came Betty Weber (1946-’53) head of physical education at Bradford Junior College. Betty, in her mild manner, made suggestions to step up the qualifying tests first in swimming as prerequisite to canoeing privileges, and secondly in canoeing.

Donna McKinley (1934-’61) head of physical education at the Northfield School for Girls, had long directed highly efficient training in swimming skills. Donna and Ellie both welcomed Betty’s cooperation on the waterfront. Their combined talents gave unmistakable evidence of a basic fact: in an elective program: when the personality of the leaders, their know-how, and their specific goals are satisfying, the campers will strive and strive again toward the highest goals. Betty Weber became chairman of the Canoeing Committee of the New England Camping Association. They published a Canoeing Manual for Camp Counselors. She led a three-day training program for men and women counselors during six successive springtimes at Kehonka.

A safety code for canoeing from the manual holds true to this day: In 1948, after Grumman sent a representative to explain the merits of I (their new aluminum canoes; Kehonka added six of them to the fleet. While both canvas covered and aluminum were available, the latter have kept gaining in popularity and in numbers. Maintenance is far easier with a strong aluminum alloy. A life saving cushion, one for each canoeist, was required. Life saving jackets today are produced with such skill and variety as to be light in weight and easy to wear. Jackets now go on before a canoeist goes out. Jackets are not a substitute for, but a supplement to, the qualifying safety training in swimming and canoeing skills.

Sailboats were a long time coming to Kehonka and Winnipesaukee. Why? Risks in every activity must be met by wisdom in leadership, sound equipment, and adequate training. The trainer and trainee share in the responsibility to keep foremost in mind the safety considerations. Sailboats, small and large, are becoming more numerous on the lake while the accelerating use of motorboats has slackened. (Glory be!) Kehonka sailors began twenty years ago with two wooden Beetle class boats. The Corells, Billie Jo and Bob, ardent sailors, brought their fiberglass keel boat, Rhodes 19, which put a lot more wind into the sailing program. Steadily, the qualifying training, the style of life saving jackets, the variety of sailboats, and the participation have changed up and up.

Yale sailor, Roy Ballentine, was Commodore of the Yale Yacht Club, then leader of Kehonka’s fleet. His successor as Commodore was Konrad Marchaj who paired up with Roy at Kehonka. Then Harvard sailor, Bruce Ballentine has added another layer of wind-loving leadership. Often their slogan comes to view, “Sailors have the most fun.” It should be assumed, this means campers, too. The management of Kehonka deduced from wet-haired lateness at mealtime that campers and their counselors are taking full-blown advantage of a favorable nor’wester. A qualified operator of a well-equipped, fast-moving Boston Whaler patrols the area where campers tame Windsurfers, hike out of Lasers, trapeze on the high edges of 420’s, and speed along with masterful skippers in Rhodes 19’s. A motor boat show in Boston, spring of 1948, was displayed a twenty- seven-foot Steelcraft, the innovative creation of the Churchill Corporation in Connecticut. Its strength was described in Time weekly as having been dropped, from a height of a ten-story building, into the ocean and driven away. The sturdy steel hull with seven-foot beam, and dependable motor have kept one constantly in use at Kehonka for thirty-five summers, and still counting! Campers tour to the extremities of the lake, and frequently groups take on board a meal to be topped with whopping ice cream cones at Dockside in Wolfeboro.

The Steelcraft bears the name KEHONKA. More accurately, it should be KEHONKA V. Its four wooden predecessors existed before 1920. The first, a sixteen-footer mentioned at the beginning of this section, was traded for reliable for passengers, for heavy trunks (checked free with railroad tickets), for 100 pound barrels of flour and 360 pound barrels of sugar, for lumber, and II essential supplies. Seldom would anything be delivered over the rocky road. c, an uncertain speedboat for four, had a short existence at Camp Kehonka. IIIV, a gift to the founder in 1913, was a grand and glorious cabin cruiser, the pride of Kehonka, licensed to carry sixteen adults, too many by today’s inspection standards. Remember, somewhere in the cabin would be stored sixteen cork-brick life saving jackets, that is to say, saving, if they could be handed out and put on in time. That cruiser is memorable for its mahogany woodwork, its custom-made window shades, its twenty horsepower that would out pull a hundred of the modern rating, its handmade shiny brass, kerosene running lamps, and its nickel-plated search light burning acetylene gas made on board in a special tank dripping water on calcium carbide. Simple, eh? And delightful! The boathouse was built to shelter it over the long winters. The ordeal of calking, painting, and maintaining a large wooden hull are beyond the ken of people who possess modern fiberglass hulls.

Cruisers like the Kehonka IV, and the Mailboat, which inspired the Mailboat Song, have been displaced in relative numbers by speedy “outboards” and “inboards” attached to small fiberglass hulls. Typical, yet regrettable, people often today are more anxious to get somewhere, anywhere, than to leisurely absorb the refreshing breeze, open sky and lush scenery around the lake.

Camp Kehonka: Spectacular sunset over mooring area (Photo: Roy Ballentine)

Camp Kehonka: Spectacular sunset over mooring area (Photo: Roy Ballentine)


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