Skip to Content

Genius loci

Weeks State Park

Lancaster, New Hampshire, is located in the Great North Woods — that territory north of Franconia, Crawford, and Pinkham notches that few vacationers and even fewer day-trippers from Boston venture into. It is inhabited by trees, pristine ponds, and moose, with views that stretch west to the Adirondacks and north into Canada.

As you drive north, the mountains reveal themselves slowly. They begin as foothills and become genuine mountains once all signs for the Lakes Region cease. In Franconia Notch, the ridges enclose you and loom 1,000 feet above. Once you exit the northern end of the notch at Cannon Mountain and turn east on Route 3, you find yourself entering another world. Birch, maple, beech, spruce, and eastern white pines dominate the edge of the White Mountain National Forest. Eventually you see a small sign along the road at Mount Prospect: Weeks State Park.

The park is the former estate of John Wingate Weeks. I discovered this spot by accident on an exploratory drive north from my cabin in Bethlehem. Turn at the sign, and you wind up ensconced on a narrow road through dense trees for two miles to the main part of the estate. Weeks amassed a fortune in banking in the late 1800s and went on to serve as the mayor of Newton, Massachusetts, a US congressman, a senator, and finally Secretary of War. Bostonians know him best as the inspiration for the Weeks footbridge, a landmark under which I have spent many hours rowing on the Charles River. While in Congress, Weeks was best known for sponsoring what became known as “Weeks Law,” which authorized the government to purchase eastern lands for preservation. It gave us the White Mountain National Forest and helped end the destructive logging that had all but deforested much of New Hampshire by 1900.

When you reach the top of the road, you are greeted by the eclectic lodge — fieldstone and stucco with an odd fairy-tale-like clipped tile roof — that does not hew to New England vernacular. Inside, the lodge comes to life. The entire second floor is one large room, with a ceiling that consists of dark wood scissor trusses and two enormous granite fireplaces at either end. Weeks owned this small mountain and this room, which commands a 360-degree view from Mount Washington to the green mountains of Vermont and overlooks his hometown. Another striking feature of the room is the large windows of unmullioned glass, a midcentury feature in a decidedly older building. If you focus on the view, the bookcases, and the original simple wood furniture pieces that remain, you can picture Weeks holding court with his hunting companions in front of a roaring fire to take the chill off a November night. Weeks loved his boyhood town and the Great North Woods and chose to finish his life there. He died on July 12, 1926. “He had about him,” wrote President Calvin Coolidge, “the vigor of the hills combined with the culture of the City.”

North Country is a place of both cultures intertwined. It is a retreat for many, a way of life for some. The palette is green, blue, and white, with a healthy dose of gray granite. Towns huddle along riverbanks. The ever-changing weather colors the mountain ranges in a gentle light or in intense gray; the coral and pink in the sunset sky fades the trees to deep purple. Time seems to cease. Hunters, anglers, Appalachian Trail hikers, skiers, and survivalists find common ground here and breathe the free air.

Second-floor interior of the lodge at Weeks State Park.
Photo: Courtesy New Hampshire State Parks