Jan's Blog

Andy Knight: Location, Location, Location

September 21, 2011

Thank you, Andy, for writing another excellent blog (below) and for the props.  I think I can speak for the Waterville Valley Realty team when I say that our hearts and souls are intricately tied to Waterville Valley – and we think of the valley, not as the place where we work selling bricks and sticks, but as a community...our home. And the folks who buy and sell property in the valley aren’t just our customers and clients, they are our friends and ultimately become part of a larger Waterville Valley family. 
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By Andy Knight, president of the Waterville Valley Foundation

The history of Waterville Valley is a microcosm of the history of real estate in the North Country of New Hampshire in general.  Early settlers straggled in during the early 19th Century, trying their hand at farming but finding the climate and soil best suited for bumper crops of granite boulders.  A few farmers eked out an existence, between raising animals and crops, trapping and hunting, lumbering, and — very soon — taking in guests.  This last development — hospitality — proved to be the most durable use of real estate in the White Mountains.  We’ll get to that in a minute.

By the late 19th century, another, entirely more rapacious use of the land had come to the fore, and huge tracts of forest were bought up by a few cagey and rock-ribbed lumber barons.  Their hearty crews spent long, intensely cold winter months slashing down vast stands of virgin timber.  In the spring, the trimmed logs were floated down the flood-swollen rivers to mills in Campton and Lincoln and a dozen other northern towns, to be cut into dimensional lumber for the burgeoning cities to the south.  Unfortunately, the scars left by this cutting were dramatic — even now, if you look carefully at the flanks of Noon Peak, Green Peak, and the Tripyramids, you can see the lines where clear-cutting stopped some hundred years ago.  The logging crews were relentlessly efficient as they cleared the land, and the mess they left behind was an ecological disaster of soil erosion and forest-fire potential.

The fortunes of the land shifted dramatically in the early 20th Century, thanks to the efforts of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, which mounted a PR campaign that would make Al Gore envious.  The tide of public opinion turned in favor of forest protection, culminating in the Weeks Act and the creation of the White Mountain National Forest one hundred years ago this summer.  The land — stripped of virgin timber and left denuded — suddenly had value again, and the Federal government bought up vast holdings from the lumber barons, rolling them together to form the 770,000 acre White Mountain National Forest.

All through the years, the hospitality industry in the White Mountains grew steadily.  Each summer, trains brought ever larger crowds north to the grand hotels.  Guests in Waterville took the train to Campton, then transferred to a stage for the last 10 miles’ journey up the valley, alongside the Mad River.  In the early days, the first guests stayed in the home of early settlers — who quickly caught on to the business opportunity, and built a series of ever-larger hotels, until the Waterville Valley Inn was constructed at the base of Snows Mountain, where the modern-day Tennis Center stands today.  Every summer, guests came, through rich years and lean, to play golf and tennis, hike the trails, and fish in the river.  Waterville’s unique “island in the forest” location was a powerful attraction — so powerful, guests started building their own satellite “cottages” on the hillside near the Inn.  These cottages were Waterville Valley’s first “weekend homes”, a theme that has echoed throughout modern times.  By the early 20th Century, summer guests started staying later in the year, then coming back on “snow trains” to ski on the trails on Snows Mountain and the CCC-cut race trail on Tecumseh (portions of which now run the course of Upper Whitecaps and Old Tecumseh), and the Inn and cottages were occupied all year.

The modern history of Waterville Valley is also a story of location.  Olympic athlete Tom Corcoran did his homework thoroughly, looking for a unique place that brought together the right topography, weather conditions, and space to grow a village.  He found the right combination in Waterville, and in 1965, purchased the Waterville Inn and surrounding land, and started building a modern ski resort on Mount Tecumseh (unfortunately, the old Waterville Inn burned down the very first season, during a blizzard in the winter of 1966).

The Waterville Company masterfully planned a self-contained village, with careful attention to the important details of infrastructure and design.  Tom Corcoran’s vision lives on in many ways through out the resort and town today.  Corcoran was decades ahead of his time in his approach, combining the development of a world-class ski resort and desirable real estate.  He also recognized the importance of building a real town, as opposed to a base village with no anchoring community.

It’s a testament to Tom Corcoran — and to Waterville Valley’s unique location — that 45 years later, a whole new generation of visitors and residents continue to find the place irresistible.

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In my 30 years of so-called adulthood, I’ve been involved in my own fair share of real estate transactions:  apartment rentals, condo purchases, buying and selling homes, deciding on the perfect weekend getaway, finding a piece of land, and finally building a house.  I’d have to say that my experience with the real estate industry at large earns mixed reviews at best.  You find a pretty broad spectrum of humanity in the real estate game, but you’re not often left scratching your head about why someone became an agent.

To that end, I have to tell you that my experience with the real estate establishment in Waterville Valley has been entirely different since we first started looking at property here in the mid-2000s.  I’ve been treated fairly, offered good advice, and invariably greeted as a friend rather than a customer.  I’ve worked with both Waterville Valley Realty and Roper Real Estate a number of times over the years, and I have always been very satisfied with the experience.  This isn’t intended to be an endorsement, but rather a segue — but if you asked me personally, I would tell you that my own experience with both agencies has been overwhelmingly positive.

One of the signal differences I see with both Roper Real Estate and Waterville Valley Realty is that both agencies are truly local and absolutely invested in the community.  I am not sure it’s even possible to find a local event, charity or cause that both companies don’t ardently and generously support.  And that brings me to two final thoughts:

I want to publicly thank and praise Roper Real Estate for their pledge over the summer to donate $100 to the Waterville Valley Foundation for each real estate closing they complete.  This week, we received our first check from Roper.  I can’t thank you enough, Terry, Chip, and team — you guys rock!

I also want to recognize Bill Cantlin, Jan Stearns, and Waterville Valley Realty for their extraordinary support and patronage.  Waterville Valley Realty is a consistent and generous donor to the Waterville Valley Foundation — and we really appreciate that.

In this case, though, I am reflecting on Bill and Jan’s unflagging support of one of the things that truly make the Valley unique: our very own Shakespeare in the Valley troupe.  In recent weeks, Donna Devlin and Will Hammond have been working with Waterville Valley Realty to find a new home for their summer stage.  Bill and Jan have been great, and with just a little luck and a lot of hard work, Shakespeare in the Valley will have a new and better home on the east side of Town Square next summer.

The land and the streams and the mountains are a big part of what make Waterville Valley special.  Having not one but two local real estate agencies who are truly of the land and are so willing to reach out to make the community a better place is a real stroke of luck.

About Jan Stearns

I've been living in and loving New Hampshire's White Mountains for most of my life. I moved to Waterville Valley in 1981 and quickly realized why it was dubbed a Yankee Shangri-la. Once you’ve experienced Waterville Valley, you’ll want to call it yours. The great team of Realtors at Waterville Valley Realty can help you find a Waterville Valley home that fits your lifestyle and budget. 1-888-987-8333.

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Waterville Valley. Once you’ve experienced it, you’ll want to call it your own.

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