Behind the old world charm and easy comfort of the Mill Falls Inns and Marketplace is a history of one and a half centuries. What is now the site of attractive stores in a restored mill, 3 modern country inns, tumbling falls and covered walkway, was once the site of fledging industries and commercial enterprises that led to Meredith’s development. The current beauty of the restored mill marked a new beginning and a new focus for the town. This prime property had deteriorated to an unsightly sprawl, making the area one of the most forgettable things about Meredith. The transformation of the town’s core became an occasion for looking back at the role the site had played in Meredith’s history.
In the late 1700’s, Atlantic salmon and shad still swam up the Merrimack and Winnipesaukee river basins to the series of small waterfalls connecting Lake Winnipesaukee with Lake Waukewan located in the hills above Meredith. The waterway between the two lakes was a natural source of waterpower for the early mills founded at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in this country.
In 1795, John Jenness bought the water rights and land along this outlet, which is now the tiny Corliss Brook running between Lang Street and Stevens Avenue and past the fire station, before trickling into Meredith Bay near the town docks. Jenness built a gristmill and sawmill on the waterway. Besides the mills, Meredith then consisted of only 10 dwellings and a general store. The property soon changed hands.
At the turn of the century, a young man named John Bond Swasey purchased or inherited a 95 acre lot from his father Benjamin who had bought the land in 1777. The farm was located at what is now the core of Meredith. Across from homestead on Main Street, Swasey owned the general store, which supplied the many new settlers moving into Meredith Village. According to remembrances of early 19th century residents, however, the mills ceased operations sometime between 1810 and 1816.
Swasey then undertook a project that was to have great significance for the town of Meredith. A project that marked the beginning of the development of the present Mill Falls Marketplace site. Starting from the frontage on Lake Waukewan that is now called John Bond Swasey Park, Swasey built a rock-lined canal over 600 feet in length channeling the water under the Main Street horse path to where the land drops sharply to Lake Winnipesaukee. Waterpower was now concentrated into one fall of about 40 feet.
The Waukewan Canal and the falls were probably completed by 1818. Now, Swasey was about to build a number of profitable mills for sawing lumber, grinding flour, combing cotton flax and weaving cloth. All these mills helped stock the shelves of the Swasey store. Swasey’s man-made waterfall was considered among the best mill drivers in the state. Swasey died in 1828 at the age of 46. He had carved out an industrial center that became the hub of Meredith. Town citizens today still credit him with nursing the village through its infancy and setting the town on the road to prosperity.
The current restored mill at Mill Falls may have produced textiles originally. Some historical evidence indicated the large mill was a gristmill until Joseph W. Lang and several partners founded the Meredith Village Cotton Factory Company at the site in the 1830’s after purchasing it from the Swasey estate. The cotton mill evidently did not prosper for very long. The same history book says the mill was “an idle cotton mill by 1850.” Soon after, a man named Seneca Ladd leased the mill and installed new machinery “for the manufacture of pianos and melodeons.” At that time, Meredith covered a much larger area than it does today. Meredith settlements consisted of Meredith Village, Meredith Bridge (now Laconia), Weirs Beach, Lake Village (now known as Lakeport) and Meredith Center.
In 1983 Meredith Bay Corporation bought the mill property. Amatex had used a cinder block and wood structure for most of its manufacturing operations. That structure and several others were raised. Only the historic old mill remained. The mill was reconstructed into a four-floor shopping experience. Most of the original hand-hewn beams and wide barn boards remain in the building. A central stairway was added and dormer windows were building to give natural light to the fourth level. Two wings were constructed to accommodate the new restaurants and a half-ton copper cupola from atop the tower of a North Woodstock church was acquired and hoisted to a new perch on the mill roof. A shopping plaza with three new retail buildings was created and the magnificent 54 room Inn with swimming pool was added to the complex. The area was beautifully landscaped and the waterfall exposed. Instead of walking around the mill property to get to the waterfront, people could now stroll along red brick paths and enjoy the shops and scenery of the marketplace. The opening of the Inn at Mill Falls and the Mill Falls Marketplace was the end of the industrial chapter for Meredith, but just the beginning of a new era for the town.
During 1993, a building built in 1968 came up for sale. This building dominated one of the most visible and best locations in town, directly on the lake and surrounded by town parks. The building itself was a rather undistinguished three story flat roofed office building. Some members of the community eyed the building as a new town office. This idea was overwhelmingly defeated at a Town Meeting and the site was purchased by the owners of the Mill Falls Inns and Marketplace. After a total reconstruction, the Inn at Bay Point and the Boathouse Grille opened in May of 1995. In 2005 Bay Point started being renovated and by the end of 2006 will be fully renovated.
The Chase House at Mill Falls
It was shortly after this that a landmark business, Chases Country Town House restaurant, decided to sell. This restaurant, started in 1949 by Carl Chase and operated ever since by his family, was located adjacent to Mill Falls and offered a wonderful view of Meredith Bay. The property was, however, divided by a town road. At the March 1997 Town Meeting, the voters of Meredith voted to close the road and give it (that’s right, give it!) to Hampshire Hospitality Holdings, the owners of the Inns, in order to allow for the development of the Chase House at Mill Falls. As you can see, the townspeople as a whole have had a major impact on the decision to allow the continued success of the Inns at Mill Falls. In 2006 we started to renovate the Chase House.
The Culmination of the Transformation – Church Landing at Mill Falls
In 2003, after St. Charles parish moved to a new facility, HHH acquired their old church and the land on which it sits – one of the most desirable pieces of property on the waterfront – a spectacular promontory that juts into Meredith Bay. Rather than raze the church, HHH incorporated the structure into its stunning design – in the great shingled camp style of the 1880s. In March 2003, construction began on Church Landing at Mill
History of The Inns & Spa at Mill Falls 2 History of The Inns & Spa at Mill Falls 3
falls, the fourth and final member of the Inns at Mill Falls family, and in May 2004, Church Landing celebrated its Grand Opening.
In addition to the spectacular new Inn, Church Landing includes approximately 1,000 feet of new, public waterfront walkway. This creates approximately three-quarters of a mile of contiguous public walkway along Lake Winnipesaukee’s waterfront, connecting Church Landing with The Town Docks Restaurant, The Christmas Loft, two parks, and the existing walkway system that extends past The Inn at Bay Point. It also includes two new 60-foot docks and a public gazebo and pier, which are attached to the existing town docks system. The final and crowing touch to Church Landing is the world-class Cascade Spa featuring couples treatment rooms, lake views and the finest amenities and staff in New England.