Joe Boudreau, Mooers Road, Interviewed by Jeff Gurrier
Joe, what road do you live on?
I have a camp on Mooers Road. In fact, I used to know Gordon Mooers. He was one of the first people to live on this side of the lake. He was a real estate agent in the town of Everett, Massachusetts. I had mentioned to him that I was interested in lakes and he brought me up here to look at property he had for sale. That was in 1957. Since then we’ve always been summer residents.
That wasn’t the first time I was up here, though. I came up in the 1930’s–it must have been summer. My friends and I bought a car together; we couldn’t afford one by ourselves. We used to go camping a lot because it didn’t cost anything. We drove up to Nottingham center and took a left. We were looking for a place to camp overnight. I think we stopped at the Fernald’s house, but I’m not sure. The farmer said, “I’ve got property all the way down to the lake, camp wherever you want”. So, that’s how I got up here in the 1930’s.
What attracted you to Pawtuckaway Lake in the 1930’s?
I grew up in East Boston. So, being a city boy, this was really God’s country. I was in the Boy Scouts since I was 6 years old. I was always interested in camping. To me, this place was another world. It was hidden away; nobody knew about it. There were no buildings at all—it was wilderness. The deer used to come down to the water here and bears, too. Every night you’d hear the coyotes. There weren’t 1/10th of the houses that are here now. I could have bought 50 acres back then for nothing. Of course, I didn’t have any money then, so I couldn’t.
Sachs’s place was here, it was called Edelweiss. We heard that they raised mink there and in the hurricane of 1938 the cages all got knocked over. The mink all got free. You can tell the difference between them. Wild mink are a different color than cultivated mink and you can see the difference if you know the animals.
Back then almost everyone on this side of the lake was German. After the war, they had all settled here because they couldn’t get a job. They would do farming and their wives would do housework. People were hard on the Germans after the World War I—they were treated like outcasts. They came up here and bought up most of the land on this side of the lake. They had it hard until people got wise and started giving them jobs again. They were the nicest people; they’d do anything for you. That’s what I get a kick out of; we are all foreigners here, who isn’t a foreigner?
Did you come back again before you bought property?
We came back up here again for three summers beginning in 1949. We rented a camp in White’s Grove–it’s still there, the big white one. Every summer they would take the water down for the water rights so you used to have to walk out 20-25 feet from shore to get to the water. It was nothing but gunk on the bottom, not sand.
We couldn’t get through the channels with our boat because the water was so low, so we stayed on the North side. There was a big rock over there we called the Elephant Rock because it looked like an elephant had sat on it, the indentation in the middle was so big.
Did the land you purchased have a camp on it?
We just bought the land; there wasn’t a camp on it then. We originally bought 87 ft. of shorefront for $1,200. We built this camp ourselves 49 years ago in 1957. We call it “Poppaspryde”. The two lots on either side of us were purchased at the same time. The Dudas and the Smalleys bought those.
We lived in Malden, Massachusetts back then, and it took us two hours to drive up here on Rte 125 and the old Rte 101, which is now Rte 27. We came up every Friday night and left on Sunday night. When we first bought the property we lived in an old army pyramid tent for 2 summers. We had a platform under the tent and chemical toilet in a curtained corner. When you have girls you needed some facilities.
It was a 16’ x 16’ tent with an inside 2×4 frame and screening all around it. It had a screen door and flaps that you could roll down to cover the screens. The five of us lived in that for the first two years up here. We had a two-burner propane stove to cook on. It was very comfortable.
When my daughter Joanne was 3 years old she climbed to the top of the tent. No one knows how she got up there. We almost had a heart attack when they saw her. That was the beginning of a rock climbing hobby for Joanne that continues even to this day.
We used to drink the water from the lake back then before we got a well. It was very clean; there were so few people up here. I wouldn’t do that today. I got water out of the spring out on Rte. 156 once or twice too. We got a well right off the bat. It was only 20 ft. deep and it went dry all the time at the end of the summer.
We started to build our camp that first summer but it wasn’t until the end of the second summer before we could move in. The fourth summer we put the porch on. There were so many trees on the property you could barely walk down to the beach. We had to clear them to make room for the camp. We used the wood for heat.
My wife Ethel built all of the stone walls. To build the walls we had to pull the rocks out of the water. Then we brought sand in to make the beach. Everyone worked, the girls mixed cement and mortar. They built the chimney with me and the roof too. We built this camp ourselves. We didn’t hire anybody.
We bought our lumber in Raymond. We never went into debt; I grew up in the Depression, I don’t borrow money. Every Friday night we would stop at the lumber store and buy as much lumber as we could afford and that is what we worked with. If we ran out of lumber, we stopped. We’d buy what we could afford each week.
In the second year my brothers-in-law came up every weekend to help; by the end of the year we had it all framed. My relatives didn’t stay the night, there wasn’t room; they would go home to Lynnfield, Mass. on Saturday night and come back again on Sunday morning.
Did you use the camp in the winter?
Yes, we also came in the wintertime. We would walk in from the top of the first hill on Mountain Road. They didn’t plow Mooers Road back then. We would bring all of our supplies in on toboggans. Everyone who came in the winter back then did it that way.
In the winter we used a 5’ long crow bar to cut a hole in the ice for water. We’d chop until we got through. You’d have to watch out for the last chip or the crowbar would go straight to the bottom of the lake through the hole. That happened once; Claire figured out where it was the next summer and swam down and got it.
Did you have to maintain the road?
The Mooers owned the road. Later we had an association that we were members of. The association took care of the road. It was the association’s obligation to keep the road open in the winter and maintain it. Some of the neighbors use to drag an old bed spring on the road to smooth it out after the winter. They kept making improvements to it until the town took over maintaining it.
How many generations of your family have visited here?
We have four generations that come up now to enjoy it. We are going to keep it in the family. We had a big family reunion up here last August. There were 40 of us up here and not everyone could make it. We needed tents to fit everyone overnight.
Did you have friends on the lake?
We really didn’t know anyone up here beforehand. On our road there were the Mooers, the Diamonds, and the Gylphyes. Those were the only camps. The Hanlons came in the 1960’s. We met them because a guy named Molland came over and said “I’m from the Lake Association and we have target practice for the kids on Saturday mornings, why don’t you bring your girls over?”
My girls were all sharp shooters. I had already taught them how to shoot. We had a firing range in my basement at home. We’d shoot into the coal bin. My girls beat everybody. We had a good time. We met a lot of people that way. There was a shooting range up in South channel somewhere; we had to get there by boat. We’ve been members of the PLIA since 1958, I think. I went to the meetings almost every year.
Oh yeah, the Meindls; their place had the gingerbread woodwork. That place was gorgeous. It was dark brown and all of the trim was in yellow. And, he was a famous wood carver; he did carving for the big churches down in Boston. He worked all over the world and was well-renowned. His place was unbelievable; it looked like a Swiss chalet. They were one of the first people we met here. When we were framing our camp that first year we had a little dance here and Meindls came over in a canoe. They were our friends from that day forward.
Back then opportunities for recreation were few and far between. Every Sunday afternoon you’d go up to the horseshoe court and clank two shoes together. First thing you know you’d have 8-10 men down. You’d choose partners and it would be an all-day affair. You’d get started and then the wives and children would come down to be cheering sections. It would go on for 4 or 5 hours. They’d bring their own beer and we’d have a real good time. All you had to do was clank two shoes together and they’d come out of the woodwork.
I threw a flat shoe. It would spin in the air, just catch the pole and spin around it. But you had to hit the pole first! I still have the horseshoe court behind the house. Three years ago when they put the new septic system in they were going to tear up the horseshoe court. I said, “No you’re not”!
The Hanlons bought the hill behind us in 1960. They were three brothers who married three sisters, all from Newfoundland. That was very common at the time. Two of the couples lived in Medford—the men were ocean fishermen. They built the camp at the top of the hill and a little place at the bottom of the hill for overflow to sleep in. They had a huge family and everybody was always coming up.
That camp wasn’t built real good; it was on these huge stilts. When they sold it to the Edwards, it was torn down. But the Edwards kept the pedestal table from the original camp. We used to have hoedowns up there at the Hanlons’ around that table. We’d get together and play games and sing. We didn’t have TV back then. The guys would all dance; they were all Irish fishermen from Newfoundland. They’d sing songs and do their jigs.
They all would come up here straight from fishing. They weren’t allowed to bring in whole lobsters that had got caught in their nets but they could bring lobster pieces. They’d show up with 15 lbs. of lobster, mostly tails, just the tails. Life was good. Boy, was it. I never had so much lobster in all my life.
We used to have cookouts on the beach and sing songs. We would light a fire at night and all sit around and sing songs. That’s my biggest memory. We’d start a bonfire and the neighbors would all come down. We always sang in the car when the kids were growing up because we didn’t have radios in our cars during the 1950’s. So we used to sing all the time. The girls learned all the songs from the 1930’s and 1940’s. We would sing the standards; we’d get one song going and not stop for three hours. We knew all the Girl Scout and Boy Scout songs, too. I didn’t sing with them much myself. I sang ‘The Man on the Flying Trapeze”—that was the only song I knew, or so I pretended.
What else did you do for fun?
Our first boat was a rowboat. We rowed everywhere. We’d go fishing every single morning. At five in the morning I’d wake up to go fishing. Claire was my rower. It was heaven here fishing. Every cast was a fish—bass, small mouth bass, pickerel, and perch. I never kept them unless I was going to eat them, which we often did. We had 26” inch bass; what a fight they’d give you. You couldn’t just pull them in; you had to play them awhile. There weren’t many fishermen on the lake back then; the lake was just lousy with fish.
I bait fished at first and then I got into fly-fishing. I’d go to rivers for trout. I had a lure with three hooks on it. I caught two bass on the same lure once. It’s true; I’m sure I have a picture of it somewhere to prove it.
In the 1960’s we had a boat with one of those motors with the rope you had to wind around and pull to start it. Then we bought a speedboat with a motor large enough to ski with. The lake was so busy with boats in the 60’s sometimes you had to wait your turn to get out on the lake to water ski. There were so many boats that everyone went around in a counter clockwise circle. There would be 8-10 boats pulling skiers going around at one time. We wouldn’t take our boat out after 10:00 AM on a Sunday morning. Everybody had speedboats then, everyone water skied. There are less speed boats on the lake now than there were then.
Water skiing was the big thing. I used more gas pulling the kids around. I’d spend the whole afternoon in the boat. I’d say we taught over 100 people how to water ski. Our friend Steve Molland had a water disk; he would put a ladder on top of this disk and climb up on it and he’d hold an umbrella and go around the lake behind the boat.
We had a priest friend from Jamaica, he’s been a priest on that island for 70 years, and he liked to come up here in the worst way. So, we taught him how to water-ski. He’d take off his collar as he was walking down to the camp. He had a bathing suit that was too large for him. So, he’d get up water-skiing and his shorts would slide down. And, he’d be bouncing up and down and up and down trying to hang on to the rope and his shorts. And since he would not swear, he would be yelling, “blessed this and blessed that”. That was funny. We had more fun water skiing.
We’d buy two tanks of gas on the way in. When we ran out of gas, that was it for the day. We also had a rule that anybody could come to visit any time but they had to bring their own food. We provided the condiments, the stove, the lake—you bring your own food. My wife learned that lesson when she was a kid at her aunt’s camp. We had enough people visiting that they were sleeping out in tents, too.
What wildlife have you seen on the lake?
The coyotes, you’d hear them every night howling over at the Park. Boy, we had a lot of them. There was a bounty on them. I was a hunter but I never could shoot one. They were such pretty animals. I hunted deer and pheasant. I was a city boy but hunting was in my blood. I would see otter when we first came up here. But trappers cleared them out. They were wicked on the fish. They’d eat a lot of them. That’s why they eliminated them in my day; they ate too many of the fish.
We had fisher cats up here that were wicked. They’d eat small dogs and cats. We’d have deer come right down along the side of the camp by the brook. There was many a morning I’d wake up and see deer drinking water out of the lake.
We used to have huge turtles in the lake; there was a really large one down in Mountain Brook Cove. We have ducks that nest up back of us in the spring. We have a little stream that runs up the side of the camp and every night we see the ducklings walking up the stream back to the swamp. We used to feed the ducks and feed the geese, we didn’t know any better at the time.
Hunting season was beautiful here. I used to go in the woods and sit in a deer stand and watch the deer go by and go home never having fired a shot. I used to go where other hunters wouldn’t go, that was where the deer were. I went by myself a lot. Sometimes I’d watch the deer for 10 minutes and then shoot my gun in the air to spook them. The other hunters would come by and I’d say I’d missed. They were beautiful animals.
I’m part Indian, Micmac Indian. It’s in my blood, I know because I love to be in the woods. My mother and father come from Nova Scotia. We can’t trace our genealogy because the church in Nova Scotia that had the records burned down. My mother went back to Nova Scotia to have every one of her kids, except me; she didn’t get back in time. All of my brothers and sisters were naturalized Americans, I’m the only native one. She didn’t trust the doctors here; figure that. I had one brother and four sisters. It was common in Nova Scotia to intermarry with Micmacs.
You know about rabbit island don’t you? Somebody used to put rabbits on there in the spring and come back and get them in the fall to harvest them. Rabbits couldn’t swim, so it was like their own farmland. In the 1950’s and 1960’s there used to be lots of rabbits over there.
What was the most significant event that happened on the lake?
Did you know there was a mini tornado here in August 1960? It happened on a Thursday afternoon. I was at work but the family was here. At that time this camp only had the tongue and groove siding– it didn’t have shingles on it. We had the porch but it didn’t have windows in it yet. Two storms came together over the lake. In Raymond and Nottingham they didn’t have a drop of rain, nobody knew anything about the storm. On this lake it was chaos, absolute chaos.
The wind-driven rain came in every wall of the cabin, all four sides. We had a mop on the porch that we never found. We had neighbors who had clothes lines full of clothes that they never found. Canoes were found 200 ft. up in the woods. Our boat sunk under the water. The Mollands had just put a septic tank in that week. It was in the hole but not buried yet. It popped out of the ground and pulled all of the plumbing out of their house. The storm lasted 20-25 minutes. Claire was 16 at the time; she got in the car and went up the hill to get the Hanlon family who were in a tent. The hail covered the ground with white.
In 1966 the State Park opened, they started taking the land for it in the late 1950’s. It was the best thing they could’ve done. We were concerned at first but once we realized we weren’t being crowded out then it was OK. The way development was then it was wicked. The Brustles, Mooers, and Cahills all started their developments at that time, too. They had stopped draining the lake for power and that started everyone building.
I remember there were squatters who had built camps over where the State Park is now. There were quite a few of them. There was a camp on Log Cabin Island, one or two camps, I think. They were beautiful. The State burnt them down when the Park took them by eminent domain. Those camps had been built in the wintertime. They waited for the water to freeze and then they slid the lumber across to build them.
When they drained the lake in 1973 it looked like the moonscape out here. We found a lot of fishing rods that had sunk though, I found quite a few. I added them to my collection.
One evening we were sitting around and our dog Penny came home with a fully cooked chicken in her mouth. We never figured out whose dinner that was. We didn’t advertise it but we would have fessed up if someone had mentioned it.
How has the lake changed over the years?
I haven’t noticed much difference. More houses and more people but it isn’t over crowded. It’s not like Winnipesaukee; I’ve toured around there quite a bit and I picked this place because it’s affordable, quiet, and it stayed quiet—not overpopulated with houses everywhere.
There used to be sailboat races on the lake every Sunday; there had to have been 40 boats. They were wonderful to watch. I’ve got pictures of that.
We used to always have seaplanes landing on the lake. The place that Duffy owns now used to have a hangar. That was in the 1980’s. Before that there was one up on the North end of the lake, but there was more than one. One guy in a seaplane hit the wires that run across over by the Dolloff dam. He survived, though.
We have a patch of lady slippers that have been here ever since we got here. There used to be about 50 of them but, we’re down to about 12 now. We have a fence around them. Every year they come out and we think how beautiful they are. People make the mistake of picking them; they’re protected by law.
When we first got here the whole woods around us was full of white birches. They are all gone now, disappeared. We moved the whole camp over to avoid cutting down a white birch.
There used to be a Ranger’s house at the foot of the Mountain. There used to be a guy who stayed in the fire tower all day. He lived in that house and boy, they were characters. That house isn’t there anymore; the State burned it down when they stopped working in the fire tower full-time. The house was a little ways down from the cemetery. The cemetery is fascinating. You can see whole families that died from epidemics, young and old.
Is there anything else you’d like people to know?
I’m from the Depression era. I never borrowed a penny in my entire life. I saw too many tears back then. You’d lose your job if you missed a payment, they’d attach your pay at work for a few weeks then they’d let you go. I saw too much of that. I just paid for things as I could; I’m proud of that.
May 28, 2006