Back in the 19th century, Harry Thayer Kingsbury, owner of the Kingsbury Machine Tool Corp. in Keene, relished spending his summers at Spofford Lake in Chesterfield, where he would tool around with his family on his small fleet of steamboats. In 1887, tragedy hit, when a massive storm rolled into the area, taking out his prized vessel, the Allegretto, and sending it to the muddy bottom of the lake.
For years, there were no artifacts from this boat — that is, until intrepid diver Annette Spaulding decided that she was going to seek it out. Her efforts were rewarded when she discovered the anchor from the wreck under 2 1/2 feet of silt, which she subsequently donated to the Chesterfield Historical Society on June 11 of this year.
“I’m on a roll with historical finds,” she said. “For 38 years, I’ve lived in Rockingham, Vt. When I first moved here, one of the local residents invited me to dive off his property, so I took him up on it right away.
“It was a wonderful place to dive, just opposite Pierce Island (on Spofford Lake), and the location of one of the hotels that used to be there. I found material from that hotel, along with some Native-American artifacts.”
Spaulding said that while some portions of the lake bottom are made up of hard-packed gravel, there are other parts that are considerably silted up.
“I ran into some problems once on a training exercise in the north end of the lake,” she said. “I ended up mired in silt up to my thighs, and had real problems getting out.”
A chance encounter a little more than 20 years ago led Spaulding to some remarkable finds, as well as uncovering a hitherto unknown piece of New England history.
“Back in 1998, I was diving in the lake, and had a Diver Down flag on the surface,” she said. “While I was down there, I heard a boat engine over my head, and then felt someone tugging on the line. When I came to the surface, I found myself face-to-face with an older man who said he had some interesting stories for me.
“First, we boated out to the site of the Pine Grove Springs Hotel, which burned down in 1961. He told me that the staff that worked there used to throw plates into the lake on a regular basis. I went down, and, sure enough, there were piles of crockery on the bottom, some of which I brought up.”
But there was more. The stranger then began to recount a weird tale of the lake, which he recalled from his teen years back in 1952.
“He told me that he had been doing some yard work with his father when they both heard a loud noise overhead. Looking up, they were startled by a large military plane, flying so low that it almost clipped the roof of the house. The plane then flew over the lake, and dropped nine bombs into the water
“The next day, Navy personnel came by and asked to use their boat, which they used to retrieve one of the bombs from the bottom. As it turned out, the planes were performing a training exercise, where they were going from Manchester to Albany, N.Y.
“Along the way, they ran low on fuel and had to ditch the bombs in order to complete the flight. The Navy said these were just practice bombs, but this man and his father noticed they handled the one they had found very carefully when loading it onto the truck.”
Spaulding said that the search for the steamboat Allegretto became something of a quest for her, which was rewarded only after a lot of arduous searching.
“I managed to find some items related to the wreck, including a bugle which dated back to the 19th century,” she said. “I also discovered a barrel filled with coal, which encouraged me to keep digging. That’s when I found a huge anchor, buried in the silt.
“I brought in a diving team to retrieve it, shorn from its chain. We brought it up, and I took it to a man in Claremont who restored it.
“On subsequent dives, we also found other items from the wreck, including crockery, marmalade jars and part of the smokestack. Later, we discovered a couple more of the bombs, which we brought up.”
Spaulding said that her explorations have revealed a lot of the history of the lake, but she’s really only scratched the surface.
“There are six more bombs still at the bottom of Lake Spofford,” she said. “I’m sure that we’ll find them one of these days.”
Annette Spaulding will host a presentation, “Diver finds Navy Bomb in Lake Spofford,” on Thursday, July 11, at 7 p.m. at the Asbury United Methodist Church in Chesterfield. For more information, contact the Chesterfield Historical Society at 363-8018 or visit their website chesterfieldhistoricalsociety-nh.org.