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What's Life Like in a Private Lakeside Community?

Exploring life beyond the gate

By Elizabeth Atkinson
Published: April 1, 2007
The view from inside the gate at Westways on Kezar: Much the same as elsewhere on the lake with the White Mountains in the background.
Photo by Elizabeth Atkinson
The road heading north through Lovell, Maine, winds gently up and down soft knolls, offering distant (and sometimes spectacular) glimpses of Kezar Lake nestled in the foothills of the White Mountains. Here and there, narrow entrances leading down to the shoreline appear under canopies of maples and white pines along the wooded route. As a child, I was obsessively curious about those hidden driveways as you could never see their conclusions, only where they began.  
I was especially intrigued by the chunky wooden gates that marked three lakeside associations along the main route. These gates and their discreet signs declared not only the communities’ stately names, but their exclusivity: PRIVATE.
No matter how much I begged my parents to venture in and find out what an entire community of people were doing in secret day and night, they emphatically refused. 
“You have to be a member,” my mother would say.
“Just to drive down the dirt driveway?”
Young as I was, I imagined a world beyond those sedate boundaries of fabulous fun with live, noisy music, trays of frosted pastries, giant water toys – and possibly fairies. Certainly they were having a much better time than we were at my grandparents’ cabin. How could my parents resist veering off the road and joining in the festivities?
Thirty years later, you can imagine my glee when my aunt (owner of a local real estate agency), called to tell me of a friend who wanted to sell her property ... and it was down the dirt driveway of one of those secluded Kezar Lake associations.
A few days following Aunt Renee’s call I found myself clinging to the steering wheel as I turned left through the chunky wooden gate and past the discreet sign which read Westways. The weather was crisp and the autumn trees had peaked. I was dressed casually but tastefully, just in case anyone invited me to stay and join in with whatever people do in private associations.

Westways on Kezar was founded by the Diamond Match Corporation as a summer retreat for company executives and was run much like a summer camp.
Photo by Elizabeth Atkinson
On the Inside
However, to my surprise I saw absolutely no one. It was late in the season and most summer residents in Lovell had headed home for the cold months. What I did see were gray houses with green trim, an old clay tennis court, a field, docks, several boat racks, a modest lodge with a fieldstone fireplace – and the lake. The same lake and pretty much the same mountain view I had seen all my life. No live, noisy music or trays of frosted pastries or giant water toys (or fairies). No glamour at all. But it did have a real sense of history.
“Westways on Kezar” was founded by the Diamond Match Corporation in 1924 as a summer retreat for the company executives.  The president and CEO, William A. Fairburn, hired by Diamond Match in 1915, was a dynamic corporate leader who revolutionized the domestic match industry.
Fairburn purchased two large adjacent farms on the northeast side of Kezar Lake and constructed a compound of homes including his lakeside “cottage” boasting 29 rooms. The private association also enjoyed various amenities, such as a recreational hall, handball court, stables, several outbuildings, tennis court, playing field – and a helipad to land helicopters as well as park the company float plane.
It has been said that Fairburn ran Westways not unlike an adult summer camp for his executives – with a mandatory agenda that included daily horse-back riding and nightly dinners at his residence.
Today, Westways remains much the same although ownership has changed and the residents are, of course, free to make their own schedules. The horses are gone and several more cottages have been built throughout the 100-plus acres, but the rec hall, clay tennis court, outbuildings and dirt roads look very much as they must have 80 years ago. A large swing set and open play area now occupy the helipad, making room for volleyball, badminton and bonfires. Every Thursday night during the summer months a softball game takes place, as it has for as long as anyone can remember. And the 2,000 feet of lakeshore has been carefully preserved, wild and natural.
We now count ourselves as members of this idyllic community.

Quiet time or party time: There are plenty of opportunities for both in a private community.
Photo by Elizabeth Atkinson
Built-In Social Life
Even though an association may be private, living in an association is anything but private. After all, the point of living semi-communally is to share, and by sharing you not only make the workload easier, you instantly acquire a built-in social life.  If you have an extra ticket to the Deertrees Theatre there is almost always someone down at the beach who is game for a night out.  And for the members who don’t own a boat, those who do are more than delighted to bring aboard guests.
While it is possible to maintain a degree of solitude within an association, the boundaries can be fuzzy. For example, I recall a particular weekend when one of our enthusiastic members spread the word to meet at the softball field the following morning at 7 a.m. sharp for a bird watching expedition. I smiled and thanked the messenger, implying my intention to join in.
You have to understand, I want to be a morning person and I want to be interested in watching birds, but it wasn’t meant to be. At 9 a.m. I sat outside our house on a chaise lounge in my pajamas wrapped in a fleece blanket, sipping coffee, my hair sticking on end like a crown of feathers. Round the bend I spotted the group marching back from their journey, binoculars swinging proudly against their chests. They stopped, waved and hesitated ever so slightly ... but then continued on, respecting my space and lack of ambition.

The docks are communal property as are the tennis court, lodge, bowling alley and roads.
Photo by Elizabeth Atkinson
A Good Fit
Our association lifestyle works particularly well for our family.  While my husband thrives on finding people with whom to play pool or fish or hang out on the dock, for the most part I prefer to read or walk alone. Our two teenagers know there is always plenty to do and they clearly enjoy the freedom of being on the loose during the day and creeping about at night with only a flashlight. In addition, we’re very busy people (as most growing families seem to be these days) and barely have time to rake the yard back in Massachusetts. Our association has a full-time caretaker. For a reasonable annual fee our docks are pulled out of the water, the clay tennis court is serviced, the grounds are maintained, the garbage is picked up, and the private roadways are plowed in the winter.
Every Memorial Day weekend the members come together to meet and vote on issues such as repairing an old boathouse or replacing the chipped balls in the antique, manually operated bowling alley. While we as a group run into the occasional obstacle, on the whole people are amicable … as we all cherish the privilege of living on a beautiful lake together.
These days, instead of live, noisy music, I park myself on the porch and listen to the gentle symphony of loons, crickets and the evening breeze. Rather than feast from trays of frosted pastries, I nibble on wild blueberries and raspberries growing along the rocky shore.  And though we do own some major water toys, I now prefer the quiet of the kayak.  
As far as the fairies, I’m still keeping an eye out.

Elizabeth Atkinson, a writer from Massachusetts, is grateful for the added leisure time and camaraderie her lake association provides.

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