In 1952, at the age of 21, while still attending Norwich University, Bob Lawton borrowed $750 from his grandmother, Mary Long, to start his own miniature golf course and arcade. The new venture was called The Weirs Sports Center and was located upstairs in Tarlson’s Arcade building on Lakeside Avenue in the Weirs. Bob’s brother, John, helped him build the golf course and run the business that first summer. The two brothers then formed a partnership at the beginning of the second season. Their partnership lasted until John’s death in 2003.
In 1964, looking for room to expand, the business was moved to its current location up on Route 3 and was renamed Funspot. The brothers built a 19 hole outdoor miniature golf course that featured “Landmarks of New Hampshire”. A small building that housed a few coin operated games and a snack bar was located next to the mini-golf.
A 40'x100’ billiard room which featured 7 Brunswick tables was built in 1965. The pool room operated until 1978 when video games took over the industry.
In 1966 a golf driving range was added next to the mini-golf and remained open until 2005 when a housing development began to spring up on the back boundary.
In 1971 an Antique Arcade was opened with 33 coin-operated machines dating from the early 1920’s, all beautifully restored to original working condition by Bob throughout the long New Hampshire winters. The machines were sold to collectors during the 1990’s including the Grandmother Fortune Teller which sold for $50,000. (In the early 1960’s, Bob paid $250.00 for a group of 38 antique machines from an arcade in Revere Beach, Grandmother was included in that lot. Not a bad investment!)
Bob was always looking for new ways to expand his business and in 1967 the Indian Trading Post was opened. The Indian Village opened in 1971 and featured authentic dwellings of tribes across the country. Painted teepees, cattail wigwams, birch bark wigwams and a whaling shrine were just a few of sites within the Village. Chief Red Dawn, a noted Santee Sioux Indian lorist and teacher of Indian culture performed daily in the Village. Indian Village and Trading Post remained in operation until 1983.
Storybook Forest, a children’s theme park opened in 1976. Petting zoos, magic and ventriloquist shows and many of the famous Mother Goose characters were featured in the park. This summer attraction closed in 1984.
Meanwhile, video games were taking over the coin-op business. Bob says, “We had a large game operator, he used to come in here during the summer – we only opened during summer at the time. We had the usual old mechanical games like baseballs, pinballs and rifle galleries and I can remember him coming in and waving his arms and saying: “Let me get rid of this junk and put in some good machines.” I agreed, and he started putting games in. The first one was Tank: a one-or two player game, for a quarter each. Each player had to pay a quarter! I was getting dimes for the games I’d had. But that one game took in more than everything else. It took me about one week to know that videogames was gonna be it. So we took out pool tables and kept adding videogames. It was just the heyday, it was just an amazing situation. “
In the late 70’s the popularity of game play was so great that Funspot ran pinball leagues year round. Pinball wizards from 6 to 60 years old took part in the unique leagues. Numerous video and pinball tournaments were staged as new games flooded the market. One such notable competition was the hugely successful Space Invaders Tournament that took place in 1979 culminating with the 5 top players being awarded trophies, shirts and accolades.
With the video game industry going great guns, a large 2 story addition was added to the Weirs location in 1986, giving Funspot room for another 100 games. In 1987 a 10,000 square foot Kiddie Room was built. The kiddie bumper cars were brought inside as well as kiddie rides and games geared to younger children. A second story mezzanine featured an additional 100 new games.
Funspot satellites were opened in Wolfeboro, Concord, Dover, and Amherst, NH, as well as South Portland, Maine and Port Richey, Florida. When the video game boom went bust at the end of the 80’s, the satellites were all closed or sold by 1990 and all efforts were concentrated on the Weirs Beach location.
In 1988 a 20 lane bowling center was completed with both Ten Pin and Candlepin lanes. All lanes feature automatic scoring and automatic bumpers making bowling fun for all ages…right down to the youngest family members. The center also allowed for another 150 new games.
The next decade began an era of diversifying the entertainment at Funspot. A 400 seat Bingo Hall was opened in 1996 and local charities have raised over $2,000,000 since its opening. In 1996 the D.A. Long Tavern was added. Denny A. Long, who is the Tavern’s namesake, was Bob’s grandfather and surely the person he got his entrepreneurial spirit from.
In 1992, Bob wanted to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and become a newspaper man. He began republishing The Weirs Times and Tourists’ Gazette, an original local paper published from 1883-1902. Today The Weirs Times has the largest weekly statewide distribution and is best loved for its stories about New Hampshire history and the people and businesses within the state. Bob’s son, David is the managing editor.
A state of the art Indoor Golf Center was opened in 2000 featuring 6 Full Swing Simulators and a retro Indoor Mini Golf. The simulators have real life play on over 30 championship courses from around the world and are open to golfers from November through April. The self-service mini-golf is a replica of the very first course Bob opened in 1952 and is open all year round.
With an abundance of classic videos and pinballs scattered throughout the complex, Gary Vincent, who has worked for the company since 1981, came up with the idea for a working (“playing”) museum. In 1998 the American Classic Arcade Museum opened and in 2002 it was incorporated as a 501c3 non-profit organization. Gary is the curator of the Museum and says, “I see my role as… I guess, technician, restorationist – if there is such a word, trying to keep the history, the feeling, that vibe of the old arcade days alive”. Over 250 of pre-1987 games are located on the upper level making it the largest collection of classic games in the world. And the best thing is - they are there to play.
Every spring A.C.A.M. hosts the Annual International Classic Video Game Tournament where players arrive from all over the world to compete in the 4 day event.
Today Funspot is the Largest Arcade in the World, according to Guinness World Records, with over 500 games of all types and 70,000 square feet of family entertainment. It is still run by Bob and his dedicated employees, many who have worked at the business for more than 30 years.
He was recently asked if he might think of retiring at 78 years old… “No. I live right here on the property and I open this business seven days a week at eight o’clock in the morning. And I’m working over 60 hours a week now. I do it because I enjoy it. I play golf a lot after work and I go to Orlando for six weeks every year now, to a golf resort. I’m happy; I have no idea of retiring. In fact, the first day of my retirement, I’d be wondering what was I gonna do today – and I never have to worry about that. I mean, I‘ve got a list right here on the table of stuff that Gary and I have got to do that’ll take us a week. I like to be busy, I like to be working, I like to keep moving, I like to be thinking of new things all the time.”
And so we look forward to another 50+ years bringing everyone the finest in family entertainment.