Sharing History with Brownie Troop 758

Members of Brownie Troop 758 have been working towards earning a "Wave the Flag" patch. The troop is comprised of twenty-two Brownies who are enrolled in grades 1 through 3. These Brownies meet at the First United Methodist Church on Monday afternoons from 4:00 until 5:30.

To help the Brownies learn how government in Gilford has changed through the years, Troop Leader Judy Cook invited Thompson-Ames Historical Society’s Education Coordinator Kathy Lacroix to speak during the troop’s Monday, November 15th meeting.

An opportunity to share Gilford history is always welcomed by Thompson-Ames Historical Society, and Kathy greeted this invitation with her customary enthusiasm.

To help the Brownies learn how government in Gilford had changed through the years, a good starting point seemed to be to emphasize that what is now Gilford started out in the 1700s, more than 250 years ago, as part of the township of Gilmanton which was so large that it even included the present-day towns of Belmont, Lakeport, and a portion of Laconia south and east of the Winnipesaukee River.

What was life like in the 1700s and 1800s in this part of New Hampshire? Most people lived on farms and everyone in the farm family had to work together to grow food to eat, take care of the farm animals, make clothes to wear, and keep the house and farm buildings in good shape. People couldn’t just go to the store to buy what they needed; they had to make things for themselves. In short, the family spent its time on the farm.

Families would get together to help one another. Such families would often build a meetinghouse for their community. A meetinghouse would be a building which could serve the settlement as "town hall", where the men in the community could gather together to talk and make plans about their community. The meetinghouse would also be a place where religious services could take place and where the community members could go to be safely together in time of attack or disaster. The meetinghouse could also be a place where school would be held if the settlement had not yet built school houses for the children to attend.

When we study history, we learn that present-day Gilford was known as Gunstock Parish back in the 1700s and early 1800s. The earliest cluster of settlement in our area was on the top of Gunstock Hill, just above where School House Hill Road is today. In 1794 several families settled there and built a fine meetinghouse, which they used as a "town hail", a church, and a place where the community could gather in case of attack or disaster. They called this area Meetinghouse Hill.

But these people were still part of Gilmanton. Each year all the men in Gilmanton, including those who lived on Meetinghouse Hill and in other parts of Gunstock Parish, would have to travel all the way into the Lower Parish section of Gilmanton to attend town meetings. That was a hard journey that took a long time!

There were lots of woods and few roads back in those days. It took a long time to make such a trip by foot or by horseback. The farm families didn’t like it that their men folk had to go away from the farm for a day or two to travel to attend the town meetings. At those times the women and children had to work even harder on the farms to do their own work as well as the work that the men usually did. If there was an emergency when the men were away attending town meeting, matters were even worse.

People in Gunstock Parish thought how much better life would be for themselves if Gunstock Parish could become a town separate from Gilmanton. Then the men folk would have a shorter distance to travel to attend town meetings.

In 1811 the men in Gunstock Parish asked Gilmanton for permission to break away in order to form a separate town. Gilmanton would not give such permission.

But the people in Gunstock Parish wouldn’t give up the idea of forming their own town. Finally in 1812 Gunstock Parish received permission from the State of New Hampshire to become a town separate from Gilmanton.

The new town needed a name. Gilford was the name chosen.

Gilford’s town meetings were then held in the meetinghouse on Meeting-house Hill. This continued until 1841 when the town of Gilford built the Town Hall building on Potter Hill Road in what then became Gilford Village. Still it was only men who could meet and participate in town meetings.

Something important happened in 1867 that helped recognize that women could play a valuable part in organizations. It was in 1867 that the National Grange, an influential farmers’ organization, was founded. Six years later, in 1873, the New Hampshire Grange came into being. Two years after that, in 1875, Gilford saw the formation of the Mount Belknap Grange, No. 52, which became a key feature in Gilford village life and lasted for much of the 20th Century. Women were able to be actively involved in the Grange organizations and had the opportunity to be recognized for their voice and other contributions.

But it wasn’t until 1920 that women were finally given permission to participate in United States government and to vote. This came about through an amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America after many, many women had worked many, many years to plead their case to the people in general and to men in particular. -— We even have a photograph that shows how happy women in Gilford were on November 2, 1920 when they were finally allowed to vote!

Women in Gilford have been willing to take an active part in politics during the 84 years that they have had permission to participate. Included in the list of women who have been active in politics are the following:

Senator Edith Gardner

Selectman Sandra McGonagle

Town Clerks Lorraine Royce and Debbie Eastman

Chairman of the School Board Muriel Harris

Representative Alida Millham.

Thompson-Ames Historical Society hopes that sharing Gilford’s history will not only help the Brownies learn how government in Gilford has changed through the years but also encourage these youngsters to participate in the mainstream of American life.