"Historic Highlights" for Gilford Steamer’s 30 Sept. 2004 issue
Oct. 4th Joint Meeting will spotlight "Railroads in the Lakes Region"

An annual joint meeting of Gilford’s Thompson-Ames Historical Society and the Laconia Historical and Museum Society is a happening that T-AHS President Raymond Wixson had envisioned and initiated in the early 1990s. It is an evening for the two neighboring historical societies to sit down together for a 6:00 pot luck supper, share progress and plans during a brief 7:00 business meeting, and listen to a 7:30 program presentation.

This year Thompson-Ames Historical Society will host the annual joint meeting on Monday evening, October 4th, downstairs in the Fellowship Hall of Gilford Community Church, at 19 Potter Hill Road, in Gilford Village.

The public is invited to attend; just bring your favorite pot luck supper dish and join in an amiable evening.--Thompson-Ames Historical Society will supply the table service and a variety of beverages.

Esther Peters, coordinator of the evening’s program, has invited local historian Bruce Heald to be the presenter. His topic is "Railroads in the Lakes Region "--a topic dear to the hearts of both Gilford and Laconia for the railroad had great impact on local history.

To this point in The Gunstock Parish: A History of Gilford, Hampshire, Adair Mulligan states, "One fine day in 1848 Gilford was connected to the outside world by something faster than old i’

She goes on to say, "The Lakes Region was the destination for two competing railroads ... the Cocheco Railroad Company ... to connect Dover with Meredith Bridge -- (but that rail line) got only as far as Alton Bay in 1851 before it ran out of money -- ... and the rival Boston, Concord, and Montreal that had built a line as far as Meredith Bridge in 1848 and to Lake Village shortly thereafter....

"The competing railroads waged war not only by land, but (also) by sea.... The Boston, Concord and Montreal Railroad purchased the 125-foot sidewheeler ‘Lady of the Lake’ from the Winnipesaukee Steamboat Company. The Cocheco Railroad followed suit, and the ‘Lady’ was soon competing with the ‘Dover’ in 1852. Twenty years later, the first ‘Mount Washington’ was put into operation by the Boston and Maine Railroad. The steamers raced each other on the lake and struggled, along with their land-based lines, to garner the lions s share of the freight and passenger markets."

The railroad’s impact on Meredith Bridge spurred even greater expansion of industry, including knitting machines and equipment, foundries and box companies. By 1855 Meredith residents petitioned the legislature to create the new town of Laconia which later, in 1874, absorded the Gilford portion including the Belknap County Courthouse and Gilford Academy and still later, in 1893, annexed the manufacturing area of Lake Village. Not only did Laconia’s knitting and hosiery industries expand but also Charles Ranlet established his production line of passenger, freight, and later trolley and subway cars, known as the Laconia Car Company.

In 1890, the railroad arrived in Gilford in the form of the seventeen— mile Lake Shore Railroad which linked the Boston, Concord, and Montreal Railroad with the Cocheco Railroad, and Gilford was changed forever.

According to Arthur Tilton’s September 9, 1991 presentation on the Lake Shore Railroad, he credited significant impact having come from four men, namely, Benjamin Kimball of Concord, Charles Busiel of Laconia, Charles Tilton of Tilton, and James French of Melvin Village.

A printed copy of Arthur Tilton’s presentation states, "...When Charles Tilton, with the blessing and help from the Northern Railroad, started to build from Franklin toward Dover, .. . the business people in Laconia area got really wild eyed and didn’t want the Concord interests to be dominating this area, so they got gun-ho and started actual construction of the road....

"The railroad followed the road of least resistance. The reason they followed the lakeshore was to take advantage of all the low flat areas. Ninety percent of the work was done by mule team or by hand. They imported many Italian workers from the Boston area to work on the rail. It followed the lake down and it made one of the most beautiful scenic areas in the state and they took full advantage of it. The swampy areas were easily filled so it kept (the rail bed) as flat as possible. The road was finally completed in 1892 with twenty stations or flag stops.

"The beginning of the line was at Lake Village, now Lakeport. Within less than a mile of Lake Village was a small shelter at Blackbrook. On one side was a flag stop and on the east side was a depot. It was a small building with a hip roof. You would find most of the stations down the line were built this same way, with a hip roof. Merrill Faye’s Great Grandfather was a contractor in Lake Village and he was a master at building hip roofs. He built the stations.

"The next station was at Lily Pond which was on the east side of the intersection of Lily Pond and Old Lakeshore Road.

"Meadowbrook was located at the end of the present airport runway. It was one of the bigger stations and there was a little push for that. The Millers had a summer retreat there along with five other families. The Reverend Mr. Wallace, who preached many years in Boston decided to come this way to the Millers. He said, ‘You know this is a nuisance to walk from the Miller’s cottage down the railroad tracks to Sander’s station. Maybe we could have a station here. The president of this railroad is a member of my church and I’m going to see if we can’t have a respectable depot for a station.’ It ended up being 20 ft. square. It was one of the grandest of all stations except for Glendale and Lakeshore Park. There again it was a hip roof built by George Merrill.

"...(One) station down the line was at Belknap Point, also called Kimball Station. It was a rather small but very elaborate building put up for the pleasure and convenience of Ben Kimball...." (We should note that Arthur Tilton’s Great Grandfather was a first cousin to Benjamin Kimball.)

This brief excerpt from just one item in Thompson-Ames Historical Society’s archives helps us gain insight into Gilford’s cultural heritage. The complete item is available for the public to peruse.

Other items pertinent to this aspect of Gilford’s history are on file in T~-AHS’s archives and on display in various theme areas in the Gilford museum buildings. Of special interest are information about Benjamin

Kimball and Kimball’s castle, artifacts from "The Lady of the Lake", the Franklin stove that Benjamin Kimball had installed in the "Kimball Railroad Station" to provide for the comfort of his guests as they waited for the arrival of either a train or a carriage, and railroad lanterns, as well as Arthur Tilton s many books about railroads and his model railroad items which we hope some day to set up using his schematic plan for a Lake Village/Lake Shore railroad display for multi-generational use by model-railroad enthusiasts.

Gilford is fortunate to have so many vintage items preserved to help make its cultural heritage come alive.

To contact Thompson-Ames Historical Society to peruse archival items or to visit theme displays or to arrange a tour, telephone 527-9009 or write to P0 Box 7404, Gilford, NH 03247—7404, or send an e-mail to thomames@worldpath.net, or just stop in whenever the "OPEN" flag is flying at the entrance to the Grange museum building.