by Diane Mitton
The Thompson-Ames Historical Society
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10/19/06 When Gilford was larger than Laconia
When Gilford’s Park and Recreation Department decided on the theme “Gilford Goes Country” for 2006 Old Home Day, Thompson-Ames Historical Society parade committee played around with the “go west, young man” idea – and the resulting loss of population as a result of the westward expansion. This led us to thinking of a sudden and more dramatic loss of population which occurred in 1893 when an important and populous section of Gilford was annexed to the city of Laconia.
A friend had suggested “Hee-Haw” the popular TV series of the ‘70s as a possible idea for our float. It sounded like an idea we could have some fun with. If you remember that show, one of its features was a short segment in which the show’s regular country characters saluted a small town somewhere in the country and announced its population. So, our theme became “Hee-Haw Salutes Gilford, NH” and we chose to show how Gilford’s population changed from 1890 to 1950. This float turned out to be a lot of fun for those participating and brought about questions from a number of viewers as to why the town’s population figures fluctuated so dramatically. For instance, in1850 the population of Gilford was 2425, in the 1890s the number had peaked at 3585, by 1900, it had made a dramatic change and stood at 660! It was several decades before the town saw its population figures once again attain the 1890s figure.
According to “The Gunstock Parish” by Adair Mulligan, the “urbanizing commercial and industrial districts of “The Bridge” [Meredith Bridge] and Lake Village [Lakeport] which had developed straddling the Meredith/Gilford line as a result of the natural resources there, struggled throughout much of the nineteenth century to achieve a unified political identity to match.” Mulligan says, “more than half of the population of Gilford, and certainly more than half of its taxable property, were located on its northern and western fringes along the Winnipesaukee River, in the Gilford communities called Lake Village and Meredith Bridge.”
In ”Lakeport”, Warren Huse states that in 1855 “Lake Village saw the western part of its territory ceded to the new town of Laconia, then” briefly back to Gilford. Mulligan goes on to say that by 1874 a large section of the town located on the east bank of the river, “including the western part of Lake Village” was lost to Laconia by annexation. Looking at it today, that means most of the land “ between the present bypass and the Winnipesaukee River , from the bypass’ western end at Court Street to Union Ave east of Paugus Bay and east beyond Gilford Avenue, including the Belknap County courthouse.” The loss of this territory, including as it did the County courthouse, located within the town of Gilford on the same site as the present brick building which was built in 1893. also meant that Gilford was no longer the shiretown for Belknap County.
This loss involved a considerable piece of industrial and commercial real estate – and a major loss of tax revenue to the town of Gilford. What was left of Lake Village was now Gilford’s “ primary industrial/commercial center”. This was the situation, when in the winter of 1893 Laconia attorney, Stephen Jewett, clerk of the State legislature drafted a proposed new charter which led to the legislature’s discussion of how best to divide Gilford and Laconia. Lake Village, by now Lakeport, at first resisted the idea of annexation to Laconia. Mulligan states that it was the talk of a sewerage system that swung the vote. The area was intensively industrialized and had no collective means of handling the tremendous amounts of wastewater generated by the ever increasing activity and the population. “Expenditures of public funds for the benefit of this large village did not sit well with the people living in the rural districts of Gilford….who refused to bear the taxes needed to fund the sewerage system.” And so the Lakeport citizens decided it was to their advantage to join Laconia and they became a district voting precinct of the city of Laconia in 1893 and Gilford, according to Mulligan, became once again, literally, a cow town of 660 people and 839 cattle.
It wasn’t until the 1940s that Gilford broke the 1000 mark and not until the 1970s that it had once again reached and passed the 1890 figure of 3585.
Today, “ Hee-Haw” salutes Gilford, NH, population 7033! (2000 census)