The Thompson-Ames Historical Society writes a
weekly column for the Gilford Steamer.
A recent article is shown below.
You may view and / or download previous articles here...
2-10-05 "Sled dog racing – the “Gilford” connection"
is a perfect time to reminisce about winters past. Marge Muehlke did so this past week in respect to "skiing on the
west side", so this week seems an opportune time to turn our attention to "sled
dog racing - the 'Gilford' connection".
Let's start by gaining some
Where might people live to
reasonably come up with the idea of pairing up dogs and sleds to provide
transportation? In a snowy climate --
such as that of Alaska? Of course! And, so it did happen, thanks to the
resourcefulness of Eskimos who lived there.
The 1897 discovery of gold on the
Klondike River in Yukon Territory set off the gold rush of 1898 into Alaska
which at that time was a territory of the United States. Interaction with the
Eskimo way of life was a natural byproduct.
Twenty-eight years later, in 1925, a
medical emergency - an outbreak of diphtheria (a highly contagious respiratory
disease) - triggered a cooperative effort that had far-reaching effects. To
curtail the diphtheria epidemic, antitoxin serum had to be raced to Nome,
It was January 27, a time of year when the landscape
was covered in deep snow and ice and the temperatures were frigid. In this "race against death", the hope and trust to get the serum through on time would
rely on a relay format using dog sleds.
Word went out and mushers volunteered. These
volunteers included the natives of Alaska as well as men who had moved to
Alaska from other countries.
The successful 1925 Nome Serum Run, which began on
January 27 and concluded on February 1st, involved team work which
included twenty-one mushers and their dog teams to cover 674 miles during a
total time of 127.5 hours. Two of the legendary participants were Leonhard
Seppala and Gunnar Kaason, whose respective lead dogs were Togo and Balto.
It is no
wonder that the 1925 Nome Serum Run made nationwide headlines and caught the
attention of many a New Hampshirite!
Arthur Waldron of Wonalancet's Chinook Kennels is
attributed to have been the force behind developing the 200-mile long point-to-point
sled dog race which was run between Berlin, New Hampshire and Boston, Massachusetts
- a race that only passed through the Lakes Region area.
The first sled dog race held in our vacinity was
part of Laconia's 1926 Winter Carnival.
race was between a team from Meredith and one owned by Belmont resident Charlie
Charlie, who operated a barbershop in Laconia, in
time became known as "Laconia's Mister Sled Dog". His interest in and passion for sled dogs and sled dog racing
became shared by his whole family, including
his son John Lyman, of Gilford, and down through the generations.
In 1929 plans for a Laconia Derby - to begin and end
in Laconia -- came to fruition under the auspices of the New England Sled Dog
Club. A highlight of the event was the
arrival of Leonhard Seppala, the fifty-two year old Norwegian musher of Nome,
Alaska fame. He and his Siberian
Huskies, including his lead dog Togo, arrived by truck from Poland Springs,
Maine, a week before Laconia's February 11-13 Derby.
A copy of the Citizen's
Centennial Edition, which Libby Lyman shared with me recently as we traced the
1929 Laconia Derby's routes, shows Gilford having been involved.
The first day of the event was planned so that the
40-mile route would encompass Laconia, Meredith, New Hampton, Bristol, Hill,
Sanbornton Square, Lockmere, Winnisquam and then back to the lake in Laconia.
Plans for the second day's route included Laconia,
Meredith Center, Lakeport, the Country Club to Meredith, Center Harbor, the
Long Island Bridge to Glendale, via Lake Winnipesaukee to Steamboat, Bear, Mink
and Timber islands, to Lakeport and then back to Laconia.
On the third day the race was
planned to pass through Laconia, Belmont, Gilmanton Iron Works, Alton, West
Alton, Glendale, via the Big Lake. The route was inside Moose, Rattlesnake and
Diamond islands. From there the trail
led to Gilford Village and then back to Laconia.
That year, as well as during many of
the subsequent years, including this year, a dirth of snow was a concern. But a
snowfall the day before the Derby set the stage for a memorable event and a
tradition that continues to this day with throngs of on-lookers turning out to
line the race ways.
Many a Gilfordite recalls times past
when Gilford roads -- then dirt roads with lighter traffic - were the scene of
local mushers training their sled dog teams which responded to the command of "Hee!" and "Haw!" partially muffled
by a whistling wind. Also, as Marge Muehlke shared in her Steamer article this past week, in 1936, 11-year-old Pete LaBonte's
3-dog team was enlisted to give
dog-sled rides to tourists who came to ski on Gunstock Mountain's western slopes. Furthermore, Esther Peters fondly
recalls being able to look out her living room window and seeing the mushers
put their teams through their paces in the snow-covered fields vacated by dairy
cattle during the winter months.
Yes, dog sledding which has come to
be centered in Laconia certainly shares a connection to Gilford.
Libby Lyman, granddaughter of Charlie Lyman and
daughter of Pat and John Lyman, has been invited by the Laconia Historical and
Museum Society to present the Monday, February 14th program on sled
dog racing, a timely presentation with this weekend being on the Community Calendar
as Laconia's 76th Annual World Championship Sled Dog Derby. The
Lyman family continues to promote and celebrate this aspect of the Lakes Region's