In 1622, the colony of New Hampshire was founded with a land grant from the Council for New England to John Mason and Sir Ferdinando Gorges. In 1641, the territory which includes what is now Laconia was claimed in land granted to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Surveying parties sent by Governor Endicott, trekked North through heavily forested land and arrived at Weirs Beach on August 1, 1652. The explorers carved their initials in Endicott Rock which can still be seen at the site.
When the surveyors arrived, they would have encountered an area that had been
inhabited for thousands of years by Native Americans. The native Winnepiseogees
shared their name with the large lake and belonged to the Pennacook confederacy.
Ethnically Western Abenakis, they were part of the Algonquin peoples and since at least 8,000 BCE, had used the area at times as a permanent settlement and at other times as a summer campground. These indigenous peoples captured fish using a special woven basket known as a Weir which gave the Weirs Beach area of Laconia its name.
Although there were some small colonial homesteads before the mid 1700s, violent
clashes including the French and Indian Wars delayed permanent colonial enclaves for some time. Around 1761, settlements in the area began to grow. The pioneers in the areas then known as Meredith Bridge and Gilmanton were largely self-sufficient farming the land, fishing, and milling lumber for their needs. As more immigrants arrived and lumber mills prospered, amenities for the community such as taverns, boarding houses, blacksmith shops and dry goods suppliers sprung up.
Manufacturing mills began to appear in earnest during the early 1800s. Water power
propelled the success of numerous industries. At this time, what is now downtown
Laconia was still Meredith Bridge and Lakeport was part of Gilmanton and they rivaled each other in the successes of their industries which included textile mills, boat construction, lumber mills, brass foundries, needle manufacturing and more.
So active were the lumber mills at one time, that Lakeport was nicknamed, “Slab City”
for all of the live edge slabs that were cut from trees for milling. As evidence of the
volume of lumber processed, in 1918, pilings for the foundation of a new building for
Scott & Williams had to be driven down through 19 feet of compacted sawdust before they reached solid ground!
Many of these historic industrial buildings remain in Laconia and have been transformed into housing, office or event spaces. The Belknap Mill, built in 1832 is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is the oldest such structure in the United States. Its water-powered wheelhouse from the early 1900s that once supplied electricity to downtown Laconia is the last of its kind in America.
The railroad came to Laconia in 1848 and connected Laconia (then still Meredith
Bridge) with Concord. This marked an important turning point in the growth of the
region. That same year, the C. Ranlet Car Manufacturing company which later became the Laconia Car Company was founded. The successful business which employed thousands of workers existed in some form or another until 1930. The company produced hundreds of streetcars and thousands of passenger and freight cars for the railroads.
In 1855, Laconia was incorporated as a town from parts of Meredith Bridge, Lakeport,
Weirs and a portion of Gilmanton. 1893, a city charter was granted and the city of
Laconia become official.
With the growth of industry and the coming of the railroad, immigrants and tourists came to the area to work and play. In 1892, the beautiful Laconia Passenger Station was built by renowned architect Bradford Gilbert. With a reliable transportation system, the town thrived. Mills provided jobs and tourists came to enjoy the beautiful lake and mountain vistas. Traveling fairs drew crowds to see exciting spectacles such as a man being shot out of cannon suspended from a hot air balloon. Baseball leagues were active in Opechee Park. Elephants could be seen walking down Main Street on their way to appear at the Colonial Theatre, a grand vaudeville-style venue built in 1913.
The 1920s brought events such as the annual sled dog races which continue today.
Motorcycle week in Laconia was founded, and is touted as the World’s oldest
motorcycle rally and will celebrate its 95th anniversary in 2018.
As heavy industry declined in the mid 20th century, urban renewal efforts swept the
country. Downtown Laconia saw changes to its traffic patterns, but luckily, much of the history of Laconia escaped the wrecking ball. The Civil war veterans’ buildings remain in the Weirs, the Belknap Mill has transformed into a beautiful educational museum and event venue, and a retired factory building in Lakeport has been restored into an elegant hotel and restaurant. These and other historic buildings remain fixtures of Laconia and are tributes to its rich and continuing history.
Milestones of the City of Laconia
1761 The settlement of Meredith Bridge grew between the many lakes—Lakes Winnipesaukee, Winnisquam, & Opechee.
1765 The first textile mills were constructed.
1832 The construction of the Belknap Mill along
the Winnipesaukee river.
1840 Meredith Bridge became the seat for the Belknap County.
1849 Rail service was provided by the Boston-Concord and Montreal Railroad.
1855 Meredith Bridge was incorporated as the Town of Laconia.
1860 The Great Fire destroyed much of Laconia's Main Street.
1893 Laconia is incorporated as a city of New Hampshire.
1966 Urban Renewal initiative begins in
1970 The Save the Mils Society saves several
key historical mills from demolition.