Historic Walks - Gilford Village Tour

Gilford Village Tour

Introduction: The Town of Gilford was first settled in the late 1770’s as the Upper, or Gunstock Parish of Gilmanton. Samuel Jewett, the original settler, built his home in 1777 in an area later annexed to Laconia. Capt. Samuel Gilman followed in 1778, settling on the north side of Gunstock Hill. In 1792, a fine meetinghouse was built on the summit of this hill, and a store and other settlement rose around it. A sawmill was the only structure in the valley below. Gilford Village’s various industries served a largely local market and included shoemaking, blacksmithing, brick making, tanning and cooperage. Barrels made from local oak were sent to the West Indies to carry rum and molasses. Iron ore was mined for a short time on Gunstock Mountain and processed in Lakeport. Outside the village, Gilford’s economy was closely linked to agriculture until the early 20th century. Two events in the latter half of the 19th c. greatly affected Gilford’s influence and prosperity. Around 1854, extensive fires in the Belknap Range resulted in a decline in water levels and loss of waterpower for most of the village’s industries. In 1893, Laconia, a prosperous textile town and county seat since 1840, split from Gilford with Lakeport, leaving Gilford a primarily farming community once again. However, after 1890, when the railroad reached Gilford, already favored as a resort destination, the area along the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee experienced rapid development.

Walking Tour – refer to map at the bottom for locations

1. Francis Gilman House c.1786 Levi Gilman built this house six years before the original meetinghouse was built nearby at the top of Gunstock Hill. The Gilman family settled much of the Gunstock and Schoolhouse Hill area, including #2, 3 and 4. The house is a well-preserved late 18th –19th c. farmstead of simple design. Francis Gilman probably added the Greek Revival-style entrance surround and partial sidelights after he inherited the property from his father, Samuel Gilman 3d, in 1857. The barn, with its hinged doors and double row of transom lights above the 9/6 sash, was enlarged at an early date. The farm remained in Gilman ownership until the early 1900s.

2. Sally Blaisdell House c. 1795 This house, built by John Allen, is likely the most intact early building within the district. It was owned for much of the 19th century by Sally Gilman Blaisdell. She was married 1841-1856 to John Blaisdell whose blacksmith shop stood on the lot. The house was simply designed, with a 4 panel door and 4 light transom above. Historic photographs (1908) show a porch added to the south side. At one time, an orchard, joiner’s shop, wood house, and carriage house also stood here.

3. Samuel Gilman, Jr. House c. 1796 Samuel Gilman, Jr. was one of the four men of the same name who settled on this hill between 1778 and 1850. Samuel Jr., brother of Levi Gilman (#1,4) built this house, and it remained in his family until 1914. He probably added the Greek Revival entrance between 1850 and 1869 before he sold his homestead to Anna Gilman Sargent…”for and in consideration of the love and affection I bear my daughter…and $400”! A fire in the mid 20th c. severely damaged the wing and barn, and the current owners moved and reconstructed another early barn on the site. The property’s first barn had been located across the road.

4. Levi Gilman House c.1795 This early house has probably evolved more than any other in the district, while still retaining its integrity as an historic structure. Levi Gilman’s original three-room cabin had a single window on each side of a simple plank door. A century later, the windows were paired and the roof was raised to 2 1/2 stories to accommodate a growing family. A porch wrapped around the south and east sides, shaped by lush vines. Still later, the porch was removed and an elegant Federal style entrance surround with sidelights was salvaged and added to the façade. Finally, in the mid-1980’s, the ell was raised to 2 stories and a sunroom replaced the old pantry. Outbuildings at one time included large and small barns and a cider house. George Crosby and his family occupied the farm for much of the late 19th-early 20th c., and also owned the Village Store, where they sold their produce.

5. Site of First District #8 Schoolhouse c.1806-1892 Upon this tiny wedge of land sat the first schoolhouse to serve the village district. With 60-75 pupils taught together during Gilford’s mid-century heyday, it is little wonder that Alvah Hunter remembered it as a difficult school to manage! Students attended a late-summer/early all session and a winter session, so they could help with spring and summer farm chores. The one-room building was rebuilt in 1854, with a raised platform at the south end for the instructor, graduated double desks for the students, and benches along the side for the littlest ones. After a new schoolhouse was built in the village center, Charles Gove towed this building down the hill and added it to his blacksmith shop at #27.

6. Morrill Farm c.1798 This extended farm complex was home for over a century to Gilford Village’s most influential family. Barnard Morrill came to Gilford as a tanner and shoemaker in 1806, and quickly established himself as owner of the village sawmill and major developer of the village. His son, John Jay Morrill, was a member of the House of Representatives, built the tannery (#38) and a store (#12), and expanded the family farm. He died here in the room in which he was born. John Barnard Morrill, his son, served the town in all its high offices, and was a Belknap Co. judge of probate. He acquired much of the fine farmland around Gilford Village, including the Village Fields and the Rowe Farm. The first barn still stands across the road, a red clapboard barn with corner trim and an early, probably original, sliding door. It is one of the least altered barns in the district and plays an important visual role in this early farm complex. Another remaining outbuilding is the white icehouse just to the north of this barn, which was enlarged on the north side in the 1930’s to become a cottage. The white carriage house sits just south of the red barn, near the tenant house.

7. Site of the First Mill 1789-c. 1900 The stonework visible from the bridge is all that remains of Simeon Hoyt’s and Esquire Ebenezer Smith’s sawmill. The first and most important mill on the Gunstock River, it was for years the only structure permitted on the ministry lot, with the condition that lumber for a meetinghouse would be sawn without charge. The mill building was set over the river, and the present library site was the millyard. A gristmill for grinding grain, a tannery, and pottery were soon added to the operations here. This mill provided almost all of the building materials for the village, which sprang up around it.

8. Easy Street Laid out in 1837 and known as the Gully Road, the main route to Meredith Bridge (Laconia) left Gilford Village here and crossed the Gunstock River at Wadley Bridge. This bridge, located just 50 yards southwest of this corner was named for William Wadley’s blacksmith shop, which stood just beyond the bridge.

9. Rowe Ice House – c.1860 The former ice house from the Rowe Farm (#32) has found new life as a garden shed. Built some time in the mid 19th c. on a site behind the Rowe barn, it was relocated here in the 1970’s. the windows and front door are original. It is one of only two surviving ice houses in the district that retain their original form. Ice cut in blocks from the ponds in winter were once stored in sawdust here for summer use.

10. Village Store – c.1836 The Village Store has been Gilford Village’s primary trading post since its construction by Benjamin Jewett, Jr., Albert Chase, and Jeremiah Thing. Although the original proprietors went bankrupt in 1843, the store was quickly taken over by a succession of merchants with old Gilford names such as Munsey, Weeks and Wadley. For many years at the turn of the century it was known as Wadley’s Store and Grange hall, since the Grange met in the wing before 1909. Other public entertainment, such as traveling Indian shows, took place here as well.

11. Gilford Library – c.1926 This Bungalow-style building is the third home for the public library. The library was first organized in 1894 and housed in the Deacon Hunter House (#21), before moving to the Town Hall. The original 1-story hip-roof building with pedimented front portico and Doric columns has partial sidelights around the door. The three-part windows with 12/1 and 6/1 sash reflect the original interior plan of a central hall and flanking reading rooms. The large addition on the north side was built in 1984.

12. Grange 1857 The Mt. Belknap Grange Hall is one of only two structures in Gilford listed on the National Register of Historic Places. John J. Morrill built it as a store for Levi Thompson. It was later S.L. Jones’ store and the post office until c.1900. Morrill’s son sold the store to the local grange in 1909, its first permanent home since its organization in 1875. The Grange was an important feature of village life for much of the 20th c.; ceremonial meetings and agriculturally related programs took place in the second floor hall, while large socials were held downstairs. In 1990 the building was given to the Thompson-Ames Historical Society. First on this site was the dwelling of trader Jonas Sleeper. A blacksmith shop stood just to the north.

13. Dr. George Munsey House c.1814 This house was probably built by Dr. Munsey, a highly respected local physician, who practiced in Gilford for many years. Later occupants included many town clerks, including two tanners and Simon Rowe, a shoemaker, who lived here before he inherited his grandfather’s farm (#32) in 1865. This is one of five 2 1/2 story Federal houses in the district.

14. Albert Chase House c.1840 The most stylish of eight 1 1/2 story Greek Revival houses in the village, this house maintains the basic form of a Federal house: lateral sitting, 5-bay façade, broad gables, and end chimneys. However, the wide corner boards, broad fieze, entry surround, and especially the elegant applied molding on the entry entablature show strong Greek Revival influence. Sash was likely 6/6. The front yard is enclosed by a wooded fence constructed in a wheatsheaf pattern and supported by granite posts with pyramidal caps. 1930’s photographs show a deep c.1900 front porch. The 1-story ell was once connected to a barn. The house was built by Albert Chase, who established the Village Store with two partners. When the business went under 3 years later, he was forced to abandon the house, but not before taking out three eleventh-hour mortgages.

15. Otto Page House c.1935 This is the only Craftsman style house in the district. Its distinguishing features include the truncated hip roof, shed dormer that continues the main roofline, shingled walls and vertical –paned windows. The gabled entry has a curved wooden inset with stick brackets, and the entry door has four beveled glass panels. Otto Page built this house on the site of Esquire Ebenezer Hunt’s fine 2 1/2 story Federal house, which appears in a large photograph in the library. Squire Hunt was the some of one of the original settlers and a prominent local citizen; it is likely that his cooperage was also on this site. His house, which was built in 1823, burned in 1925.

16. Dolly Gilman House c.1805 Levi Gilman (#1,4) built this house, presumably for his daughter, Dolly, who lived here until 1828. Many of the house’s owners over the years have been single women, probably attracted to its convenient village location and modest size. In addition to the house, the lot had a blacksmith shop and millinery shop around the 1830’s. A barn once stood where the garage is now. The doorway surround was added several years ago. A fire c.1925 resulted in major colonial Revival rebuilding, reflected in the gambrel roomline and full-width dormer. Ray Watson, of the Potter Hill family (#49), rebuilt the house in 1926. Known as an inventive man who introduced a mechanical ice-harvesting method to the region, Watson was also a skilled carpenter who renovated other homes in the village (#21, 28, 35).

17. Henry Sleeper/Joseph Sanborn House c.1810/1820 This house is the only one in the village built in two main sections. The earliest section of this house is the northern half, which was built by Henry Sleeper, a carpenter, co-developer of the ministerial lot, and owner of the sawmill. For a while, he operated the corrections and poorehouse here. The garage doors may have replaced an earlier entrance and windows by about 1900. the porch dates from c.1909. The southern half of the house was built c.1820 by Joseph Sanborn Jr., who ran a store and cooperage on the site. The original, elaborately carved entrance surround, unique in the village, exhibits strong early Greek Revival influence, and may have been copied from Asher Benjamin’s pattern books. For over 100 years, this house was actively associated with trading, blacksmithing, and coopering. During the 1930s, the north half was the Five Corners Tea Room, a local landmark.

18. Village Fields The 1815 Hurricane uprooted much of the virgin forest that once grew on the floodplain of the Gunstock River, and for many years afterwards, the corn, grain and hayfields that followed were surrounded by a fence made of the stumps and roots of the window throws. This fine, rich, flat land was largely owned by Squire Hunt (#15), Jonas Sleeper’s heirs (#21), Benjamin Jewett, Jr. (#24) and Benjamin Rowe (#32). By 1910, John Barnard Morrill had acquired the fields. They were eventually purchased by the town in the 1970s and the Weeks Bandstand was added in the Bicentennial Year.

19. Thompson-Ames Historical Society 1834 The Universalist Society built this church as the Union Meeting House.

Laconia River Walk Map

For more of this tour visit the Gilford Historical Society web site. http://www.gilfordhistoricalsociety.org

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