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Railroad Celebration in Laconia on August 19

The Laker - August 13, 2017





A Railroad Celebration in Laconia on August 19

By Kathi Caldwell-Hopper

(Photograph of a CP 1801 train pulling through the Laconia Passenger Station in 1951, with a young child experiencing the train going by. Image courtesy of R. Lewis. Digital restoration, Ron Visockis.)

There was a time when people didn’t think twice upon hearing the whistle of a train as it approached or departed a railroad station. They might check their timepiece and confirm, “Yup, the train’s right on time.” The sound of the train whistle, the hiss of steam coming from the train and its departure and arrival were as familiar as the sounds of cars and planes are to us today.

We find it difficult to imagine a time when most people had no car and there was no fast plane travel. In days gone by, if you wanted to travel, the train was the best, and probably the fastest, way to get to your destination. Thus, train stations were vital; big or small, they were the hub of each town and the place you went to buy tickets to ride the train, to meet a passenger or to get mail and packages…and to get the latest news from the outside world at a time when there were no televisions, radio and internet.

With the advent of the automobile and air travel, train travel faded and many train stations fell into disrepair or were torn down. Some were sold and found new life as something else. The stations that survive are a testament to the fact that many people just cannot bear to lose what once was so important. And that is why places like Laconia have cherished and tried to care for their train stations.

If you visit downtown Laconia, you can’t miss the former Laconia Passenger Train Station in Veteran’s Square. (It houses shops and a restaurant and continues to be a part of the area. It is indeed a beautiful old building, retaining its former architectural style and graceful lines. (When completed, according to an article in the Laconia Democrat concerning the August 1892 dedication of the station, “The main features of the building are the port-cochere at the entrance and the large general waiting room or rotunda, open to the roof, with clerestory windows on all sides. The floor of this room is of tile, and the walls to a height of ten feet are finished in quartered oak, and above that plastered and tinted in two shades of chrome.”)

Historically, the Boston and Maine Railroad operated the station until 1958. By the 1950s, train travel had become a thing of the past. A station such as the Laconia building was likely expensive to run, with heating bills and upkeep of the ornate old building.

The City of Laconia purchased the building and continued to provide rail service until the last Boston and Maine passenger train came to Laconia in 1965.

An upcoming celebration of the Laconia Passenger Station will offer a chance to relive the glory days of train travel. According to www.celebratelaconia.org, “On behalf of Celebrate Laconia, you are invited to partake in an anniversary celebration of the Laconia Passenger Station on Saturday, August 19 with an old-fashioned train-focused festival marking the ‘quasquicentennial’ of the Laconia Passenger Station.

“The day-long celebration of the station’s birthday will take attendees back in time to when passenger trains thrived in Laconia. The ceremony will take place in Veteran’s Square followed by 50 minute train rides with performances featuring a sharp foursome quartet from members of The Lakes Region Chordsman, and a day full of festivities including musical entertainment, vendors, food, shopping, model trains and exhibits, the Kid Zone (with Frates Creates) and a pig roast by Laconia Local Eatery…and so much more! Pat Kelly with Binnie Media will be onboard as the day’s Master Conductor.”

Events kick off at 11 am on August 19 with an opening ceremony, followed by music throughout the day, featuring New Horizons Band, Annie & the Orphans, Tyler Road and the Rockin’ Daddios.

Visit the Laconia Public Library (across Main Street from the train station area) for children’s storytime beginning at 1 pm. Historians will give a lecture on the station and the Laconia Streetcar Company at nearby Laconia Public Library at 2 pm accompanied by a Laconia Historical and Museum Society exhibit on the history of the Laconia Passenger Station and the Laconia Car Company.

The general event is free and open to the public. The child’s train ticket is for anyone age 10 and under. The funds collected from the train rides will be used to support future Celebrate Laconia programs.

A fascinating exhibit at the Laconia Public Library is well worth seeing if you love the history of trains in the area. Taking place in the upper floor rotunda exhibit space at the library (with elevator access), the display is presented by the Laconia Historical and Museum Society and offers just about everything you might want to know when it comes to Laconia’s trains and the train station.

These events are all part of the 125th anniversary celebration for the incorporation of Laconia as a city. (The actual incorporation date was March 24, 1893.) The Laconia Historical and Museum Society, among others in Laconia, want to celebrate the anniversary in style, and so a number of events have been planned for the following months to come. The train event on August 19 is but one of the happenings; others include an Anniversary Gala and other celebrations. (Visit www.celebratelaconia.org for updates as they become available.)

According to an article www.celebratelaconia.org by Jared Guilmett, Publicity Director of the Celebrate Laconia group, “Most of the activities will take place from 11 am to 6 pm in Veterans Square, where the Laconia Passenger Station opened in 1892 for the Boston and Maine railroad, bustled through the 1950s, and still stands today as one of the city’s most iconic structures.

“The ‘anniversary train’ is leaving the station a little early, and for good reason,” according to Pamela Clark, President of Celebrate Laconia, a group of local citizen volunteers. “Though Laconia’s 125th anniversary isn’t until 2018, the Laconia Passenger Station is too important to our city’s history not to include its anniversary in our celebration of the city’s past.”

It is certain that train travel once helped build Laconia’s industry and population. The sound of the train’s whistle no longer is heard and the passenger station serves other purposes now, but its rich past has not been forgotten. Plan to attend the 125th Laconia Passenger Station celebration on Saturday, August 19, and get a taste of the city’s important train past.

For information, visit www.celebratelaconia.org.

 

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