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From Assembly Lines to Sled Dog Racing: Laconia Makes History a Habit

By Allison Wilson

From freight car assembly lines to motorcycle rallies, to international dog sled races, the history of Laconia, New Hampshire, is rich with unique anecdotes and milestones. And you can learn about all of them in great detail thanks to the efforts of the Laconia Historical and Museum Society, or LHMS.

The non-profit 501(c)(3) organization collects, preserves, and interprets the history and culture of the city, with offices located in the Laconia Public Library. LHMS conducts monthly lecture programs, circulates a quarterly newsletter, assists with numerous research inquiries, maintains a genealogy site, Facebook page and website, and runs multiple programs on a widely watched local cable-access television station.

"Each year we develop and install four major exhibitions, which interpret both local history and American cultural themes to more than 150,000 patrons," says Brenda M. Kean, Executive Director of LMHS. "Special events accompany all exhibitions."

Those exhibits focus on areas of interest that have defined Laconia's culture, such as The Laconia Car Company, established in 1881 through a reorganization of the Ranlet Manufacturing Company. Formed in 1844, Ranlet began by building wagons, carriages and stagecoaches- and then quickly transitioned to railroad freight cars. By 1870, the company began to build passenger cars as well, employing 100 men and producing 300 freight and 12 passenger cars each year.

The Laconia Car Company plant occupied 7 acres in the heart of the city, crowded with all types of buildings. The company built passenger and freight equipment for railways, horse street cars, and electric street cars. By 1893, the Laconia Car Company was producing 125 passenger cars each year for more than 15 states. But the demand for trolley cars declined steadily as the auto industry grew, and in 1928, the Laconia Car Company closed its doors.

From four wheels to two- Laconia is also recognized for creating the oldest motorcycle rally in the United States: Laconia Motorcycle Week. The rally runs June 13-21 this year. The tradition began back in 1916 with a modest crowd of about 150 people and has grown to week-long rally that attracts an average of over 375,000 motorists. The roar and excitement of this event are best enjoyed along the "Weirs Strip" on Lakeside Avenue.

Laconia is also home to the Lakes Region Sled Dog Club, which manages the Laconia World Championship Sled Dog Derby. The first sled dog races held in Laconia took place in 1929 and 1930 as a part of a series of weekend events sponsored by the New England Sled Dog Club. In 1931, the Laconia Sled Dog Club was formed to produce and promote sled dog racing in the "Lake City" as an annual, "major winter sporting" event. In 1936, "World Championship" was added to the title of the race and at the time, was the first and only sled dog race to claim that lofty designation.

"Right from the beginning, the Laconia derby enjoyed international competition, largely made up of mushers from Canada and the United States," Kean says. "With the expansion of sled dog racing in Europe, the derby has occasionally included competitors from Germany, Finland and Norway in the starting lineup."

Laconia is starting a new tradition this fall. Let It Shine, the non-profit that has produced the Keene Pumpkin Festival since 2011, recently announced that the 2015 event will be held on Oct. 24 in Laconia. Last year, when this event was held in Keene, New Hampshire, an estimated 70,000 people stopped by to view the event. Kean expects Laconia's event to draw a big crowd as well, as the city- and its history- have always held a special charm.

"The lakes and mountains make Laconia a beautiful place to live and work," she says, "and the many events that take place year throughout the year make it a wonderful place to visit."

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Allison Wilson is an award-winning writer and communications professional whose...

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