Tour: Belknap Mill and Downtown Laconia

By: Emily McMaster, GSA Communications Director

On a blustery and sunny late fall morning, a group of GSAs attended a full-day tour in Laconia. We focused on history, arts, and culture, in order to kick off November as our Arts and Culture month for our 25th anniversary celebration.  The morning portion of our tour was the Belknap Mill.  Located in downtown Laconia, the Belknap Mill Society has worked hard to preserve the mill and educate the general public on its history.  We were greeted with a delicious coffee and pastry spread, graciously provided by the Belknap Mill Society and Karen Prior, Executive Director. 

After some socializing, we embarked upon the first leg of our tour, where a docent greeted us portraying Mr. Morin, the owner of the mill.  He painted a picture of a day in the life of a worker at this mill, which produced socks.  Another docent gave us an overview of the powerhouse, and we witnessed a demonstration of the large waterwheel that would power the machines.  There is an exhibit in this section that provides a history of hydroelectric power.  The next piece of our tour included the machines that were used to make the socks, as well as a model of what the mill would have looked like inside. 

Our final stop of the tour was a visit to a spacious upper-level room, recently refinished and boasting an additional exhibit.  A member of the staff explained the importance of their education program for elementary students.  Students learn what it was like to work a day in the mill, and they even receive a 10-cents wage at the end of their “work day.”

If you missed the tour but you’d like to learn more about the museum, the Belknap Mill Society has a comprehensive website, with more information and virtual tours of the Hoisery museum, the Powerhouse, and sights and sounds of a Belknap Mill knitting machine.  What an educational experience!  It was evident how hard the staff and volunteers have worked to preserve the mill’s history.  

We were then met by Karmen Gifford, President of the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, and Joanne Haight, Membership Manager.  The chamber was instrumental in planning the second half of the day and providing lunch suggestions.  This included a brief guided tour of the downtown on our way to lunch.  Our group primarily split between two locations: Burrito Me and Hector’s.  Both were delicious options!

Our afternoon tour began with a presentation given by Paul Giblin, Hobo & Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad & Rail Bike Adventures.  We met in the old train station, which opened in 1892, and is now the headquarters for the rail bikes.  Some of the crew were cleaning the rail bikes on the tracks while we were there.  Each bike has 4 seats.  The route reaches Lake Winnisquam, so you get to bike with a view!  The terrain is flat, and there are guides to ensure safety protocols.  For more information on logistics and safety information, please visit their website.

The next stop in our afternoon was the The CAKE Theatre, where Melissa Aupperle greeted us in the lobby.  This theater was transformed in 2021 into a performance venue for Recycled Percussion.  CAKE is their Chaos And Kindness Experience theme, where the band gives back to the community and focuses on positivity.  They have several merchandise stores, one of which is located within the lobby of the theatre.  Upon entering the lobby, you are immediately transformed into the Las Vegas atmosphere that Recycled Percussion wanted to recreate.  There is also a Remix Nutrition cafe located in the lobby, where anyone can sit and relax. 

Formerly a church, and then a restaurant, this now-performance venue is unique and provides another option for entertainment in Laconia.  While the band decided to play closer to home and make this more of a permanent base, they will also be opening up the venue for other performers as well.  We went upstairs into the performance hall.  The stage included built-in sections for drums on either side.  The venue staff demonstrated the audio and visual capabilities of the hall with some music and video – the venue can certainly put on an amazing show!  If you’re interested in Recycled Percussion, be sure to check them out!

Our last stop of the day was the Colonial Theatre in Laconia, where we were given a brief history by Jacob Crumb of the Colonial Theatre.  The theatre opened in 1914, and it transitioned into showing motion pictures.  In 1983, the theatre had 5 separate movie screens.  It closed in 2002, but a project began in 2015 to renovate the theatre.  The restoration was recently finished this year, and it looks beautiful!   We explored the the main seating area, the balcony, and the backstage.  The theatre already has shows lined up through 2022.  Be sure to check out some of their upcoming show options – it will be an amazing experience!

It was a fantastic opportunity for our GSAs to experience downtown Laconia and witness the revitalization of the town, specifically the arts and history.  Our participants are excited to be able to share with guests of NH some great recommendations for Laconia.  There are many other restaurants and activities as well.  I stopped in Wayfarer for a delicious latte on my way out of town.  It was the perfect day to kick off our Arts and Culture month!

More pictures can be found here.

GSA Feedback:

Belknap Mill Society

“Each presenter brought to life what it was like when the mill was in full operation producing wonderful socks – a dangerous job indeed between the noise and loss of limbs. It’s wonderful that you offer a program for our fourth graders so they can know the history and appreciate the science of operating the mill…The mill truly is a gem in New Hampshire history and the lakes district. I look forward to sharing my newfound knowledge with friends and New Hampshire guests.”

“Your facility is a special place for those who value NH history and appears to have an important role for the community of Laconia. (As a knitter of socks I was fascinated by the idea of one pair of socks a minute!)”

Rail Bike Adventures

“We are thrilled that Laconia citizens have preserved many of their older buildings (and rails) and made them into such wonderful venues, and that its citizens have joined together to keep Laconia a nice town to visit and enjoy.”

“The rail bike experience sounds like a unique and fun attraction. I will be sure to recommend it to friends, family, and visitors I speak with at the NH State House.”

The CAKE Theatre

“Visiting the Cake was an exciting experience. The last time I was there it was a restaurant so imagine my surprise when I saw Cake. Very whimsical and fun – as it should be – under the new ownership of Chaos and Kindness. They do such excellent work and offer a very wonderful and supportive venue for Laconia.”

“All I can say is WOW WOW WOW! What  great entertainment this theatre is.  The music demo was amazing and I love what they can do to get you off your seat.”

The Colonial Theatre

“What a beautiful job was done to bring it back to life. It is such an asset to the area.”

“I had read about the renovation to the Historic Colonial Theater but having a chance to see it in person made it clear what was so special about the design. The elaborate gold scrolls and paintings are wonderful and create a rich and uplifting atmosphere.”