Laconia, N.H., suffered several devastating fires over the centuries, but none so damaging as the Great Lakeport Fire of 1903.
A fire in 1846 wiped out much of Laconia, then known as Meredith Bridge and comprised of mostly wooden buildings.
Then on Nov. 11, 1860 a fire destroyed two-thirds of Laconia’s downtown business district. It started in a hotel stable and quickly spread, ruining all but two dry goods stores in the town. The town had only two fire engines and Meredith Village and Sanbornton Bridge came to help put it out.
In 1902, Laconia suffered the first of two disasters within six months when an explosion destroyed the Masonic temple. The most imposing edifice in town, it housed two floors of Masons, the post office, city offices and a hardware and dry goods store.
It started with a fire, probably caused by a gas leak, and then the powder magazine in the basement exploded. The blast prostrated spectators and damaged many nearby buildings. It seemed a miracle that the explosion didn’t kill anyone, and eight inches of snow on the roofs kept the fire from causing further damage.
Conditions that spring, however, proved ideal for a devastating fire in Lakeport Village.
Great Lakeport Fire
Lakeport in 1903 was a bustling village of factories, homes, churches and an electric plant, located a mile-and-a-half north of downtown Laconia. It’s also five miles south of the Weirs Beach resort. At the center of Lakeport sits a power dam on the channel between Paugus Bay, an arm of Lake Winnipesaukee, and Opechee Bay.
The spring of 1903 had been exceptionally dry, so dry the National Weather Service would have put out a red flag warning. Strong winds gusted on the morning of May 26, when a fire started in the H.H. Woods hosiery mill. The alarm sounded at 2 PM.
The fire quickly spread to a lumber yard and Laconia Electric Lighting Co. The wind drove it uphill, carrying embers as far as four miles to the north and east.
Help arrived quickly by train from Concord, Franklin, and Dover. Tilton and Meredith brought help as well. The Laconia firefighters had only primitive firefighting equipment, though, and mostly pulled the engines themselves.
Burning Itself Out
Within four hours the fire consumed almost every building within 150 acres. It quite possibly ran out of buildings to burn, and stopped climbing when it came to flat land, according to the History of the Laconia Fire Department. The fire pretty much burned itself out, and firefighters called the conflagration under control at 6 PM.
The fire destroyed 108 homes, two churches, two factories, two blacksmith shops, a vacant mill, the fire station and the electric light plant. For the second time in a year, Laconians miraculously escaped death. Losses were estimated as high as $461,000, and 650 people lost their homes.
This story last updated in 2022.