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Trains roll into Laconia Station once more

Sunday News Correspondent

August 20. 2017 1:53AM
A Hobo Railroad Alco engine and three passenger cars pull into Laconia Train Station on Saturday. (John Koziol/Sunday News Correspondent)

LACONIA - Although short-lived, passenger rail service returned to Veterans Square on Saturday as part of the celebration of the 125th anniversary of the dedication of the Laconia Train Station.

The city will celebrate its own quasquicentennial anniversary of incorporation in 2018.

Built for the  Concord, Boston & Montreal Railroad and officially opened on Aug. 22, 1892, the train station is made of granite blocks contrasting with red sandstone trim set in red mortar. The work was done by a cadre of Italian stoneworkers in a scant 16 months.

The station's Romanesque Revival style was the choice of architect Bradford Gilbert, who is credited with building New York's first skyscraper. Five of the railroad passenger stations he designed are on the National Register of Historic Places. Laconia's earned the distinction in 1982.

The Laconia Democrat - reporting on the dedication of the station 125 years ago - highlighted some of its architectural details: "The main features of the building are the porte-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."

The domed ceiling of the waiting room soars to a height of 50 feet, and a massive red sandstone fireplace dominates the east end. Off the rotunda, smaller areas housed passenger ticket and baggage offices, public restrooms and taxi services. There were covered platforms on both sides of the center interior sections.

Built at a cost of $50,000 in 1892, which included $20,000 to buy seven properties, the passenger station was purchased by the Boston & Maine Railroad in 1895 and operated until 1958, when highways made train travel a thing of the past. The city, however, realized the building's architectural significance and bought the train station, operating it as such until January 1965 when the last Boston & Maine passenger train pulled into Laconia.

The celebration of the 125th anniversary of the dedication of the iconic Laconia Train Station. (John Koziol/Sunday News Correspondent)

The city began retrofitting the building in 1963 for the new home of the Laconia Police Department and Laconia District Court, both of which remained there until 1979.

Since then, the station has seen a number of commercial and residential tenants. 

Pam Clark, president of Celebrate Laconia, a nonprofit group she formed to help promote the City on the Lakes through its 125th anniversary and beyond, said the train station was central to the community.

The station was one of those things that "made Laconia, Laconia," said Clark.

Paul Giblin, marketing director at the Lincoln-based Hobo Railroad, said the railroad was thrilled to bring its Alco engine and three passenger cars to Laconia.

Two of the three "anniversary" trains were sold out, and the third was on its way, said Giblin, meaning that nearly 500 people rode the rails Saturday from the Laconia Train Station to the Mosquito Bridge in Belmont and back, a trip lasting about 50 minutes.

Hobo Railroad owns the rotunda and adjacent ladies' waiting room, said Giblin, and has been working to restore them to their former glory. There are no immediate plans for the spaces, and Giblin said it's unlikely the railroad, which operates a train from Meredith to The Weirs, would extend service into downtown Laconia, except on special occasions.

But "there's a lot of people who've never ridden on a train," he added, and Saturday many of them just happened to be downtown.

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