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Christmas school students wander among the crowds singing Christmas carols at the town's Candle Light Stroll Saturday night. (DAN SEUFERT PHOTO)

Bicentennial Candlelight Stroll lights up Gilford

GILFORD - As night fell and a sliver of the moon was all that lit the sky above historic Gilford Village, bundled-up people wandered along candlelit walkways from house to house, taking in the last event of the town's year-long bicentennial celebration.

This was the 2012 Candlelight Stroll, put on Saturday by the town's bicentennial committee and residents. As with the numerous previous bicentennial events this year - everything from historic re-creations to a woodsman competition and a moustache-growing contest - people from other towns were welcomed, and many outsiders came.

But it was truly a Gilford event. Residents along the walkways pitched in with their own lawn tables and lights, most of them offering free coffee, hot chocolate, and soup or chili. The town's finance director, Geoff Ruggles, played the role of town crier, complete with 19th century garb.

The Thompson-Ames Historical Society had three buildings open, with period exhibits and Christmas settings. Christmas carolers wandered among the crowds, and local craftspeople showed their work.

A French-horn band, the Wakondah Pond Horn Club, played at the

1834 Union Meeting House. Heritage Farm provided horse-cart rides. A play with local actors was held at the church near the end of the event.

The event featured a holiday theme, and like the woodsman competition last summer, it drew so many happy participants that the town is considering making both into yearly events.

"It's been such a great year, we've had such a great time celebrating, and nobody wants it to stop," said Sally Bickford, the chair of the bicentennial committee.

The town, which a century ago was a busy port on Lake Winnipesaukee and an important supply drop for trains coming to the Lakes Region, is the home of Gunstock Ski area, a product of the Works Progress Administration established by President Franklin Roosevelt during the Depression of the 1930s.

In 1622, Capt. John Mason of London received a tract of land going 60 miles inland from the seacoast, which he called Laconia.

After Mason's death, his claim was questioned and 150 years went by before it was resolved, according to Adair. D. Mulligan in his book, The Gunstock Parish.

In 1811, residents in the Gilford-Gunstock area petitioned the town of Gilmanton to form their own town, to be named after Guilford, N.C.

In 1812, the town of Gilford was established with about 1,500 people.

Later, Laconia and Belmont would split off into their own towns, and Gilmanton's population became smaller, so much so that Gilmanton high school students now attend Gilford High School.

In the 1800s, Gilford Village rose at the base of Gunstock Mountain around a saw mill on Gunstock Brook. The village and small business developed at the falls at Gunstock Brook, becoming a driving force in the town's development.


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