by Robert Hanaford Smith, Sr. Weirs Times Contributing Writer
It is not unusual for a local newspaper company to report the news concerning a building project in the community it serves, but it is exceptional for the media to be doing the building project unless it involves its own facilities. Nevertheless, during the depression years of the 1930’s The Laconia Evening Citizen conducted its own home building program in an apparently successful effort to help stimulate the local economy.
Begun in 1935 under the leadership of the newspaper’s owner, Edward J. Gallagher, a plan was established to build ten “Model Homes” over a period of time in different areas of the city which would provide jobs for local laborers, a home for a local family, and encourage others to build nearby.
The national unemployment rate in 1935 was 20.1 percent and the New Deal under President Roosevelt was begun along with the Work Progress Act to provide jobs for millions of Americans.
Those who were working in the United States in 1935 had an average income of $1,600.00 a year. A new house on average cost $3,450.00 and those who rented payed an average of $22 a month. The ground-breaking for Laconia Evening Citizen Model Home One took place on June 15, 1935 on Belknap Street with the then mayor of the city, Walter E. Dunlap as the contractor. Financing for the first and the following nine model homes was provided by the Laconia Building and Loan Association, and the Secretary-Treasurer of the Association, E. Harrison Merrill said of the project after the sale of the third home: “This is a remarkable contribution to community progress on the part of our daily newspaper since in every instance erection of other homes has been stimulated by the fact that the Citizen goes ahead and does it.”
The Laconia Building and Loan Association had been one of the first New England associations to apply for membership in the Federal Home Loan Bank. The first home was sold to a United States Forest Service employee, Attorney Wayne Mong.
The second model home was built on Walker Street by contractor Ozias Roux and was sold to Attorney Arthur Nighswander, and the third one, which was built on Gilford Avenue, was bought by Raymond and Ruth Ladieu in January of 1938. John Marshall was the contractor for the third home and Norman Randlett was the architect. The Cape Cod style house was reported by The Citizen to be “…one of the best to be found in the state.” The Ladieu’s had previously lived in an apartment building which was destroyed by fire on New Year’s Day.
Mr. Gallagher was the city’s mayor in 1938, as well as being the owner of the newspaper. He had purchased a lot on Tremont Street in September of 1937 to be used as the location for Model Home IV. It should be noted that the homes sponsored by the Evening Citizen were done so at no profit to the newspaper. Model Home Number V was built in 1938 on North Main Street and became the residence of Dr. & Mrs. John H. Miller.
Ground-breaking ceremonies for Model Home Number VIII were conducted on November 27, 1939 on Franklin Street in Lakeport with Randlett again being the architect and Marshall the contractor, continuing the action by the local newspaper to help create jobs for residents of the area it served. Seven years earlier in March of 1932 Laconia Mayor Charles E. Carroll was elected to his third term in that position, and Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to be President of the United States in November of that year as the country and the state suffered under the Great Depression.
It appears that there were times during those depression years that the Laconia Public Library had to close because of the lack of funds. The Citizen reported in January of 1933 that Mayor Carroll’s wife wanted to write a check for $1,000 to keep the library open, stating that “…she was ashamed to live in a city that allowed its public library to be closed..”, but her husband told her that he would stop payment of the check. The Mayor felt that the city had the funds to keep the library open and concerning his disagreement with his wife said “You can say in the paper this is the first quarrel we have ever had.”
There was a nationwide ten day bank holiday imposed in March of 1933. On March 4th, Laconia’s three banks were closed along with those across the state. On the seventh day of the month the banks were allowed to open to make change and allow access to safety deposit boxes and on the eleventh Federal Reserve Banks were opened for loans. The Laconia National and People’s Banks opened on March 15th, but there were state-wide restrictions that limited withdrawals to $10 a week or $50 a month. Mayor Carroll, in a notice to taxpayers on April 1, 1933, told them that if banks would not allow them to make withdrawals of deposits in order to pay their taxes they should contact him.
On a lighter note during the difficult depression years, The Laconia Evening Citizen printed the following on April 6, 1932. “ The Evening Citizen can now claim to be doing its part as a great moral force to preserve the sanctity of the American Home for it has come to its ears that a young couple in Laconia say that they would get a divorce were it not for the fact that the news would be published in the Citizen’s columns.”