Belknap County, along with Carroll County, was established by act of the state legislature in 1840. Originally it was part of Strafford County. It is named for Dr. Jeremy Belknap, a noted theologian, naturalist, educator, historian and the author of The History of New-Hampshire, 3 Vols. (1784–1792). Just over 400 square miles in land area, and consisting of ten towns and one city, the county is one of New Hampshire’s smallest. Situated slightly southeast of the geographical center of the state, it is bordered on the northeast by Lake Winnipesaukee, on the northwest and west by Grafton County, on the southwest by Merrimack County, and on its east by Strafford County. Belknap’s primary natural features are its scenic rolling landscape and its lakes (Winnipesaukee, Winnisquam and Squam) covering one-sixth of the county. The economy of Belknap County has long been based on agriculture, small business, and industry, with Laconia, the county seat, the primary center. Since the mid-nineteenth century, however, tourism has become the major economic activity in the entire lakes Region, encompassing Belknap as well as Grafton and Carroll Counties.
Because of its early settlement date and its relative proximity to the Atlantic Coast, Belknap County possesses numerous sophisticated, and even high style pre-Civil War buildings. Before agriculture was supplanted by industry, commerce, and tourism, the county enjoyed brief periods of economic prosperity. This produced fine examples of Federal and Greek Revival architecture, particularly in the towns of Gilmanton, Sanbornton, Gilford, and New Hampton. The full impact of the industrialization may be observed in the mid- and late-nineteenth-century factory, commercial, residential, and ecclesiastical structures of Tilton, Meredith, and Laconia, the county’s largest community. Remaining hotels, cottages, and other building types associated with tourism are most in evidence in the Lake Winnipesaukee towns of Alton, Gilford, and Meredith, and the village of Weirs Beach in Laconia. Considering the size of the county, the architectural heritage is remarkably rich and varied.
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