How old is the beach, and how has it changed over the years?
Prior to the 1950’s, Weirs Beach was known simply as “Weirs”, or more commonly, “the Weirs”, and in the popular language, this colloquialism continues to this day. The addition of the word “Beach” to the locale’s name was the marketing idea of a few savvy local businesspeople, especially Ed Hoagland, owner of the Lakeview House at the time. (It is still rare to find a town on the map anywhere in the USA today with the word beach attached to its name that is located on a lake, and not on the ocean!)
On November 17, 1955, by unanimous vote, the Laconia city council made the name change from “Weirs” to “Weirs Beach” official. Going along with the change was the B&M railroad. On April 12, 1956, the railroad ordered its local ticket agency to change the name of the Weirs train station to Weirs Beach station (the sign was actually changed on April 29.)
But the word “Beach” could not be added until there actually was a beach. Prior to the 1950’s, there was no beach at Weirs Beach. Bathers swam off the rocky shores of Endicott Park to a diving raft.
THE DIVING RAFTS
The public diving raft at the beach was built by the Weirs Business People’s Association during the last week of July in 1930 and was an integral part of the fun at Weirs Beach for the next two decades. There were two diving rafts. The private raft was located right off of Irwin’s Winnipesaukee Gardens; while the public raft was right off the beach, near the Endicott Rock monument.
Swimmers contemplate a dive from the private raft while the Miss Winnipesaukee speedboat passes by. Click here to enlarge this 1940’s photo, and the one below of the private raft.
The next three photos below are of the public raft. Click on each image to enlarge it.
THE MINI BATHING BEACH
Back then, people didn’t go swimming – they went “bathing”.
The short and narrow strip of sand seen here was known as the Weirs Bathing Beach and was added around 1930. This was a big improvement over the previous, completely rocky shore, but nothing like today’s big, beautiful beach. Click here to enlarge.
WHEN THERE WAS NO BEACH
Wooden boats congregate near the Weirs Beach public docks late 1940’s – notice the shoreline off in the distance – there’s no Beach! Click here to enlarge.
Seaplanes congregate near the Weirs Beach public docks in the late 1940’s – notice the shoreline – there’s no Beach! Click here to enlarge.
A collection of photos of the rocky shore of the Weirs when there was no Beach.
It was during the 1949-1951 administration of Laconia Mayor Thomas J. McIntyre (a Democrat, he was later elected Senator, and served NH from November 7, 1962 – January 3, 1979) that the beach was created. Starting in 1950, and continuing off and on until the early 60’s, truckload after truckload of sand – some dredged from the Lake (the Army Corps of Engineers was dredging the Weirs Channel to deepen it at the time), and some from the nearby town of Gilford – was brought in to build the beach. Click here for a 1950 photo of the Weirs Channel dredge.
At the same time, three long breakwater jetties were built to retain the sand. Two jetties divided the central part of the beach, and the third jetty along the Weirs Channel kept the sand from washing away down the channel.
Note the prominent jetty in this beach photo from the mid-1960’s. Click here to enlarge the photo.
In the circa 1961 aerial photo (click here to enlarge), the two central jetties have effectly divided the beach into a three-part “wave”. (Also notice the boardwalk. It jogs right at the stairs to the public docks, and extends only a short ways to the beach. It was not until the late 1980’s, during its reconstruction, that the boardwalk was straightened and fully extended all the way down Lakeside Avenue.)
Sometime in the late 1970s, the two central jetties (simple structures made of iron rails, encased in wood, and weighted down with sandbags) were removed. A much longer and wider permanent cement and stone jetty replaced the third jetty (which also had been cement and rocks, but shorter and flimsier) along the Weirs channel.
Above is an early 1950’s photo showing the second jetty in profile. At this time, the beach had only been built about halfway towards the Weirs Channel. Click here to enlarge. An aerial photo from 1952 shows that the beach was also being built from the opposite direction (from the Channel northward), leaving a gap in the middle, which is what we see in the foreground above. The reason for the gap was that the northern, municipal section of the beach was owned by the City of Laconia while the southern, Endicott Rock Park section was owned by the state of NH. (In 1952 the city purchased Endicott Rock Park from the state.) According to a December 20, 1952 Citizen article, “Captain Edward Lavallee is piping sand from the channel to fill the short stretch of land between the two. Captain Lavallee constructed the municipal beach in 1950 with his suction dredge equipment. Captain Lavalle will move 1800 cubic yards of sand from the channel for $1 a yard.” Captain Lavalle was the long-time skipper of the Uncle Sam mailboat. He died on January 24, 1984, at the age of 92.
BEFORE AND AFTER PHOTOS
Compare the two aerial photos below to see Weirs Beach before and after the addition of the beach. The color aerial from 1960 shows the brand new, big, beautiful beach. The black and white aerial photo appeared in an ad sponsored by the Weirs Chamber of Commerce in a 1949 promotional brochure.
In May 1908 the Boston & Maine railroad donated the land for Endicott Rock park. This postcard was postmarked in 1911. Just beyond the steel bridge to the monument, a breakwater can be seen surrounding the swimming area. What looks like a breakwater down the middle of the channel was actually the 1833 dredgings, seen at very low lake water. In the black and white “Before” aerial above, we can still see the faint outlines of the swimming area breakwater, 40 years later.
EROSION TAKES ITS TOLL
Only 8 years after its initial construction, erosion had already taken its toll. A May 1958 Laconia Citizen article noted that work was about to start on a project to reclaim “about 2,000 cubic yards of sand which have washed away from Endicott Beach at The Weirs.”
As is clear in the photo below, in 1960 the beach originally extended via a narrow strip all the way to the public docks. Mother nature and the forces of erosion have taken their toll over the intervening 40+ years; today, the beach does not even extend as far North as the second set of stairs that used to lead to the beach from the public boardwalk.
This circa-1962 photo also clearly shows how the beach used to extend all the way to the public docks. Click here to enlarge the photo and for additional info.
Eventually, all the sand at the north end of the beach migrated south, towards the channel. The result is the wide, beautiful crescent beach of today. The southern end of the beach, where most of the sand has piled up against the long breakwater jetty along the Weirs Channel, is nicer than ever. But the northern end of the beach is now completely gone. Compare the “then” and “now” photos below.
In May, 2011, the latest effort to restore the beach to its previous extents (there were two earlier efforts) began with the hiring of the Woods Hole Group of Plymouth, MA to study the erosion problem. This latest restoration effort has continued to this very day.