LACONIA — The Unitarian Universalist Society of Laconia traces its history back to a time when the city was known as “Meredith Bridge.” As the small collection of homes, shops and a factory grew into one of the region’s industrial centers, the First Unitarian Church, as it was then known, grew as well.
The church’s place in history has now been secured, as its building has been selected by the State Historic Resources Council to be added to the State Register of Historic Places. Carolyn Baldwin, a member of the church, put together the application that was submitted to the state’s Division of Historical Resources. Her application relied upon historic research that was previously assembled by historian Warren Huse and church member Barbara Zeckhausen, and an earlier analysis performed by David Ruell of the Lakes Region Planning Commission.
The UUSL’s current home, at 172 Pleasant Street, is the third permanent structure for the church. The society began as a group of Universalists who began meeting as early as 1820, and was officially organized in 1838, in a church built at the corner of Union Avenue and Baldwin Street.
Thirty years later, the church, at that point known as the First Unitarian Church, moved into an imposing new building at the corner of Main and Hanover streets. That church’s organ, tall spire and corner belltower made it a landmark of downtown Laconia; however, its size became difficult for the congregation to support.
When that church burned in 1938, the congregation decided to seek a more modest home, which was how the UUSL came to Pleasant Street. Although some architectural firms were considered, the church was built in 1939 by a local builder, Walter Dunlap, who had also built a church in Franklin.
Dunlap’s structure, which appears today much as it did when it was dedicated in 1940, was designed in the Colonial Revival style, reflective of a social movement that influenced art and social reforms that began in the late 19th century and continued into the 20th century.
The Colonial Revival design elements visible in the UUSL Church are facade symmetry, pedimented doorways and porticos.
“The Unitarian Universalist Church is significant as one of the earliest, and perhaps one of the finest, examples of a Colonial Revival church in Belknap County,” Baldwin wrote in the application. She continued: “The church is recognized for its sophisticated design, including its composition of a gabled roof main block with a shallow projecting pavilion, small portico, and a square tower with an octagonal belfry and spire. The well executed and typical mid-20th century Colonial Revival ornamentation shows an understanding of early American architecture yet can be distinguished from an actual Colonial-era church.”
A listing on the state’s register is an acknowledgement of the building’s historic significance. It also provides relief from some building codes and makes the structure eligible for certain grant programs such as the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program.