Alton, New Hampshire

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Alton is a town in Belknap County, New Hampshire, United States. The population was 4,502 at the 2000 census. The 2009 population was estimated to be 5,144.[1] It is home to Alton Bay State Forest and Mount Major State Forest. Alton includes the village of Alton Bay, a long-time resort located beside Lake Winnipesaukee.



Originally called New Durham Gore because of rocky upland areas, or "gores," the town was settled in 1770, mainly by farmers because the highland areas provided less frost. Merchants then filled the lowlands. Early Alton history recounts stories of the merchants trying to convince the farmers to incorporate. They would succeed in 1796, when the community was named after Alton, a small market town in Hampshire, England.[2]

By 1840, the village of Alton existed at the town's center. In 1847, the Cochecho Railroad began bringing passengers and freight to Alton Village and Alton Bay. By 1859, the town had two gristmills, seven sawmills, and five shoe factories.[2] But the most famous business was the Rockwell Clough Company, established by William Rockwell Clough, inventor of the corkscrew. By 1903, his company was producing 30 million corkscrews worldwide.[3]

Since the mid-19th century, however, tourism has been the principal business. In 1863, the Adventist Campground held their first camp meeting at Alton Bay. In 1872, the Boston & Maine Railroad launched at Alton Bay the steamer Mount Washington, the first side-wheeler and largest vessel on Lake Winnipesaukee. When destroyed by fire in 1939, a replacement ship was found, also christened Mount Washington. Today, it continues to carry summer tourists between stops on the lake. The railway survived until 1935, and the old station at Alton Bay is now a community center.[4]

Steamer landing in 1905

Advent Grove in 1910

Boarding house in 1907


According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 82.2 square miles (213 km2), of which 63.1 sq mi (163 km2) is land and 19.0 sq mi (49 km2) is water, comprising 23.18% of the town. Alton is drained by the Merrymeeting River. Mount Major, in Mount Major State Forest, has an elevation of 1,780 feet (540 m) above sea level. Popular with hikers, the summit offers unsurpassed views of Lake Winnipesaukee. The highest point in Alton is the north peak of Straightback Mountain, at 1,910 ft (580 m), just west of Mount Major. Both mountains are part of the Belknap Mountains range. Alton lies almost fully within the Merrimack River watershed, though a tiny corner is in the Piscataqua River (coastal) watershed.[5]

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