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First known as Gilmantown, the town was home to the Gilman family, of which there were twenty-four members receiving land grants. At one time it was the second-largest town in the state, following Portsmouth. The original town was larger than it is now, with villages and parishes including Belmont, Gunstock Parish, Hurricane, Tioga, Factory Village, and Lakeport. Original boundaries of the town were Alton, Barnstead, Loudon, Canterbury, Northfield, Winnipesaukee River and Winnisquam Bay. A parish first called Averytown, the site of an unprofitable iron-mining enterprise, is still known as Gilmanton Iron Works.

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