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Telling the story of 200 years  of White Mountain History

                             Bretton Woods 1884
                            A Changing Landscape

                                 by Rick Russack

Today the section of Rt. 302 from the Cherry Mountain Road (which was the old Jefferson Turnpike) to the area around the Stickney Chapel has few buildings. However, in the late nineteenth  century, there were three large hotels: The White Mountain House, Fabyan’s and the Mt. Pleasant House (The Mt. Washington Hotel had not yet been built.) There were two or three sawmills, a charcoal kiln,  a school,  a settlement known as “Stovepipe City”, a tavern, a store, a tree nursery, barns, a wye for turning trains, engine houses, two railroad stations, boarding houses for railroad employees, private homes, a toll house for the Mt. Washington Turnpike, and the list could go on.  While the locations of the three hotels are well known, the several other buildings have been, to a large degree, forgotten.  How do we know what was there?  From hand-drawn survey maps by Littleton surveyor Ray Gile, photographs that have recently been found, hotel promotional literature, and on-the-ground examination of likely sites.  Using these sources together, we can get a good idea of what the area was once like.



       1884 Photograph, From the Mt. Pleasant House Looking East
                                         Enlarged view 


 
In the Dan Noel Collection is a photograph, dated 1884, labeled “View Near Mt. Pleasant House”.  The photographer, whose name was “McSweeney”, seems to have been standing with his back towards the Mt. Pleasant House and his camera pointed east towards Crawford Notch.   At least seven buildings are shown, along with the old Portland Road, (previously known as the Tenth New Hampshire Turnpike).  Some of the survey maps show these buildings and identify them.  Other photos show additional structures.

 

We had the 1884 photo enhanced and enlarged by Byron Fairbrother, of Lincoln and we were able to see many details. (These enhanced details are included in the photo gallery-link at bottom of page.)  In the foreground of the photograph is a log cabin with several people and wash hanging to dry.  Beyond that is a large building that one of the Gile maps identifies as the Holmes Tavern.  Surrounding the tavern, showing clearly in the photo and on the maps, are additional buildings.  The Gile maps name some of the buildings: Red Store, Log House, Holmes Tavern, Stable, Widow Green’s, Murphy’s, “Blind Tiger” (intriguing but we have no additional information), and Jack.  Jack may refer to English Jack, the Hermit of Crawford Notch, who seems to have had a shack in the area.  (See our page on the Mt. Pleasant House, and our English Jack page, as well.)  The maps show buildings on both sides of the road.



  The undated survey of the Mt. Pleasant Hotel Golf Course by Ray Gile
                                          Enlarged View

 

The Holmes Tavern was most likely associated with the sawmill in the same area.  The mill was owned by J.E. Henry and leased to Valorus Holmes.  This mill was located adjacent to the spur of the Boston, Concord and Montreal Railroad that ran to the Base Station of the Cog Railway.  (This spur ran from Fabyan’s to the Base Station and crossed the present day golf course of the Mt. Washington Hotel, very close to where the Stickney Chapel is now located.)  We learned from documents in the Mt. Pleasant House files in the New Hampshire Historical Society that J.E. Henry had charcoal kilns directly across the road from his sawmill. (Again, see our page on the Mt. Pleasant House)

 

Using the 1884 photo, showing telegraph poles along the Portland & Ogdensburg Railroad track, it was possible to determine where these buildings may have been.  Since part of our Mission Statement includes identifying sites of historical importance, we spent a few days seeing if we could find remnants of any the buildings on the maps and in the photographs.  The golf course has obliterated any sign of the Henry/Holmes mill but the site of the charcoal kiln was located.  Also located was the large cellar hole of the Holmes Tavern and cellar holes of some of the other buildings. There are cellar holes on both sides of Rt. 302, which has not changed too much in that area.  It’s possible that more can be found.

 

An undated photo by Frank Burt, appearing in Among The Clouds and other Burt souvenir publications, shows the Henry/Holmes sawmill and the BC&M RR spur to the Base Station.

 

Two undated promotional publications of the Mt. Washington Hotel and the Mt. Pleasant Housel provide additional information on this group of buildings and commentary on the business of lumbering. The Year Book of Bretton Woods  and The Drives of Bretton Woods  (in the author’s collection) describe the improvements made by the hotels after “the lumbermen desecrated Bretton Woods”, and what was there before Lake Carolyn and other improvements were added.  “There was a large saw mill. It was called the Holmes Mills and the very pretty hostelry, with spacious veranda and many dormers, that now rejoices in the name of Bretton Woods Inn, was then a big, ugly square box, called Holmes Boarding House. Lumbermen were entitled to go to dinner sans coat or vest, or to bed with their spiked boots on.  Across the way was a red brick building, where groceries, solid and liquid, were dispensed, and shoes and shirts, made largely of paper pulp in the encouragement of home industries, were, at liberal valuation charged up against the pay roll when issued to the guileless logger. This commercial emporium of ‘Stove Pipe City’, as the settlement was called, flung to the mountain breezes, the savory name of ‘The Red Onion’-why we do not know. Why ‘Stove Pipe City’?  All along the slope flanking the big house were numerous little log houses with slab roofs from which, without exception, protruded a foot or more of stove pipe.  This aggregation of stove pipes, looked down upon from the trains that passed along the track above, easily gave the name.”

 

The many existing photographs of the Fabyan House usually do not show the large complex of buildings that were nearby.  However, an undated photo by A. Eddy, a Claremont, NH photographer who spent summers taking photos of guests at the Fabyan House, shows several more buildings.  The photo shows a large, three story building used as a boarding house by railroad employees, other houses, and barns.  Town of Carroll tax records from the late 1880s show that some of the buildings on Fabyan House land were owned by the railroads. The Maine Central owned two houses, one occupied by A.M.Allen and the other occupied by Pat Monahan.  The B&M RR owned one building, and the Concord and Montreal owned seven.  Sylvester Marsh’s home is also shown in the Eddy photo.  Not shown, but known to exist was at least one engine house, a water tank and a wye (used for turning trains.  The remains of the wye can clearly be seen today.)  Other photos taken from Mt. Deception show unidentified buildings between the Fabyan House and the Mt. Pleasant Hotel.

 

In addition, a c.1875 Weller stereo view in the Hamilton collection shows three buildings close to the intersection of today’s Base Station Road and the Portland Road (now Rt. 302).  At the time, the road to the Base Station was a toll road, known as the Mt. Washington Turnpike.  One of the buildings in the Weller view is the tollhouse for the turnpike; the other buildings are as yet unidentified. The privately owned gingerbread house that still stands behind the Fabyan Station restaurant was owned by Sylvester Marsh, one of the owners of the corporation that built the Fabyan House. 

 

As other photographs and documents turn up, we’ll learn more about what was going on along this section of road.

 

                  click here for additional photos

 

Field exploration team:  Ben English Jr, Dave Govatski, Dick Hamilton, Karl Roenke, Rick Russack, Forrest Seavey

 

For Further Research:

The Ray Gile survey maps are at The Rauner Library at Dartmouth College and are used with permission.

 

The New Hampshire Historical Society has an extensive collection of documents pertaining to the Mt. Pleasant House.

The image used in the header at the top of this page is the Sylvester Marsh house, on the hillside behind the Fabyan Station restaurant.  It is now privately owned .

 

 

   

 

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