The history of Crawford Notch is integral to the history of the White Mountains. Its story, as far as settlement is concerned, goes back to about 1771when it was first "discovered" by two hunters, Nash and Sawyer. Then followed an attempt to build a road through what was then called the White Mountain Notch, or the Western Notch. (Pinkham Notch was the Eastern Notch and Franconia Notch was still to be discovered.) Native Americans had a trail through the Notch but there were no Native American villages.
The first settler, Abel Crawford, arrived about 1792 and built a log cabin approximately where the Fabyan Station Restaurant is located today. His father-in-law, Eleazar Rosebrook, came shortly thereafter and bought Crawford's cabin. Crawford moved about twelve miles south-east to the other end of the Notch, where he also built a home for his family. Both men started to provide accommodations for travelers, but it's unlikely that this was intended, at least at this early date. Timothy Dwight, President of Yale College, wrote of staying at Rosebrook's in 1793 and was complimentary about the lodging and food. He visited again in 1803 and noted that Rosebrook had built a large house, barns and mills, a testament to his hard work.
The Rosebrook Tavern and Farm, from a woodblock intended
to illustrate the second edition of Lucy Crawford's History.
Courtesy Dartmouth College Library
With the construction of the Tenth New Hampshire Turnpike, which opened in 1806, the region's importance increased. The road made it possible for farmers and merchants along the upper Connecticut River valley, and eastern Vermont, to trade with Portland, Maine merchants. Teamsters, and individual farmers, were able to sell their excess agricultural products in Portland and return with necessities only available in the seacoast cities. The road changed trade patterns-goods that used to go to Boston or Portsmouth markets now went to Portland. Throughout the history of transportation through Crawford Notch, the interests of Portland merchants and residents were always represented. When the turnpike was originally built, it was planned as th major link in a road system between Portland and Vermont. The Jefferson Turnpike, was built from the end of the 10th New Hampshire Turnpike, over Cherry Mountain to Lancaster, NH. The Littleton Turnpike also started at the end of the Tenth NH Turnpike. Later, the Mount Washington Turnpike, would also start at the end of the 10th and extend to Marshfield, the Base Station for the Cog Railway.
Kilburn Stereo View of the Road, c.1875
Richard Hamilton Collection
When stage coach travel became possible, about 1828 or 1829, the coaches went from Vermont to Portland. When the Portland and Ogdensburg Railroad was built through the Notch, Portland was one terminus. The road's importance continued into the 20th century. When the first Transcontinental automobile road, the Teddy Roosevelt Highway was planned, it started in Portland and went through Crawford Notch on its way west. Today the road is US Route 302, part of the White Mountain Trail, a designated Scenic and Cultural Byway.
During the 1820s, tourist traffic began to increase. In 1819, Ethan Allen Crawford, and his father, Abel Crawford, built the Crawford Path so they could more easily guide visitors to the summit of Mount Washington. Their path is still in use. The Willey family tragedy, in 1826, dramatically increased the number of visitors, who wanted to see the place where that family died. The Crawford family, already were accommodating visitors and teamsters at both ends of the Notch. In 1828 they decided to build a third hotel, the Notch House, just west of Elephant's Head at the Gate of the Notch. This hotel was run by Ethan Allen's brother, Thomas.
The increased number of visitors and commercial travelers encouraged the Crawfords to expand their hotel and others also invested in hotels. By the first years of the 20th century, there would be four Grand Hotels in Crawford Notch: The Crawford House, The Mt. Pleasant House, The Mt. Washington Hotel, and the Fabyan House. There were several other hotels as well: The White Mountain House, The Willey House, The Summit House on Mt. Washington, and a few miles west was the Twin Mountain House. Samuel Bemis built his stone mansion, Notchland near the site of Abel Crawford's Mt. Crawford Tavern.
Tourism was not the only industry. The area was the site of large scale logging for about fifty years, starting in 1875. There were four logging railroads: the Sawyer River Railroad, the Saco Valley Railroad, the Zealand Valley Railroad and the Little River Railroad. These four lumber railroads served sawmills that were part of three company owned towns: Livermore, Carrigain and Zealand. There are significant remains of two of these towns: Livermore and Zealand. And the logging railroad grades are in use today as hiking trails. In addition, the tracks of the Portland and Ogdensburg Railroad are still in use today.
Crawford Notch had its share of colorful characters: three generations of the Crawford family, English Jack-also known as the Hermit of Crawford Notch, Dr. Samuel Bemis, Sylvester Marsh, Horace Fabyan, J.E. Henry, Joseph Stickney, Princess Caroline, Florence Morey, and undoubtedly the list is incomplete.
In one form or another, traces of what existed over the last 200 years still remains. Sometimes there are intact survivors such as the Mt. Washington Hotel and Notchland. Sometimes, as in Livermore and Zealand, there are remains of a town, sometimes just cellar holes and mill foundations. The railroad remains, the Cog Railway still operates, and the Jefferson Turnpike is today known as the Cherry Mountain Road. You can still drive on it. And where there are few physical reminders of the past, we are fortunate to have hundreds of vintage photographs and prints that show us what Crawford Notch really looked like over the last 150 years or so.