The Story of the Glacial Ridge Road
By Joanne P. Jones
When the road opened in 1904, it was hailed by the Granite Monthly as “the pride of the mountains.” Fifteen years later, it had been abandoned by the state and was gone. Such was the fate of what is now known as the Glacial Ridge Road, which ran along the Ammonoosuc River east of Twin Mountain. Although its story is a short one, it is still an interesting chapter in White Mountain history that provides some insights into the times.
The road came into being on March 5, 1903, when the New Hampshire state legislature passed a major highway bill. Entitled “An act to provide for a more economical and practical expenditure of money appropriated by the state for the construction and repair of highways,” the new law had a number of provisions, many of which focused on the North Country. One of these provisions called for the construction of two new sections of road along the south side of the Ammonoosuc River between the Fabyan House and the Twin Mountain House --one just under a mile in length, the other just over two miles in length. Connecting with parts of the Portland Road that already ran along the north side of the Ammonoosuc River, these two new sections of road would parallel—not replace—the existing highway and, by being on the south side of the Ammonoosuc, would have no railroad crossings such as the ones found along the Portland Road between Fabyans and Twin Mountain. Although not stated in the law, articles in Among the Clouds, the White Mountain Echo, and the Granite Monthly all make mention of how dangerous these crossings were for drivers, which may be one of the reasons the state decided to build these two new sections of road.
The road ascending the Glacial Ridge (Kevin Jones photo)
Furthermore, the law called for the Governor to appoint a three-person commission—one of whose tasks would be to survey and locate the road—and appropriated $17,000 for the construction. It also designated the two new sections of road, as well as the connecting sections of the existing Portland Road, as “state highway” that would be maintained by the state and would become part of the new state highway system being developed in the White Mountains and elsewhere in New Hampshire. As noted in an August 1903 editorial in Among the Clouds, this legislation marked “an important change in the relation of the state of New Hampshire to the roads of the White Mountains” and showed “a significant growth of public sentiment.” To quote George McAvoy, who discusses the road in his book And Then There Was One, this legislation signaled that “the state was now aware that there was a North Country.”
Things moved forward quickly. Governor Bachelder and the Council chose John Anderson of the Mount Washington and Mount Pleasant hotels, Charles F. Eastman of the Profile House, and G. E. Cummings of Woodsville, division superintendent of the Boston & Maine Railroad, to head the commission mandated by the new law. In addition, John W. Storrs of Concord was appointed highway engineer to the commission for the district of Coos, Grafton, and Carroll Counties, which had been created by the law. Employed at the time as a bridge engineer by the Boston & Maine Railroad, Storrs later became known as one of the preeminent designers of steel truss bridges in New Hampshire and the New England region.
The task of conducting a survey and laying out a route for the two new sections of road was performed by surveyor Ray T. Gile of Littleton. The survey plan and location profile which Gile made, as well as the field notebook he kept, can be found at the Rauner Special Collections Library at Dartmouth College. The notebook reveals that Gile started his survey work in Fabyans on April 22, 1903 and finished up in Twin Mountain on April 30, 1903. The survey plan is a hand-drawn sketch done at a scale of 1 inch=400 feet and, except for Giles’ survey notations along the route chosen for the road, shows only a few features. As specified by the law, Gile located both sections of the new road south of the Ammonoosuc River, leaving and rejoining the Portland Road at four different spots. The plan shows the eastern part of the road leaving the Portland Road (labeled the “traveled highway” on the plan), crossing the Ammonoosuc River, and then rejoining the Portland Road about a mile later at another crossing of the Ammonoosuc just beyond Lower Falls (labeled as such on the plan). It shows the western part of the road, which was about 2 miles in length, leaving the Portland Road, crossing the Ammonoosuc, and then following along the bed of the former Zealand Valley Railroad (something noted by Gile in his field notebook and on the location profile) past the engine house and another building. The road then proceeded across the Zealand River and along the south shore of the Ammonoosuc River until it crossed the Ammonoosuc again and rejoined the Portland Road.
The contract for building the road
was awarded in the summer of 1903 to Joseph Ross & Sons of Boston and
construction began shortly thereafter, most likely using Italian laborers (a
common practice at the time). Various
accounts of the construction project can be found in 1903 and 1904 issues of
the White Mountain Echo, Among the Clouds, the Littleton
Courier, the Manchester Union, and the Granite Monthly. It is in these accounts that we find more
detailed descriptions of the road and the route that it followed. The eastern section of the road left the
Portland Road near the Fabyan House golf links and crossed the Ammonoosuc River
at a point opposite the White Mountain House (which stood near the present-day
junction of the Old Cherry Mountain Road and Route 302). The road then proceeded along the south side
of the river to just beyond Lower Falls, where it once again crossed the river
on a steel bridge and connected with the Portland Road. Just before this crossing, rocks that had
been noted by Gile in his field notebook had to be dynamited and a cut made for
the road. Unlike the other bridges built
for the road, which had oak pile trestles, the bridge at this crossing had
abutments built of Portland cement concrete, “probably the first concrete
masonry used in highway work in New Hampshire” (Granite Monthly,
Aug.-Sept. 1904). The abutment on the
south side of the river still stands today and can be seen from the path on the
opposite side of the river, just west of Lower Falls. Although no documentation of this fact could
be found, it would seem likely that John Storrs, engineer for the project and a
bridge designer, had a hand in designing this bridge.
The steel bridge at Lower Falls (David Govatski collection)
A mile west of Lower Falls, at a spot near the present-day Zealand Campground, the western section of the road left the Portland Road and crossed the Ammonoosuc River. Although Gile had surveyed this part of the road to run near the Ammonoosuc River along the bed of a spur of the former Zealand Valley Railroad, the plan was changed and the road was brought up onto “a glacial ridge about 90 feet above the surrounding valley,” located just south of the railroad spur. This half-mile-long “glacial ridge”—what we today call an esker—was a narrow, steep-sided deposit of gravel left about 12,000 years ago by the continental glacier as it receded. “Just wide enough on the top for a twenty-foot roadway,” it offered “a most attractive view of the Zealand valley, flanked by towering mountains, and of the Presidential peaks.” So often is this ridge highlighted in articles about the road that today the road is often referred to as the Glacial Ridge Road. Descending from the glacial ridge, the road crossed the Zealand River, not far from its confluence with the Ammonoosuc River. It then proceeded along the south shore of the Ammonoosuc “through a heavy growth of hardwood timber” to a final crossing of the river and rejoined the Portland Road east of the Twin Mountain House (probably near the present-day Living Water Campground). [Author’s note—all quotes in this paragraph are from the White Mountain Echo, July 9, 1904]
Sixteen feet wide with a maximum grade of ten percent, the new road was an earth roadway, surfaced with gravel, and had ditches and culverts for drainage. It would appear from notations found in the Automobile Blue Book that automobiles were not allowed on the eastern section of the road from just west of Fabyans to the Lower Falls bridge. However, no mention was found of automobiles being prohibited from the western section of the road that went over the Glacial Ridge, which meant that this section of the road would have been open to both horse-drawn carriages as well as automobiles.
When the road officially opened to the public in July 1904, it was featured in a front-page article in the White Mountain Echo, as well as in articles in Good Roads Magazine and the Granite Monthly. The latter publication called the road “the pride of the mountains” and “one of the great attractions in the mountains this year” and praised the state for opening up “a new country, with scenery that is beautiful and grand.” Guidebooks such as A Year Book of Bretton Woods and The Drives of Bretton Woods in the White Mountains also included the road, calling it “a drive of great interest.” With its spectacular views from the Glacial Ridge, lovely riverside scenery, and lack of railroad crossings, the road undoubtedly would have been an attractive choice for a mountain drive.
However, despite all this publicity and praise, the road soon faded from the limelight and apparently fell into disuse. As early as 1908—just 4 years after the road opened—the biennial New Hampshire highway report stated that the road was “used but little, the greater portion of the travel being upon the old original road.” Why the road received such little use, especially when it offered such attractive views, is hard to understand. Perhaps it was too much of a scenic detour for drivers, who preferred the more direct route offered by the Portland Road, which paralleled the Glacial Ridge Road. Perhaps having to ascend and descend the narrow, steep-sided Glacial Ridge deterred drivers from taking the road. Whatever the reason, in March 1919, the state legislature voted to abandon both the western section of the road running from Twin Mountain to Zealand (the Glacial Ridge Road), and the eastern section of the road running from Lower Falls to Fabyans. Furthermore, the law stated that the parallel sections of the Portland Road, which had been maintained by the town of Carroll, would now be taken over and maintained by the state. Just over 15 years after it came into being, the Glacial Ridge Road was gone.
Fortunately, one portion of the
Glacial Ridge Road is easily accessible today on foot in the early spring or on
skis in the winter. The northern part
of the Flat Iron Ski Trail off the Zealand Road follows the old roadbed from
Zealand Road to the Zealand River, ascending and descending the Glacial
Ridge. At the crest of the ridge is an
opening with a lovely viewpoint up the Zealand Valley—the same view that
drivers of the road enjoyed over 100 years ago.
Thus, although long gone, a segment of the short-lived Glacial Ridge
Road can still be enjoyed today.
The view down the Zealand Valley from the summit of the Glacial Ridge (Kevin Jones photo)
“An act relating to roads in the town of Carroll.” Laws of the State of New Hampshire, Chapter 85 (1919).
“An act to provide for a more economical and practical expenditure of money appropriated by the state for the construction and repair of highways.” Laws of the State of New Hampshire, Chapter 54 (1903).
Automobile Blue Book (v.2: New England). New York: Class Journal Co., 1907.
Automobile Blue Book (v.2: New England and Canada). New York: Automobile Blue Book Publishing Co., 1911.
The Drives of Bretton Woods in the White Mountains: with historical notes. Publication information not given.
Emerson, Arthur W. A Year Book of Bretton Woods. Bretton Woods, NH: Mount Washington & Mount Pleasant Hotels, undated.
Gile, Ray T. [Field Notebook]. April 1903. Dartmouth College Libary (Rauner Special Collections Library), Hanover, NH.
———. “Location Profile State Highway.” Chart. 1903. Dartmouth College Library (Rauner Special Collections Library), Hanover, NH.
———. “Plan State Highway: Fabyan to Twin Mountain.” Map. 1903. Dartmouth College Libary (Rauner Special Collections Library), Hanover, NH.
Jorgensen, Neil. A Guide to New England’s Landscape. Chester, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 1977.
Knoblock, Glenn A. Historic Iron and Steel Bridges in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2012.
McAvoy, George E. And Then There Was One: A History of the Hotels of the Summit and the West Side of Mt. Washington. Littleton, NH: Crawford Press, 1988.
“A Mountain Drive.” Granite Monthly, May 1904, 294-95.
“Mountain Highways: New Route from Fabyan’s and Bretton Woods to Twin Mountain and Profile.” Among the Clouds, August 6, 1903, 1, 4.
“New Hampshire State Roads.” Granite Monthly, May 1904, 293-94.
Raymo, Chet, and Maureen E. Raymo. Written in Stone: A Geological History of the Northeastern United States. 2nd ed. Hensonville, NY: Black Dome Press, 2001.
“Scenes Along State Highway.” Manchester Union, October 13, 1903, 1, 3. (same article appeared in Littleton Courier, Oct. 16, 1903 with different title)
Second Biennial Report of the Governor and Council and of the State Engineer Relative to Highway Improvement. Concord, NH: State of New Hampshire, 1908.
“The State and the Roads.” Among the Clouds, August 6, 1903, 4.
“State Highway History 1899 to 1905.” New Hampshire Highways, December 1928, unpaged.
“A State Road.” White Mountain Echo and Tourists’ Register, August 15, 1903, 15. (same article appeared in Littleton Courier, Aug. 14, 1903 with different title)
Storrs, John W. “From Fabyans to Twin Mountains [sic]: New State Road Opens Next Week.” White Mountain Echo and Tourists’ Register, July 9, 1904, 1. (same article appeared in Good Roads Magazine, Sept. 1904 with different title)
———. “State Highway Work in the White Mountains.” Granite Monthly, October-December 1904, 95-100.
“What the State Has Done.” White Mountain Echo and Tourists’ Register, July 9, 1904, 2.
Jones retired in 2011 from Phillips Exeter Academy, where she was a librarian
for 27 years. She now volunteers at New
Hampshire Audubon and the New Hampshire Historical Society Library in
Acknowledgements: The author would like to thank her husband Kevin Jones, David Govatski of Jefferson, and John Compton of Bethlehem for their help and support on this article.