White Mountain Summit Hotels
and Other Structures
by Rick Russack
With the assistance of Jeffrey Leich, Dr. Peter Crane, Dave Govatski, and Ludwig Schiessl
Links to three Photo Album at Bottom of Page
Construction of shelters on mountaintops in the White Mountains can be traced back to 1823 when Ethan Allen Crawford built a simple stone cabin near what is now known as the Gulf Tank site. Crawford saw the need to provide a refuge for those adventurous travelers that he was guiding up Mt. Washington. Although built of stone, it required re-building each Spring and was completely destroyed in 1826 by the storm that killed the Willey family. There was also an early stone shelter on the summit of Mt. Lafayette. In the late 1840s and early 1850s hotels were built on Mt. Kearsarge, Mt. Washington, and Mt. Moriah. Later, hotels were built on Mt. Moosilauke and Mt Chocorua. The Appalachian Mountain Club, built huts for hikers starting in 1888, and there was an observatory on Mt. Agassiz in Bethlehem.
The first of the reasonably permanent hotels was built on the summit of Mt. Washington in 1852, with a second hotel built the next year. (These were the Summit House and Tip-Top House.) For varying lengths of time, hotels existed on Mt. Kearsarge, Mt. Moosilauke, and Mt. Chocorua. In addition, there were huts built above the tree line to accommodate hikers. The first AMC hut was built at Madison Spring in 1888. (It was expanded several times and rebuilt after a fire in 1940.) Others followed it: an emergency shelter near the Lakes of the Clouds in 1901, and the hut at Lakes of The Clouds in 1915. Substantial changes have been made to these huts over the years. (The Photo Album below documents some of these changes.)
The first Summit House on Mt. Washington, when it opened in 1852, was 40’ long and 20’ feet wide. In 1853, a 20’ extension was added. After the addition, it could accommodate 60 guests overnight and the dining room could accommodate 150. In addition to the Summit House and Tip Top House, several other structures were built on the summit of Mt. Washington, including facilities for the Carriage Road, and later the Cog Railway. It appears that the first non-hotel structure was a primitive 40’ observatory, built in 1854. It had a hand-cranked elevator but was not popular with visitors. It was abandoned after the first summer and was torn down in 1856. The first railroad station and train shed was built in 1870, a year after the Cog Railway began operating. In 1873, the second, enlarged, Summit House opened and survived until the 1908 fire, which destroyed nearly every thing on the summit. The U.S. Signal Service built a weather observatory in 1874, with observers stationed there until 1892. In 1875, a new railroad station and train shed was built and in 1878, the Stage Office was built. A wooden tower built in 1880 allowed visitors to climb up and get a better view of the region , using a telescope at the top. A separate office building was constructed for Among the Clouds in 1884.
For much more information on the buildings on Mt. Washington, see the articles by Jeffrey Leich, Director of the Ski Museum in Franconia Notch. The first article is a large file and will take a few moments to load. The Stone Hotels of Mt. Washington appeared in the June 15, 1997 issue of Appalachia. Inside the Summit House and Possession of the Summit ‘A Prolific Subject of Contention’ both appeared in Windswept, the Quarterly Bulletin of the Mt. Washington Observatory. The articles are used here with permission of the author and the two publications.
Possibly the earliest attempt to accommodate overnight mountaintop visitors was on Mt. Kearsarge, in Bartlett. In 1848 or ’49, four local men built a small hotel, which was kept open for a few years but then was abandoned. In 1869, Andrew Dinsmore bought the hotel, repaired it and apparently ran it until it blew down in 1883. Dinsmore tried once more, rebuilding on a smaller scale, but that venture was also abandoned after a few years. That hotel was known as the Second Mt. Kearsarge House. The exact date that it was abandoned is unclear but in 1902, the Appalachian Mountain Club acquired what was left of the building and ten acres of land at the summit through a bequest from C.E. Clay of Chatham.
The views from the summit encouraged grand plans. A railroad to the summit was contemplated and engineering work was done to lay out a route. In 1883, the Conway and Mt. Kearsarge Railroad was incorporated but never built. It was to be a narrow gauge railroad with 29 miles of track, connecting North Conway, Intervale, Chatham and towns in western Maine with the summit of Mt. Kearsarge. The railroad company also planned to build a large, new hotel. You can read the Prospectus and Charter for the railroad here.
In about 1854, a small one-room log house was built on Mt. Moriah, near Gorham. Colonel Hitchcock, the proprietor of the Alpine House in Gorham, built it, and a road up the mountain. The house lasted only a short time and not much is known about it.
In 1860, Darius Swain and James Clement built the Prospect House on the summit of Mt. Moosilauke. It was later known as the Tip-Top House of Mt. Moosilauke. In 1870, a well-made carriage road (it was a state-chartered toll road and collected tolls until 1919) was built up the mountain and many more visitors were attracted. (The date of the construction of the road is quoted by different authors as being 1860, 1870, and 1881.) It was in this mountaintop hotel that J.H.Huntington, a college student, recently graduated from Amherst College, and A.F. Clough, a photographer from Warren, spent the winter of 1869-70. It was the first attempt at spending a winter on a mountaintop and both men were part of the group that spent the next winter at the summit of Mt. Washington. The hotel expanded by the addition of a wooden ell in 1872 and a wooden superstructure was added to the original house. As on Mt. Kearsarge, enthusiastic businessmen considered building a railroad to the summit. In 1889, the Moosilauke Railroad was incorporated. It was to run from Warren to the summit of Mt. Moosilauke but never built. The survey report of F.W. Conn, dated Jan. 29, 1890, indicates that there had been some discussion of building a cog railway, but the report recommended against it.
Sometime around 1860, a shelter was built on the summit of Mt. Lafayette. Little is known about who built it, but Taft and Greenleaf, proprietors the Profile House and Flume House, the two hotels in Franconia Notch, most likely were the builders. It’s possible that the house was built slightly earlier as an 1859 catalog of Franklin White stereo views includes one titled “Summit House on Mt. Lafayette”. John Soule’s catalog of stereo views lists three views of Mt. Lafayette and Summit House taken in 1862. (Soule’s three views are included in the our Photo Album.) Apparently, the stone structure was only intended to provide shelter from the elements for those ascending the mountain on horseback from the hotels. There is a brief mention of a “house” at the summit in both the 1866 and 1873 editions of Eastman’s guide. It is not mentioned in the 1874 edition of Faxon’s, but is mentioned in both the 1875 and 1878 editions of “The Switzerland of America”. Kilbourne, in Chronicles of the White Mountains, says it was gone by 1875 but this may not be correct. Interestingly, when Sylvester Marsh was granted a charter to build the Mt. Washington Cog Railway, on June 25, 1858, it included the right to build a cog railway on Mt. Lafayette. Marsh had included that request when he submitted his application for a charter, but he is not known to have pursued any work on Mt. Lafayette.
The Peak House on Mt. Chocorua was the last of the summit hotels (although, in fact, it was slightly below the summit.) A toll road up the mountain, chartered by the state, was built in 1888 by James Liberty. Presumably, when the road was completed, the hotel was built. Liberty’s Peak House was, in reality, two tents surrounded by a stone wall. In 1892, David Knowles and Newell Forrest bought the rights to the road and Liberty’s buildings. They built a three story hotel which survived until it was blown down in Sept. 1915, after the summer season had ended.
Since the title of this page includes the words “other structures” it would seem that we should mention the Observatory on Mt. Agassiz in Bethlehem. The first observatory was built by Milo Corliss in the 1880s. The Observatory was a major tourist attraction and operated until the 1950s.
Click here for Photo Album of
Click here for Photo Album of Mt. Washington Structures
We also have a photo album of the showing the damage done by the 1908 fire at the summit, which destroyed nearly all the buildings. Click here.
Chronicles of the White Mountains by Kilbourne has a chapter on summit hotels.
Chocorua Peak House by Nickerson and Downs is a source for that hotel
Mt. Washington in Winter