Telling the story of 200 years  of White Mountain History

                            Joseph Seavey Hall
                                 by Rick Russack


Joseph Seavey Hall of Bartlett was one of the most important participants in mid-nineteenth century events in Crawford Notch (or the White Mountain Notch as it was known in those days) and on Mt. Washington. Yet most people have never heard of him.  His father, Elias, was a toll collector on the Tenth NH Turnpike through Crawford Notch.  An uncle, or perhaps his grandfather, Judge Obed Hall of Bartlett, was one of the major investors, and an officer, of the Tenth NH Turnpike Corporation.  Joseph Seavey Hall married a Crawford and was in business with a Rosebrook.


·        While working for Thomas Crawford at the Notch House, he helped to expand the Crawford Path into a bridle path.  

·        Hall was a well respected guide and escorted several well-known scientists up the mountain.

·        Hall conceived the idea for, and built the Summit House, the first hotel on the Summit of Mt. Washington.

·        Hall may have made the first winter ascent of  Mt. Washington.

·        Hall had a casket made and carried Lizzie Bourne’s body down from the summit.

·        Hall participated in the search for Dr. Ball and was the person who found the doctor.

·        He carried Dr. Chandler’s body down the mountain. in July, 1857.

·        Hall may have been a surveyor for the Carriage Road and he was one of the contractors.  When Col. Joseph Thompson of the Glen House became the first to ascend by carriage, Hall was there and it was his carriage that Thompson used.

·        Hall sold his Mt. Washington hotels and joined in the Civil War.  At the war’s end, he moved to California, found another mountain, built a road up it and then built a hotel at its summit.


Joseph Seavey Hall was born in Bartlett, NH in 1818. In August 1887, he wrote the first of two letters to the editor of Among The Clouds recounting his early involvement with Mt. Washington.  The letter provides a great deal of information. In 1835, at the age of 17, he went to work for Tom Crawford, Manager of the Notch House.  The Notch House had been built by Crawford’s brother, Ethan Allen, and his father, Abel Crawford, in 1828.  Hall worked as a guide, taking visitors to the summit of Mt. Washington, using the Crawford Path, which started near the Notch House.  “I saw the need for better facilities for ascending Mt. Washington and suggested to Mr. Crawford the practicability of a bridle path to Mt. Clinton and a shelter to protect visitors from the fearful storms.”    In the fall of 1839, with the help of William Crawford (another son of Abel), and Hall’s brother Charles, he built a “passable bridle path” to Mt. Clinton and it was used by visitors that fall.  The next summer, 1840, the bridle path was extended to the summit of Mt. Washington.  “For the next two summers, I acted as a guide for parties numbering as high as forty ladies and gentlemen, and I made four to seven trips a week.”  While working as a guide, Hall’s clients included Professor Edmund Tuckerman, William Oakes, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  


Hall tried to persuade his boss to build a shelter at the summit but to no avail.  After two summers, he left and worked in New York for a few years, then returned and bought a farm in Jefferson.  In 1845, he married Sarah Crawford and remained a Jefferson resident until leaving for the Civil War.


On April 15 1852, Hall wrote a letter to Samuel Bemis, a Boston dentist who spent his summers at Abel Crawford’s Mt. Crawford Tavern.  Hall asked if Bemis would be interested in investing in a structure that Hall planned to build on the summit.  Apparently, Bemis was not interested.  His papers (at the Conway Public Library) do not include a response and history does not identify him with either of the summit hotels.  Hall’s letter described the structure he planned to build:  “It might be of heavy canvas of sufficient size to accommodate 25 persons or more.  It would have India Rubber hung on wires for the purpose of making sleeping departments.”  Hall apparently planned to erect a wood and stone structure to “protect” his tent and he would furnish it with beds and “suitable furniture.”  He planned to able to feed his visitors, expecting that some might stay for several days.  His letter stated his qualifications and expectations, “I have been a guide for 4 years in all and I think such an enterprise might be profitable and of great satisfaction to the public.”


With Lucius M. Rosebrook of Lancaster, New Hampshire, Hall built the Summit House in 1852.  Hall wrote that construction began on June 2 and “40 days thereafter I entertained guests in it.” The Summit House was 20’ by 40’, according to an article in the Coos  Democrat of Aug. 11, 1852.  At the end of its first season, on Sept. 15th, the Summit House had taken in $2,200.  John Spaulding built the Tip-Top House the following year and the two houses competed for a season.  The following year, according to Hall, he and Spaulding combined the two hotels, took on other partners, and operated the two houses under the business name of Hall and Spaulding.  Hall wrote that in 1853 there were about 100 visitors a day to the Summit House.


                         Courtesy American Antiquarian Society

The business continued until completion of the carriage road.  Hall, in the same letter, wrote, “The business was carried on under the name of Hall and Spaulding until I built, or rather finished building, the Mt. Washington Carriage Road in 1859 and 1860.  This road I projected. D.O. Macomber, of Middletown, Ct obtained the Charter and became President as well as Superintendent.” Macomber went bankrupt and was unable to complete the road.  The company was taken over by David Pingree of Salem, Massachusetts, a man with whom Hall had less than cordial relations.  F. Allen Burt, in The Story of Mount Washington said that Hall had a crew of eighty men working to complete the road.   When Hall finished building the road, Pingree raised the rent on the land on which the two summit hotels stood. (Whether or not Pingree actually owned the land at the summit would be the subject of a lengthy court case.  Hall paid rent to Pingree so that he could operate the hotels without interference.)  Hall said that he “left in disgust” and in 1862-3 went to fight in the Civil War.  He joined the 15th Regiment of the Vermont Infantry, where he served as a lieutenant and fought at Gettysburg.



In 1861, the first  to drive up the newly completed  Carriage Road was Colonel Joseph Thompson, owner of the Glen House, with his wife.  This fact was reported by several writers and recorded by a stereograph taken by John Soule.  What has been left out of the story of that day is that Joseph Hall and his wife were with the Thompsons and the carriage was Hall’s.  A second letter from Hall to Among The Clouds was published on Sept. 5, 1887. It states: “Your humble servant, his wife, and Mr. and Mrs. Thompson, by invitation, were the first to ride over the road.  They were seated in my carriage, which was drawn by four beautiful buckskins, driven by Alonzo Newell.”


Lizzie Bourne died on Mt. Washington Sept. 14, 1855.  She was certainly not the first to die on the mountain but her story became national news.  On the night of her death, Hall had stayed at the Glen House.He was going up the bridle path the next morning when he met a messenger coming down from the summit with news of the tragedy.  Hall stopped at the Halfway House on the bridle path, had “a shallow box made” and, with help, carried it to the summit.  John Spaulding and “Mr. Page” had  brought Lizzie’s body to the Summit House.  “Every means was used to restore her to life, but in vain.”  Hall wrote, “I proceeded to make preparations to take the body down the mountain.  The remains were placed in the box and bed clothing packed tightly around them.  With the help of three men, we bore our burden slowly and sadly down the narrow bridle path, a distance of nearly eight miles.”  Hall returned to the scene of the tragedy and wrote, “I placed with my own hands, the pile of stone, with a rose-quartz cap, on the spot that marks the place where she died.”  Touched with the courtesies Hall offered his deceased daughter, Lizzie’s father sent Hall a letter thanking him for his actions.


One month later, Hall was involved in a rescue with a happier outcome.  Dr. B.L. Ball of Boston became lost while ascending the mountain.  Like Lizzie, he also left from the Glen House, heading for the summit.  To make a long story short, the Doctor lost his way.  The weather turned worse and it began to snow.  He somehow survived for three days with little to protect him other than his umbrella.  (Ball wrote a book about his time on the mountain,  Three Days on The White Mountains Being the Perilous Adventure of Dr. B.L. Ball on Mount Washington During October 25, 26, and 27, 1855.  In it, he recounted the story in detail.)  Hall was part of the search party looking for Dr. Ball and was the first to find him. As the doctor recounted the story, one is reminded of Stanley and Livingston.  Hall approached Ball and asked, “Is this Dr. Ball?”  After an affirmative answer, Hall then asked, “Are you the person who left the Glen House Wednesday afternoon to walk up on the new road?”  Another affirmative answer and then Hall asked, “And you have been out on the mountain since that time?”  Hall and the other members of the search party took Dr. Ball to the Halfway House and later to the Glen House. Dr. Ball’s book recounts Hall’s involvement with the rescue and subsequent attention to Ball’s condition.


Hall may also have made the first winter ascent of Mt. Washington.  The March 23, 1854 edition of The Farmer’s Cabinet reprinted a letter from Hall in which he wrote about ascending the mountain a week or two earlier.  Hall did not say why he and John Spaulding climbed the mountain but he described at length the hazardous trip and the beauty.  “No tongue can describe the beauty of the scene.”  (Most writers state that the first winter ascent was in December1858, when Lucius Hartshorn,the Sheriff of Coos County and Samuel Spaulding had to go up to the summit to serve a legal paper in connection with the litigation concerning ownership of  the summit.  It’s another long story that’s not really part of the Hall story.)


In 1874, Hall was in California, and had a new project in mind.  He settled in the area of Mt. Diablo and believed that Mt. Diablo had the same potential interest to tourists as did Mt. Washington.  All it needed was a road and a hotel.  Hall, with a group of local businessmen, raised the necessary funds.  He built a toll road and a hotel on the summit.  During its fist month in operation 800 people used the toll road, at a charge of 25 cents each. The venture was successful until the hotel burned in1891.  The area today is a State



Joseph Seavey Hall made significant contributions to New Hampshire and California, and perhaps to other places as well.  He died in 1899 at the age of 82, while staying with a brother-in-law in Hardwick Vt.  He deserves to be remembered.


Suggested Reading:

“Joseph Seavey Hall, White Mountain Guide” by Bradford Swan,  Appalchia, June 1960.

Hall’s letters to Among the Clouds, published 8/20/1887 and Sept. 5, 1887.

Mt. Diablo State Park web page.





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