Saturday, May 19, 2018


Last Light on the Mt. Washington Hotel

If you’ve heard the term Grand Hotel bandied about you probably have a t least an opinion about what exactly a Grand Hotel is. The Grand Hotels are a dwindling group of large and majestic old hotels around the country - most often found in resort areas away from the maddening crowds.

While they are found in many states, the Grand Hotels of New Hampshire were unique in that they were, for a time, the most numerous and well known such hotels in the country. They were castle-like, beautiful buildings located mostly in the rural regions of NH and served as the respite for the wealthy of an earlier day.
The first Grand Hotels were created as summer sanctuaries for the elite, who would pack their steamer trunks as the cities began to heat up into sweltering centers of sickness and virulence. The summer would find the refugees of New York, Boston, Philadelphia and a hundred cities, headed north by train and carriage to spend their summer lounging on shady verandas attached to rambling colossal porches, stretching from one end of the massive hotel’s facade to the other. It was believed the cool mountain air had a healing effect on those who were ill and for those who were not it simply provided them with the comfort to which their means entitled them.
Pemigewasset House, Plymouth
The early days of summer would be dominated by women and children who often fled the cities ahead of their husbands but as the days grew shorter after the solstice, the number of men would grow as well, with husbands winding up their work and heading north to join their families for the last vestiges of summer.

The verandahs and porticos of the Grand Hotels provided cooling shade and protection from the summer rain as the inhabitants whiled away the hours sipping manhattans and sloe gin fizzes or cape cod ice tea from tall glasses with ice chipped from huge blocks, harvested in the dead of winter for their comfort and pleasure in the heat of summer. The ice blocks were stacked in special rooms, often below grade, and insulated by wood chips, sawdust and hay carefully stacked and utilized so they would last through the summer and fall until the last cool drops of melt would correspond with the first flakes of snow heralding the season for their harvest once again. As they melted in the ice rooms the hotel’s residents would while away the summer hours playing cards, reading, or watching the lightning flashes from a late afternoon thunderstorm over the White Mountains.

At the Mount Washington Hotel, in Bretton Woods, probably the most famous grand hotel in America, daily outings would take hotel guests to high country meadows and mountaintops by carriage, foot and even aboard the famed Cog railway. On mid-summer mornings families would pack a picnic, take a carriage to the boarding station, board the Cog and chug to the summit of Mount Washington. From there they would hike the short distance to the Alpine Gardens of Tuckerman Ravine for a picnic or to the Bigelow Lawns of Mt Jefferson for a leisurely afternoon of croquet at 5000 feet.

Most of the Grand Hotels rose up in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Over the years since then the number of Grand Hotels had dwindled. The Pemigewasset House in Plymouth, where Nathaniel Hawthorne breathed his last, succumbed to fire. The Profile House at the base of Cannon Mountain was rebuilt after being razed and then it too succumbed to fire. The Crawford House, quite possibly the Grandest of the Grand, had its own glory days but it closed in the mid 1970’s, before its abandoned shell fell to fire.

The beauty and variety of the New Hampshire landscape has always attracted visitors seeking to enjoy the scenery, relative serenity, clean air, and slower-paced lifestyle, particularly in the White Mountains, the Lakes Region, and along the seacoast. Tourism, an important part of the New Hampshire economy today, developed into thriving industry in the State during the 1800’s, and with the development of the Grand Resort Hotels, staying at these “destination resorts” for long periods of time became a popular choice for many wealthy visitors.
Two Chairs at White Mountain Hotel

Unquestionably, the railroads played an integral part in the phenomenal growth of the tourism industry, particularly in the White Mountains. The region had long been known for offering hospitality to travelers arriving by stagecoach, horseback, or on foot to stay at the many small inns, taverns, and lodging rooms. By the mid-1800’s, the expansion of rail service throughout the State made traveling to the destinations simpler and fueled a demand for more rooms and larger hotels.

Some of the larger hotels, including the Profile House in Franconia Notch and Fabyan’s in Crawford Notch, had their own train depots for even greater convenience.

Although Grand Resort Hotels were found throughout the State, most were located in the White Mountains. The New Hampshire Historical Society has documented that between 1885 and 1920, there were more than two hundred hotels, inns, and boarding houses in the White Mountains, capable of accommodating nearly 12,000 visitors. Twenty of these establishments were considered Grand Hotels, with rooms that could accommodate at least two hundred guests each, offering fine dining, gas lighting, even their own post office and telegraph service. A few had riding stables, and indoor and outdoor game areas, and, of course, access to hiking, swimming, and scenery.

Many of the Grand Resort Hotels became “grand” merely because rooms and wings were added onto existing inns, while others replaced buildings that had been destroyed by fire – and very often, this happened to the same hotel. The Balsams in Dixville, the Pemigewasset House in Plymouth both started out as smaller hotels in 1800. By 1841, the Pemigewasset House had been purchased by Denison Burnam, who substantially enlarged it and changed the name to the Pemigewasset House. By 1859, the hotel had been enlarged three times, and featured a large dining room and an adjacent railroad depot for travelers. Hotel owners hired lobbyists in Concord to vie for depots that would enhance their businesses.

The First Pemigewasset House was destroyed by fire in 1862, but a new hotel (the Second Pemigewasset Hotel) was built on the site the same year, accommodating up to three hundred people. It was described as being four stories high with an observatory on the top in order to view the surrounding mountains, a large, spacious dining room with tall windows, and about 150 comfortable rooms and suites which featured gas lighting. The Boston, Concord, & Maine Railroad depot was located in the basement, and there was a small restaurant located just off the platform for train passengers during stops. According to one author of the time the Pemigewasset “…possessed aesthetic attributes that only a few of the grand hotels of the same period or later could boast.” Many famous people, including Nathaniel Hawthorne and President Franklin Pierce, stayed at the Second Pemigewasset Hotel. It, too, was destroyed by fire in 1909.

In Franconia Notch, one of the most well-known of the Grand Resort Hotels was the Profile House, named for the Old Man of the Mountains. The Profile House was built in 1852, three-and-a-half stories high with 110 rooms. Over the next two decades, the building was expanded to include more rooms, an enormous dining room capable of seating as many as 500 people and a billiards room. The hotel could accommodate up to six hundred guests. Services, including a barber shop and post office, were located on site. A railroad station, a boathouse, and a 350-horse stable were also located on the premises, and the Profile House and its surrounding estate became a self-sufficient micro-village for its guests and staff.

The First Profile House was raized in 1905, replaced with a new, even larger and more luxurious, hotel in its place. Less than 20 years later this building, along with most of the outbuildings, were destroyed by fire in 1923.

Another elegant grand resort hotel of the 1800’s was The Glen House in Pinkham Notch, located at the base of Mount Washington. The First Glen House, built in 1852 on the site of a former inn, featured outstanding views of Mount Washington, Tuckerman’s Ravine, and the Northern Presidential Range. It boasted a 200-room hotel. From the balconies, and wide verandas guests could watch tourists travel up the newly opened Carriage Road to the summit of Mount Washington.

The First Glen House burned down in 1884; the Second Glen House was rebuilt on the same site but met the same fate, burning down in 1893.

Several other Grand Resort Hotels in the White Mountains were located within a few miles of each other, and they competed with each other, continually upgrading amenities, facilities, and services. The Crawford House in Crawford Notch was built in 1850, but destroyed by fire in 1859. It was replaced by a Second Crawford House becoming the largest hotel in the White Mountains at the time. With subsequent additions, the hotel and its grounds expanded to cover over an acre of land, with room enough for approximately four hundred guests. Like other such hotels wide verandas graced the exterior of the main hotel, offering views of Crawford Notch,

In the 1900s, particularly in the mid century, the makeup of tourists began to change with more and more hikers and middle income travelers. Despite this, The Crawford House held fast to its high brow approach - even banning hikers from the hotel - as a result the hotel fell onto hard economic times, and it closed in 1975, with all of the contents sold at auction. The vacant building was destroyed by fire in 1977.

Located just up the road from Crawford House towards Bethlehem was Fabyan House, a five hundred-guest capacity grand hotel with excellent views of Mount Washington. The First Fabyan House, built around 1867-68, was destroyed by fire before its completion. Four years later, the Second Fabyan House was completed, offering guests all the typical amenities of the time – fine dining, game rooms, parlors, outdoor activities, and comfortable rooms. In appearance, it was more utilitarian than some of the other resorts, but still was considered quite elegant and luxurious. It too burned down in 1951. 

The advent of the automobile during the early 20th century allowed tourists to get to more destinations more quickly, shortening hotel visits from an entire season to shorter visits. As a result, The Grand Resort Hotels which hadn’t fallen victim to fire started to experience serious financial problems.

The nexus of the Great Depression, a changing demographic profile of visitors to the region and the growth of smaller, less expensive hotels and motels along the developing highways became more and more the norm.

One of the few Grand Resort Hotels that escaped the fates of fire, increasing mobility, and changing economic times was the Mount Washington Hotel in what is now Bretton Woods.

Built in 1902, the Mount Washington was the brainchild of Concord N.H. businessman Joseph Stickney. Employing over two hundred Italian stonemasons and woodworkers to construct his vision of a Grand Resort Hotel. The steel structure of the building and an electric power plant, and an advanced heating system made the building less endangered by fire. The Mount Washington Hotel was referred to as the most luxurious hotel of its day, with a staff of 350 serving over 600 guests. Over fifty trains a day were said to have stopped at Bretton Woods’ stations in its heyday.

In 1944, the Mount Washington Hotel was selected to be the site of the World Monetary Conference, and extensive renovations were made. The Conference, involving forty-four nations, set the gold standard and established the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

The Hotel has survived, despite several economically trying times. Renovations made recently have allowed the hotel to stay open year round.

One of the main attractions of the Mount Washington Hotel is the dramatic backdrop of the the southern peaks of the Presidential Range, including Mount Washington. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places the Mount Washington Hotel offers all of the elegance of earlier resorts, without the snobbishness that condemned so many. legant dining, exemplary service, and a host of other amenities and activities, some traditional and some contemporary, including a ballroom, lounges, golf, tennis, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, horseback riding, hiking, and downhill and cross country skiing all make the hotel a true modern day destination resort.

Dance of Lupine and Birch Poster
Similarly, The Balsams Resort in Dixville Notch has also managed to avoid the fate of other Grand Resort Hotels in New Hampshire. Like many other Grand Resort Hotels, The Balsams began as a small inn, the Dix House. In 1895, the Dix House was purchased, renovated and enlarged and renamed The Balsams by wealthy Philadelphia inventor Henry Hale. According to historic advertisements of the period, The Balsams was able to accommodate up to 400 guests, and it became known as a premier Grand Resort Hotel, enjoying an international reputation for excellence in dining and service. It too is listed as a National Historic Site on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Balsams, also finds itself blessed to be located at the confluence of history and luxury. One of the rooms at the hotel, called the Ballot Room, is the site of the nations very first voting in both primary elections and general elections. The voters of Dixville Notch (all 30 or so of them) hold the distinction of being the first voters in the United States to cast ballots during presidential primaries and presidential elections. They vote just after midnight on the eve of Election Day.

And then there is the golf course. The Balsams Grand Resort Golf Course is, to a golfer, something quite special. Designed by the great Scottish-American architect Donald Ross, who designed more than four hundred courses during the span of a nearly 50 year career. The Balsams is a purist’s dream. First because Ross had not only designed the course but also had personally supervised the process of laying it out and building it - something he rarely did. Ross built his reputation on envisioning each course in the context of the existing landscape, trying to move as little earth as possible in the process of building the course. Imagining Ross standing at the highest point of land and watching over his project one can understand why subsequent owners of the resort have eschewed the temptation to tweak the course in favor of duffers who might be staying at the resort, or the modern world. Best of all, the fairways are still natural without the garish homes that line the outskirts of most golf courses today.

For several years, The Balsams and the Mount Washington Hotel were the only two Grand Resort Hotels left operating in the State. Two others, the Mountain View Grand in Whitefield and the Wentworth By the Sea in New Castle, had been closed for many years and were facing the same fate as the former Crawford House – an auction of the contents and fixtures, and destruction. But just after the beginning of the 21st century, these two resorts managed to become revitalized within one year of each other, thus bringing the total number of Grand Resort Hotels in New Hampshire back up to four.

The Mountain View Grand began as a small country inn known as the Mountain View House in 1866, operated by the famed Dodge family. Over the next fifty years, the awe-inspiring views of the Presidential Range and the inn’s reputation for hospitality drew an increasing number of guests, necessitating several expansions of the original inn into a substantial hotel boasting what were, at the time, modern luxuries: steam heat, electric lighting, and a nine-hole golf course. Each guest room had a view of the mountains, and telephone and telegraph services were available. The hotel featured game rooms, parlors for dancing, as well as tennis and croquet courts. From 1919-1979, the Mountain View House was run by successive generations of the Dodge family, and they are credited with transforming the hotel into a Grand Resort Hotel, with a guest capacity of over three hundred, a large formal dining room, and several additional wings.

In 1979, the Dodges sold Mountain View Resort, and over the next seven years, the resort changed hands a number of times. It finally closed in 1986 and the contents were put up for auction. The hotel was sold at a foreclosure auction in 1990, and continued to remain empty and to deteriorate until Kevin and Joanne Craffey purchased it in 1998 for $1.3 million. After four years of extensive restoration and renovation which cost about $20 million, the Mountain View Grand was re-opened in May 2002, once again a world-class luxurious Grand Resort Hotel.

The only surviving Grand Hotel in the seacoast region is the Wentworth By the Sea in New Castle was brought back from certain destruction by a group called “The Friends of the Wentworth.”

Built as an 82-room resort in 1874 on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean the hotel had state-of-the-art steam powered elevators, flush toilets, outdoor electric lights, and a private power plant.

In 1905 the Wentworth became the site of the signing of the “Treaty of Portsmouth”, a treaty that ended the Russo-Japanese War, securing an important place in history.

In 1991, then owners, the Henley Corporation, decided to demolish what was left. This decision mobilized a group of residents, who called themselves “The Friends of the Wentworth.” The “Friends” had limited success raising money or finding a buyer but they were persistent. In 1996 they had a breakthrough when the Wentworth was placed on the National Trust for Historical Preservation’s List of America’s Eleven Most Endangered Places. This designation created much more attention for its plight finally, the Wentworth was purchased in 1997 by Ocean Properties, one of the largest hotel management companies in the country. They spent the next few years rebuilding, revitalizing, and modernizing the Wentworth, which had its grand re-opening in 2003. The Wentworth By The Sea Marriott Hotel and Spa now has more than 160 deluxe guest rooms, two full-service restaurants, meeting rooms, ballrooms and enough recreational facilities to assure its accention once again into the firmament of Grand Resort Hotels.

Wentworth By the Sea

Although the years have not been kind to New Hampshire’s Grand Hotels, these four New Hampshire Grand Resort Hotels: the Mount Washington, The Balsams, the Mountain View Grand, and Wentworth By The Sea have weathered the storms of depression, world wars and the other vagaries of time and now seem poised to survive well into the future, providing luxury and comfort to future generations of travelers.


Cabin in the Lupine - Purchase this image

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