(This article was published in the June 18, 2000 edition of the New Hampshire Sunday News.)
PITTSBURG, NH – The last few miles of the road to Canada are about the loneliest in New Hampshire.
It’s a dozen miles from the Second Connecticut Lake to the border, along a roadway that has no utility poles, no homes and very few travelers.
Benign on a sunny late spring day, Route 3, which cuts through thick evergreens before giving way to Route 253 and a breathtaking panorama of Quebec, is silent, punctuated only by sounds of the woods – a bird song and a breeze rustling through the trees.
About 3 miles south of the border, there is a simple white cross bearing a weathered plaque at the roadside and it tells a tale of another time and a harsher season at the very top of the state.
A man was found here on May 10, 1940, a victim of exposure, since no open highway existed at this time …
Up until five years ago, Marty Hewson tended New Hampshire’s only border crossing to Canada. For 27 years, twice a day, he passed by the cross and heard the lore of the unknown man from old timers in the village of Chartierville, just over the border.
“He was an unknown person,” he said. “The old timers told me – and that would have been 32 years ago now – that he arrived in Chartierville on foot during the winter and that he was not well dressed.”
By 1940, New Hampshire’s border station had only been open for two years and it closed in the winter because plows did not run the gravel road 12 miles north of Second Lake.
In those days, Canadian customs was located in the home of the local inspector and the man, whom Hewson said he was told appeared to be a Native American, checked in there, using a false name, after making a stop at the Chartierville Hotel.
“The people there told him not go, that it would be miles before he would see a house, but he went on his way just the same,” Hewson said.
Though unidentified, he entered the U.S. from Canada registering under an alias on February 22, 1940 …
By all accounts, it was cold that day, well below zero and deep snow had settled over the gravel road.
When the man set out into the snowy land, that is the last time anyone would see him for three months.
“He made it two and a half, three miles from the border,” Hewson said. “There were a couple of cabins at Third Lake and they said it looked like someone went in there and tried to start a fire,” Hewson said. “They thought it might have been him.”
In early May that year, the crew sent north to open the road found the man’s body and his description matched that of the stranger setting forth to Pittsburg three months earlier.
“He had no identification,” Hewson said. “He was unknown.”
The man was buried in a pauper’s grave in West Stewartstown, some miles to the south of the border.
To this day, no one knows who this man was, where he was from or going to, or if he left behind a family as puzzled by his disappearance as those were who found him.
These facts, though limited, were given with the help and consent of the Canadian authorities and selectmen of the township.
The late Louis Beauchemin was a supervisor on that road crew that found the stranger’s body and not long after that, Hewson said, he erected the cross at the spot where his body was found.
When Beauchemin died, Hewson assumed the upkeep of the cross, mowing the little plot by hand and brushing a weed whacker around it.
Six years ago, he made a new cross out of pressure treated lumber.
“It looked pretty bad,” he said. “I don’t know if the moose were rubbing against it or what.”
Last year, he gave it another coat of white paint.
Earlier this month, someone had stopped by the cross and placed a few dandelions on it. A quarter was tucked under the plaque.
“Somebody usually puts some artificial flowers there every year, but I haven’t seen them yet,” Hewson said.
He does not know who makes the pilgrimage to do that simple gesture, although he suspects it is a Massachusetts couple who once sent him a clipping about the cross.
In the summer, the cross gets its share of visitors, who leave wild flowers and money. Hewson collects the coins or bills and gives them to charity. He removes the plastic flowers before the first snow fall. The wild flowers wither and fade on their own.
“When I go up there and mow and whatever, I wonder about him,” Hewson said. “I wonder about what part of Quebec he was from, if he had family, if anyone missed him.”
~ Lorna Colquhoun
(This article first appeared in the New Hampshire Sunday News on July 2, 2006.)
ELLSWORTH – When the last worshipper had departed this tiny church last December on the music of Christmas tidings, the candles were blown out, the few lights extinguished and the door closed tight against the winter and more than half a year.
Last week, an efficient little army of volunteers threw open the doors of the Chapel of St. John of the Mountains and assessed the interior, before rolling up shirt sleeves and making it ready for those who would make their way out of Campton and beyond, up Ellsworth Hill each summer Sunday.
“I don’t see any signs of mice,” one volunteer said.
Like many small churches across New Hampshire, the little chapel off the beaten path in a small town that blooms in the summer is open for the season and for the next several months, pastors from away and those drawn to places that evoke a sense of the old fashioned will come here to sing, to worship and celebrate their spiritualness in a simple chapel that has been such a haven for more than 120 years.
“It used to be a Methodist church,” says the Rev. Ray Hahn of Campton, who, with his wife, Irene, helps look after the chapel and organizes its weekly sermons, delivered by a different pastor each week and of different denominations. ”They used to give directions up here – if you’re sure you’ve past it, you ain’t there yet.”
Tucked between Campton and Rumney, on the road to Stinson Lake (impassable during the winter), the chapel has survived the demise of two mills that once operated in Ellsworth, a population that once dwindled to three souls, a stint as a local headquarters for the Civilian Conservation Corps and a plan to turn it into a clubhouse. It is a testament to a man who so loved the church, that he bought it in 1940.
The Rev. Roger Pecke Cleveland, Hahn explained, used to summer in the area and developed a deep affection for the church.
“He bought it in 1940 and he served as pastor from 1940 to 1991,” he said.
It has always been a summer church and it has always drawn ministers and priests and a changing congregation that varies from 14 to over 40, a number that puts attendance just about at standing room only. Because Pecke owned it outright, it was independent from other churches.
“When we say we are interdenominational, we really mean it,” said Hahn, a cheerful man who has been a guest preacher 171 times, at churches from Los Angeles to Newfoundland. “This is my favorite – I just love this little chapel.”
Even as churches are closing around the country, Hahn said he like to think “that there are people who will go to another church.”
That’s why the Sunday service is at 3 p.m. every week, to give time for people to attend their own churches, and because the chapel is not dictated by any one church, there is no set dogma. It is, and always has been, a place of worship for anyone.
Last week, an efficient little army of volunteers threw open the doors
As the morning and the cleaning efforts move along, the vacuum cleaner and the lawnmower hum loudly. The little church is filled with the more earthly scents of furniture polish and window cleaner.
In such a small space, everything has its place. The altar now free of dust, Hahn set up the candlesticks and the bible; a secret door on the front of the pulpit reveals other items tucked away for the winter for safekeeping.
Within its own history, the chapel keeps relics from other churches. The pulpit, with its shiny patina of age, was originally from France and found its way to the mountains after a fire destroyed a congregational church in Massachusetts. The organ was a gift from a Grafton, Mass., woman and it had belonged to a teacher.
The Vigil Light, legend has it, was presented by a Catholic from Germany and supposedly came via the last boat before the submarine barrier was imposed during World War II. The lectern and altar were made from the pilasters of the steeple from the Evangelical Congregational Church in Grafton, Mass., after it blew down in the 1938 hurricane.
The chapel is also the keeper of a French flag that had been hidden during the occupation of Dieppe and later presented to Cleveland.
Judy Rodgers married her husband in the little chapel 20 years ago and as she cleaned windows and replaced dozens of candles, she recalled the very simple reason why they did.
“This is just where we wanted to be married,” she said. “It’s an old country church and there is a uniqueness about it.”
Services are held every Sunday at 3 p.m. through Labor Day weekend and then on the first Sunday of October, November and December. The December service begins at 4 p.m. and is candlelit.
Today’s (guest preacher is the Rev. Steven Veinotte of the Campton Baptist Church and a chaplain with the New Hampshire Army National Guard and veterans of the armed services will be honored.
~ Lorna Colquhoun
Lorna Colquhoun was the first reporter in Franconia Notch after the fall of the Old Man of the Mountain. Her report and photos appeared in the New Hampshire Sunday News on May 4, 2003.
FRANCONIA – In the cover of darkness and a shroud of rain and fog, the Old Man of the Mountains gave up his stony, silent vigil as the beloved and venerable symbol of the Granite State sometime Friday night.
Just when the five huge rocks that formed a profile of a wizened old man, complete with a jutting chin and strong brow, fell from the perch where it has gazed southward for a millennia is not known. For the two previous days, Franconia Notch was doused with unrelenting spring rains, its upper elevations frosted when the temperature went below freezing.
But those are the elements that formed him some 25,000 years ago and which many thought he would weather for as long as they were around. Heartache, tears, sorrow and sadness were the order of the day yesterday, as people drove through the Notch, seeing for themselves that the mighty and indestructible profile of granite had indeed come down.
Amy Cyrs and Cynthia Savoy, who work just down the road at the Flume, were the first to make the heartbreaking discovery yesterday morning, while they were doing their daily check of the Notch’s waysides for trash.
“We pulled into the Old Man (northbound parking lot) and looked up – that’s the first thing we always do,” she said. “We looked up and he wasn’t
there. We did a side-step – we looked at each other. It was unreal – a strange and unreal feeling that something that has been there all your life is gone. I can’t believe it.”
The Old Man’s profile was made up of five ledges. According to state park information, three were anchored deep into the cliff, supporting two above it, and measured 40 feet from chin to forehead. It was formed during the last ice age, a natural sculpture shaped by wind, rain and frost.
Efforts have been ongoing for over a century to preserve it, but in the end, nature took its course.
“It’s hard to describe how it looks,” said Dick Hamilton, president of White Mountains Attractions in North Woodstock. “You can see dirt and debris in the places where he fell – there was a lot of dirt and debris in the cracks, most likely that happened before they started sealing it 10 or 15 years ago.”
Preservation of the Old Man began in earnest in the early 1900s. In 1915, a system of turnbuckles held the profile onto the side of Cannon Mountain. Yesterday morning, those turnbuckles dangled uselessly, bent and twisted from their last efforts to hang onto the Old Man.
“I’m not sure we’ll ever know” what caused the collapse of the profile, said David Nielsen, the caretaker of the Old Man. “It’s been a wet spring with heavy rains. The dirt in the cracks absorb water like a sponge – it’s a natural occurrence here.”
At 8:30 yesterday morning, the previous days’ heavy rainstorms gave way to a beautiful blue sky day. Few first noticed that the Old Man was gone. Vehicles continued to their north and southbound destinations, unaware. But as word spread, traffic increased, lines of it slowing down, their passengers gazing upward, before being moved along by police.
“I never thought I would see this in my lifetime,” said Francine Hilliard of North Woodstock, who came to the Notch to view the collapse. “You take something like this for granted, but right now, I feel like I’m in mourning. There are a lot of us who have lived and worked here and earned our wages off the back of the Old Man.”
George Bald, the commissioner of the Department of Resources and Economic Development, and Richard McLeod, director of the Division of Parks and Recreation, headed up from the seacoast as soon as they heard. Both flew in a helicopter to view the damage.
“When we drove through the Notch, I didn’t look up,” Bald said. “I couldn’t look up. When (McLeod) called me, in my mind, I thought, ‘This is an awful cruel joke.’ But I knew from his voice that this had happened.”
Franconia Notch is the gem of the New Hampshire parks system. Millions come through it in all seasons to visit the Flume Gorge, to ski Cannon Mountain, view foliage and to see the natural and splendid wonder of the Old Man of the Mountains.
Winnie Bowersox of North Andover, Mass., was on a retreat to the White Mountains yesterday with a group of women from her bible class.
“I had never seen the Old Man and we thought we would take a ride through the Notch,” she said. “Our waitress at breakfast said that the Old Man had fallen – it was very tragic. I said that I had never gotten to see him. They said ‘You never will.”‘
Along with sadness, there was disbelief among those who had gathered to see what remained in the place of the Old Man.
“There is devastation and emptiness,” McLeod said. “Three cables are all that remains. It’s a sad feeling of emptiness – this is the symbol of our state. I had never thought about it (coming down), and I was hopeful it never would. We’ll deal with it. We’ll assess the situation and determine why it came down.”
From the air, he said, he was not able to distinguish any of the rocks from the formation from one another. The cliffs below where the chin was are scarred. Hamilton surmised that the rocks disintegrated.
More than just a formation of granite, the Old Man gave New Hampshire a sense of stability and solidness, particularly in the past couple of years, in the aftermath of terrorist attacks and war.
“Day or night, I would always look at the Old Man,” Cyrs said. “Night or day, he’s always been there. Without fail, I have always said ‘Hi’ to him on my way to work or if I was going south, out of state. I would tell him to watch over everyone. It was a symbol and I felt better. Now that its gone, it’s left me feeling a little bit afraid.”
As the world changed around the Old Man, his presence was comforting.
“It’s always been there,” said Jayne O’Connor of Franconia, one of the first to see that it had collapsed. “I looked up there and said, ‘Oh my God.’ I feel a little less protected – a little less watched over.”
Hamilton, who has been at the helm of White Mountains Attractions, which promotes tourism in the region, for over 30 years, said he always spoke to the Old Man.
“When I would drive by on my way home from work, I’d always say ‘Goodnight, Boss,”‘ he said. “(Friday) night, I was on my way home and I couldn’t see him, so I said, ‘Goodnight, Boss, wherever you are.’ I never thought I would see this day.”
The Old Man was created by nature. There was sentiment among many that if its broken, why not just put it together again?
“How do you recreate a natural symbol?” Bald asked. “Nature made it and took it away. We need to take time and figure out how to deal with it. I will talk with the Speaker, the Senate president and the governor to figure out where to go from here.”
Bald said he expects to receive condolence cards, as Granite Staters struggle with how to deal with the loss of a state treasure.
“That’s exactly what it feels like – like you have just lost someone close,” Bald said.
(This article was first published June 6, 2004. On June 3, 2014, a proclamation was issued by the Sugar Hill selectmen declaring July 4th as Roger Aldrich Day, in recognition of his devotion to his town, which helped found in 1962. — LJC)
SUGAR HILL – Roger Aldrich is in France today, a country that is grateful he was there 60 years ago.
If all went according to plan, he was on a special train at 5:30 this morning, full of fellow World War II veterans, bound for Normandy.
Yesterday afternoon, head high and full of memories of comrades who never made it home after the war, he received a Knight of the Legion of Honor, the most prestigious award France can bestow upon a man.
“I am representing the people who can’t be there,” Aldrich said of the 60th anniversary of the Normandy invasion. “This is not my medal. I did nothing but be there.”
He is one of 100 American veterans selected by the French government to receive its finest honor. In his own quiet way, Aldrich is proud to have been chosen and proud to carry the memory of the thousands who never grew old and who never knew the gratitude of the country they were fighting to save.
Aldrich, 81, grew up in Sugar Hill. After graduating from high school in Lisbon, he went to Northeastern University to study engineering, but a year later, with the war raging, he decided to enlist in the Army. He was 19.
“My high school physics teacher was an Army reservist,” Aldrich said. “He was Jerry Chase, who went on to become the president of UNH. He told me if I ever went into the Army, to look at topographical engineering. When I enlisted, that’s what I had in mind.”
He became a mapmaker and belonged to the 62nd Engineer Company, whose duty it was to survey battlegrounds and map them out.
In June of 1944, he was aboard a ship with 4,000 or 5,000 other men. He was an engineer replacement. Most of the engineers landed on D-Day.
“We missed it by this much,” he said, holding up a thumb and forefinger.
He recalled a delay in getting off the ship onto Normandy.
“There was a big storm on the 19th – we sat off shore at anchor,” he said.
Off all those on ship, it was this kid from Sugar Hill who wasn’t seasick.
On the 23rd, they landed on Omaha Beach. Aldrich was in a survey platoon.
“There were eight or 10 of us in the survey and we were up front every day,” he said. “We never had to shoot back, but we were shelled or bombed many times.”
The need for maps was still there and maps were drawn all the way to the Elbe River in Germany when the war ended, he said.
Aldrich has been back to Normandy three times.
“The first time I went back was in 1985,” he said. “It was very emotional.”
After 40 years, it was a trip that helped him heal. Like many soldiers, Aldrich never talked much about what he saw, what he felt or the close calls he had. Ten years after that journey, he wrote Soldiering Yesterday, about his Army experiences – all the three years and 14 days he spent in the military.
It was many years following his return home that he realized he had post traumatic stress syndrome.
“It was so severe that when I came home and went back to college, I couldn’t make it,” he said. “I couldn’t stand to be confined.”
He one day realized that root of it was “a fear of showing fear.”
His last trip to Normandy was in April and he was accompanied by his wife, Nancy, their daughter, Kathie Cote and grandson, Christopher. Christopher, who is 13, wrote a journal about the trip, which touched Aldrich.
In all his trips back to France, he has been treated with dignity and respect by the French people.
“I have never been back to France that the people haven’t come back and thanked me for being there in 1944,” he said. “One man told me that if (America) had not been there, he would be speaking German today.”
Aldrich, whose family has been in town since 1790, returned to Sugar Hill and never left. He married his wife, Nancy, in 1949 and worked for 20 years at a small print shop, before leaving to help his wife run the popular Polly’s Pancake Parlor, a landmark in the town. He also served as a selectman for 25 years, seeing the town through its separation from Lisbon in 1962.
“This is a once in a lifetime thing,” he said of his trip. “The French government is aware of this – we’re fast disappearing.”
By Lorna Colquhoun
May 27, 2004
(This article appeared in the New Hampshire Union Leader on May 6, 2003. LJC)
FRANCONIA – The headline was bold and it stretched across the front page of The New Hampshire Sunday News 45 years ago.
Old Man Doomed
An accompanying story carried the headline, “He Would Die Impressively but Dangerously.” A photo of the Great Stone Face was captioned, “Famous face to fall? Yes, say state engineers – the Old Man of the Mountain is doomed and no amount of costly engineering safeguards can prevent the ultimate calamity. It is only a question of time – and no man knows when.”
As prophetic as that news seems 45 years later, in the end, the Old Man of the Mountain, icon of the Granite State, did collapse, but without the fury detailed in the articles.
The story, written by Sunday News writer George Woodbury, was based on an interview with Russell Tobey, the popular director of state parks in charge of preserving the profile at the time.
“Engineers studying the project have informed Mr. Tobey that the same forces of nature that carved the face on the cliff of Cannon Mountain are now irresistibly at work to destroy it,” the article reads. “It might happen this afternoon or many years hence.”
Scenarios for the Old Man’s demise included a slight earthquake that would set off a big slide, a dynamite explosion or sonic boom.
On the last day of the Old Man’s reign before he collapsed early Saturday, heavy rains pelted Franconia Notch and high winds blew through it. In the morning, frost dusted the higher elevations of the Notch.
“Such a disaster to the Old Man could cause an avalanche to sweep down through the Notch,” according to the article. “It would almost certainly result in obliteration of Profile Lake, state engineers feared.”
Landslides wrought havoc through the years in Franconia Notch and 50 years ago, they were of concern.
Landslides had been recorded in Franconia Notch since 1826 and in the 20th century, there were at least eight major slides, six of which crossed the road. In October 1938, 15 feet of debris slid over the highway. In June 1948, two slides on either end of Profile Lake came down within twenty minutes of one another.
A little over a year after this article appeared, the largest slide in modern times happened on Oct. 24, 1959. Some 200 feet of highway was covered to depth of 27 feet and required more than three days of around-the-clock work to clear it, according to historical information.
Robert Sullivan, an engineer with the state Department of Forestry and Recreation, told Woodbury how the collapse could cause an avalanche.
Whenever a talus slope of rubble builds up under crumbling cliff, such as under the profile … the fallen boulders come to rest at approximately an angle of 45 degrees,” according to the article. “Torrential rains may turn the underlying dirt to slippery mud and start a slide or a massive fall on top of the slope may start it rolling.”
Officials were concerned at how much damage would occur in the Notch after the fall of the profile.
“When and if the massive profile of the Old Man collapses, no one can accurately foresee the resultant damage to the Notch and the highway running through it,” according to the article. “However, officials say such a heavy fall as this might produce an avalanche of major proportions, even for the White Mountains where they have happened many times before.”
The Legislature that year set aside $25,000 “in an all out attempt to arrest disintegration slowly progressing every year through the action of frost and earth movement.”
“The best that engineering can do is postpone the day when the austere granite profile, so long a symbol of the state of New Hampshire and its people, will fall and ruin the Notch, Tobey asserts,” according to the article.
“There is no way of calculating how long we can delay the fall of the Old Man,” he told Woodbury. “There is absolutely no way of knowing. It can crash down at anytime.”
That year’s plans for the engineering program, according to the article, was for placement of a waterproof cap for the Old Man, “which, it is hoped, will further delay the hand of nature, which once, long ago, created this mammoth sculpture that now seems bent on its destruction.”
Tobey told Woodbury that the Old Man would one day collapse, in spite of efforts to save it.
“All the engineering skill in the world – and all the money – Mr. Tobey commented, cannot build back forever the irresistible force of geology with all the time eternity has its disposal,” Woodbury wrote.
He concluded his story with Daniel Webster’s verse about God Almighty hanging his sign in Franconia Notch that “he makes men.”
“Now we know, that some day and in spite of all our wealth and engineering skill, that Great Stone Sign will fall.”
By Lorna Colquhoun
(Originally published in April 2003)
FRANCONIA — As winter recedes from the steep slopes of Mount Lafayette, there are those who say the last remnants of the season cling to ravines, forming for a short time, a cross on the side of the mountain.
“It’s visible right now,” says Don Eastman, who spotted it from Franconia’s Main Street early last week. “Look at the right shoulder.”
Eastman, who’s not particularly religious, nonetheless watches for it to appear each spring. A former employee at the Cannon Mountain tramway years ago, he said old timers there told him that when the cross appears, it’s about time to go trout fishing.
Once it appears, he keeps a watchful eye on it.
“It’s like foliage,” he said. “I keep thinking it’s going to get better and then one day its not there anymore.”
Postcards from a century ago depict a bold white cross formation on the Franconia side of the 5,249-foot Mount Lafayette. In her “History of Franconia,” author Sarah Welch used as the first photograph in the book a picture of the snow cross.
“The cross is formed by ravines which fill with snow during the winter,” she wrote. “When the snow melts away in the spring, it leaves for a few days in the deep ravines enough snow to form the cross. The variation of weather and the amount of snow greatly affect the visibility of the cross from year to year.”
There is one man, however, who begs to differ that the snow cross truly exists.
Robert McGrath, professor of art history at Dartmouth College, said the notion that snow forms a cross on Mount Lafayette is something 19th-century tourism promoters came up with to keep travelers from heading west.
McGrath devoted a couple of pages to the Mount Lafayette snow cross in his book, “Gods in Granite: The Art of the White Mountains.” He says that cross was born after the discovery and subsequent 1873 photograph by William Henry Jackson of the Mountain of the Holy Cross in Colorado.
“Those with a vested interest in White Mountains tourism feared that God had gone west,” he said.
At that time, he said, there was a sense that the Old Man of the Mountain embodied God and that He had a “covenant” with New Hampshire.
“It was a devastating photo — the perception was that God had migrated to Colorado,” McGrath said. “Hotels and railroads had to do something to counter it.”
In 1890, photographer H.C. Peabody took a picture of Mount Lafayette in the spring. Figuring prominently on the slope is a cross.
“It’s a doctored photo,” McGrath said.
“. . . Peabody’s doctored photograph of a snow cross on Mount Lafayette suggests a meretricious effort to recoup for the White Mountains the vestigial remains of a relocated cultural ‘sublimity,'” McGrath wrote in his book.
The Mountain of the Holy Cross, located about 15 miles southwest of Vail, had a fabled history. By the 1920s, it was a destination for pilgrims and there were stories of it great healing powers. President Herbert Hoover designated it a national monument in 1929, but by the 1950s, a decline in the number of visitors and erosion on a portion of the cross led to the decommissioning of the monument.
The Mount Lafayette cross never gained that fame, but more than a century later, there are locals who watch for it every year, using it as a harbinger for such things as planting and trout fishing.
“There is not a cross formation,” McGrath says. “It does glisten and hold snow in winter, but it takes an imaginative person to convert it into a cross.”
Originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader September 1998.
At about the point where you come nose to nose with the Old Man of the Mountain, New Hampshire nomenclature gets a little quirky.
Whether on foot or in a car in northern environs, chances are that to get from point A to point B in the North Country, you’re going to have to go through a notch.
If you really, really want to get away from it all, you’re going to find yourself in a place that ends with the words “Grant” or “Purchase.”
If you have a good map or gazetteer, or know who to talk to in Easton, you’re going to see or hear the word “bungy.” Pronounce the letter ‘G’ the same way you’d say, “Gosh.” And it has nothing to do with what you do when you temporarily lose your sanity at about the same time you attach a rubber band to your ankle and jump off a bridge.
Think those mountains standing in the way of the horizon are just mountains? Well, in some cases, yes, that’s what they are. But in other cases, they are a sort of Rorshach test of nature, where you can see profiles of men, animals, ordnance and dead presidents in repose.
Northern nomenclature is a mix of history, legend and imagination. It’s an anchor to way things were and perceived a few centuries ago. It’s part of the character of the land.
So let’s start with grants and purchases. These are known as unincorporated places – they are not towns and in most cases are not inhabited. They are great big chunks of wild land.
With two exceptions, they are all in Coos County, which has 38 towns, one city and 23 unincorporated places. Grafton County has one unincorporated place – Livermore – an old logging community you pass through on the Kancamagus Highway. Carroll County has the other one – Hale’s Location – in back of Conway near Cathedral Ledge.
“Coos County acts as the local government for these places, as well as those in Grafton and Carroll Counties,” said Suzanne Collins, Coos County administrator. “We keep track of property tax cards, pay a few bills. We serve as local government, school district, town government and planning board.”
For the most part, the grants are located in the northern part of the county and many date back to the days of the Wentworths, colonial governors who granted thousands of acres to soldiers and educational institutions.
Greens and Ervings Locations were named for the soldiers so granted land. Second College Grant, Gov. Benning Wentworth’s second choice for locating a college named Dartmouth, and Atkinson and Gilmanton Academy Grant, two major educational institutions of their day, were given grants from which they could derive income.
Most of the purchases are in the southern end and are reminders of several pioneering families in the remote North Country. If you’ve been to the top of Mount Washington, you’ve been to Thompson and Meserves Purchase. If you’ve skied Wildcat, you’ve been to Bean’s Purchase.
The tracts of land went for big money in their day – about 60 cents an acre in some cases.
“These lands support tourism and forest industries,” said Fred King of Colebrook, who is the part-time administrator of the unincorporated places.
To get to these grants and purchases, you’re going to have to go through a notch or two. The better known ones are those you drive through – Franconia, Crawford, Dixville, Kinsman, Bear.
But there are less of those and more obscure ones that take some getting to. In the White Mountain National Forest, Steve Smith of Lincoln, who own the Mountain Wanderer Bookstore, has counted 24 (four of those are on the Maine side of the forest).
A notch is a pass through the mountains, a U or V shape in a valley that was carved by glacial movement.
If you ever find yourself in a Name that Notch contest, here’s some help. Albany, Tyler, Haystack and Miles are in Maine. Any New Hampshire-ite worthy of the name knows where Bear, Carter, Crawford, Franconia, Jefferson, Kinsman, Pinkham and Sandwich Notch are.
It takes a good look at a good map to find the rest – Bunnell, Carleton (there’s two of them), Carrigain, Dickey, Jefferson, Hancock, Haystack, Mad River, Oliverian, Perkins, Willard and Zealand.
“Zealand is the most scenic and Carrigain is the wildest,” offers Smith, the author of “Ponds and Lakes in the White Mountains.”
Notches are not just confined to the WMNF. Northern Coos County has its share – the most famous being Dixville, which has a two digit population, except in election years. There’s Tabor Notch in Pittsburg and a little further to the south, in the Columbia area, there are seven.
“From my front porch, I can see six of them, Cree, Cleveland, Cranberry Bog, Moran, Gadwah and Kelsey,” said Columbia selectman and historian Fred Foss, who can’t see Gore Notch from there. “I’m working on a town history and I want to get a picture of each one.”
These cluster of notches may not be as spectacular as their southern cousins, but they have their place in history, Foss said.
“Moran is very narrow – it’s just a footpath,” he said. “Kelsey was once the only avenue of exit if you were going from here to Berlin, Portland and coast.”
There’s even the remains of a general store in that notch.
“The stone foundation is six feet high,” he said.
Foss lives in the part of Columbia called Bungy. It’s generally accepted that Bungy describes a particular wind. Back in the 1970s, when energy conservation was the buzzword, the government put up a 90-foot tower and windmill in Foss’ yard, presumably to harness the Bungy.
Twenty-five years later, Foss opines that if they’d put it up a half mile or so from his house, there might have better results. As it is, the windmill is gone, but the 90-foot tower now sports a spotlight and Foss can see when he takes an evening dip in the frog pond.
About 70 miles south of Columbia, the Bungy, or Bungay, has some lore and legend to it.
Kate Kerivan, who with her husband, owns the Bungay Jar Bed and Breakfast in Easton, carefully researched local history to define the word, which is printed on t-shirts.
“A mysterious rumbling sound emanating from the depths of Kinsman Notch, thought to have made the early settlers queer,” her definition reads. “A phantom roar like an avalanche, accompanied by high winds that gallop up Easton Valley.”
It’s not a wind that is usual. That’s probably a good thing.
“It really does sound peculiar,” Kerivan said. “It’s a specific wind that doesn’t happen that often, but you know it when it does.”
Back to her t-shirts, the last definition of Bungay is something that makes it “impossible to be pompous or serious when uttering.”
On a nice day, as opposed to one when a malevolent bungy is blowing, a trip around the mountains in northern New Hampshire can test the imagination. The U.S. Forest Service has information on rock formations at its offices.
It doesn’t take too much to see the most famous rock profiles in the state – the OId Man, the Indian Head, the Elephant’s Head. But those are easy.
Try looking out Dewey Rock in Franconia Notch. It’s best to maybe view a photo of this U.S. Admiral before looking up to Artist Bluff, so you know what to look for.
George Washington boulder in Jackson is on Thorn Mountain, but if you see a profile looking like Alfred Hitchcock, you’re not the only one. The first president can also be seen lying in state in two places. On the eastern side of the Kancamagus Highway in Conway, the mountains appear to be the president, arms folded on his chest, lying in state.
From the Flume Gorge in Franconia, they’re different mountains, but same president lying in state.
Cannon Mountain takes its name from the formation supposedly on it. This is not easy to see, but the forest service says to look past the Old Man’s head to see a boulder resembling a cannon poking out from a parapet of a fortress.
Lest it be thought that rock formations are exclusively of the male persuasion, the Old Lady of the Mountain keeps her eye on the Old Man. She can be seen on Eagle Cliff on Mount Lafayette facing east – best time to look is in the afternoon. She’s also called the Watcher, because it looks like she’s watching for strangers.
While you’re in Franconia Notch, look for White Horse Ledge, especially of you’re an unmarried woman. According to legend, a spinster could look at the ledge and if she saw the white horse, counted to 100, the next man she saw would become her husband.
Martha Washington can be seen on a boulder off the Base Station Road in Bretton Woods near Upper Falls.
If you can see all those, you’re on a roll, so it’s a good time to go look for the Sleeping Astronomer in Littleton, the Duck’s Head in Jackson and the Imp profile near Gorham.
~ Lorna Colquhoun