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 CHRONICLES OF THE WHITE MOUNTAINS

IN THE WHITE MOUNTAINS  Mountains in whose vast shadows live great names, On whose firm pillars rest mysterious dawns, And sunsets that redream the apocalypse; A world of billowing green that, veil on veil, Turns a blue mist and melts in lucent skies; A silent world, save for slow waves of wind, Or sudden, hollow clamor of huge rocks Beaten by valleyed waters manifold; Airs that to breathe is life and joyousness. Days dying into music; nights whose stars shine near, and large, and lustrous. These are for memory to life's ending hour.     

--Richard Watson Gilder

Transcribed by: Karen Heath Penman
mailto:KPenman617@aol.com
Jan. 2001
 

From Chapter IV part I, page 60

"Bartlett, named after the president of the State at the date of the town's incorporation (1790), was originally granted to William Stark and others for services during the French and Indian War. Two brothers by the name of Emery and a Mr. Harriman were among the first settlers there. A few years later, in 1777, Daniel Fox, Paul Jilly, and Captain Samuel Willey, from Lee, began a settlement in what is now known as Upper Bartlett.

Whitefield was granted, as Whitefields, to Josiah Moody and others in July 1774, and was occupied soon after by Major Burns and other settlers. It was incorporated December 1, 1804.

The territory originally occupied by the town of Bethlehem was almost exactly that of the lost town of Lloyd Hills (Various early histories say "Lord's Hill.") said to have been granted by Governor Wentworth in or about 1774. This town had only a paper existence, as the records of the grant are lost and the original grantees probably made no effort to settle it. In the silence of the charter records of New Hampshire as to the town, we know of it through its being given as a boundary in the grant of Whitefield in 1774 and from its name appearing on Holland's map (1784).

The royal government having been overthrown, the territory became the property of the State and the earlier grant was ignored. The first settlement in the limits of the town was made in 1790 by Jonas Warren, Nathaniel Snow, Amos Wheeler, and others. On December 27, 1799, the General Court of New Hampshire incorporated the town of Bethlehem and the first town meeting was held March 4, 1800. Additions of territory were made in 1848 and in i873. The hamlet of Bethlehem led a precarious existence in its early days. Famine' frequently frowned on the settlement and in 1799 the inhabitants were reduced to such straits that they were compelled to make a load of potash and to send it to Concord, Massachusetts, a distance of one hundred and seventy miles, for sale, subsisting on roots and plants until their envoys returned with provisions, four weeks later.

President Dwight, in 1803, found chiefly log huts, the settlements being "recent, few, poor, and planted on a soil, singularly rough and rocky." "There is nothing in Bethlehem," he remarks, "which merits notice, except the patience, enterprise and hardihood, of the settlers, which have induced them to venture, and stay, upon so forbidding a spot; a magnificent prospect of the White Mountains; and a splendid collection of other mountains in their neighborhood."

Chapter IV
FIRST SETTLEMENTS AND SETTLERS

II. THE SOLITARY PLACES - THE WILLEY DISASTER

The main interest of White Mountain settlement, however, lies aside from the history of the founding of the towns. It centers about the settlements made in the isolated places, such as Nash and Sawyer's Location and the Notch, where various individuals of hardy spirit established themselves; or, rather, the main interest lies in the settlers themselves of these localities and in the story of their hardships and of their perseverance. The names of Crawford, Rosebrook, and Willey are the most famous ones in this connection, and the days of the families of these names are the heroic days of White Mountain history.

In 1792, Eleazar Rosebrook, a native of Grafton, Massachusetts, settled with his family in Nash and Sawyer's Location, in a then remote and lonesome spot in the valley of the Ammonoosuc, near the site of the present Fabyan House, now such a busy railroad center in the summer. About 1775, he had come from Grafton with his wife and child into the remote district known as Upper Coos, making a temporary stay at Lancaster until he could look about and find such a place as he desired in which to settle. Pushing through the woods up the Connecticut River into what is now Colebrook (then known as Monadnock), he built a log cabin to which he brought his wife and two small children - a second child, a daughter, had been born to them at Lancaster.

Hannah Rosebrook was a true helpmate for such a sturdy pioneer, and she cheerfully endured the hardships and privations which their living in this solitary wilderness entailed. The narration of one or two homely incidents of their life here will show the mettle of this couple. They had taken with them a cow, and, as there were no fences, the animal was at liberty to go where she pleased. Many times Mrs. Rosebrook, when her husband was away, would shut her older child up in the house, and, taking her infant in her arms, would go in search of the animal, to which a bell was attached to enable her to be found. Expeditions of this nature would sometimes take the courageous woman far into the woods and force her to wade the river to get to the animal, but she never flinched from any hardship of this sort.

Salt was an article much needed in this country and some families suffered considerably from lack of it. Once, when there was a shortage of this commodity, Rosebrook went on foot to Haverhill and returned, a distance of about eighty miles, with a bushel of it on his back. This was not regarded by this powerful and resolute man as any great feat.

Rosebrook served in the army during the Revolutionary War. Before he left to join his company, the pioneer took his family for safety to Northumberland, where a sort of fort had been built. Here a son was born. A man named White, who had an invalid wife, there upon kindly took Mrs. Rosebrook and her children into his house, giving them their board for what household service Mrs. Rosebrook could give. During a leave of absence from the army, Rosebrook removed his family to Guildhall, Vermont. He rendered brave service in the army. On one occasion an officer and he had a narrow escape from capture when they were sent to Canada as spies, their pursuers being outwitted by a clever stratagem of Rosebrook's.

While her husband was in the army, Indians frequently came to the house where Mrs. Rosebrook was staying, and she had to tolerate their presence, as she feared to incur their displeasure when there was no man to resist them. On one occasion, however, when they had become intoxicated, she cleared her house of them, even dragging one drunken squaw out by the hair of the head, and narrowly escaping a tomahawk thrown by the angry female, who, when sober, came back next day, begged Mrs. Rosebrook's forgiveness, and promised amendment, which promise, it is said, was strictly kept.

At Guildhall the Rosebrooks remained for many years in comparative comfort, but at length, life having become too easy, the pioneer determined to move again, making in January, 1792, the change already mentioned. At the place to which he then came, his son-in-law, Abel Crawford, was living alone in a small hut, he having bought out three or four settlers who had decided to leave. Mr. Rosebrook in turn bought Crawford out, and, soon after, the latter, "rather than to be crowded by neighbors," moved twelve miles down the Saco River into Hart's Location, near the present Bemis Station, where he lived to a great age, known and loved as the "Patriarch of the Mountains." Here he built, some time previous to 1820, the Mount Crawford House, which was kept for many years by his son-in-law, Nathaniel T. P. Davis, and whose site is east of the railroad track at Bemis.

Rosebrook lived in his new place of abode for a number of years in a small log cabin. At length, having sold his farm in Guildhall, he laid out the proceeds on his property here. The turnpike through the Notch was incorporated, as has been stated, in 1803. It was some time in that year that Rosebrook, as travel and business had increased, built a large and convenient two-story dwelling, with two rooms underground, on the high mound afterwards called the "Giant's Grave." He also built a large barn, stables, sheds, and mills. This house in the Ammonoosuc Valley, at the present Fabyan station, was the first house for the accommodation of travelers erected in the White Mountains. Where Rosebrook lived and prospered for the rest of his days. He died in 1817, at seventy years of age, from a cancer, after patiently enduring great suffering.

 The inscription on his headstone in the little cemetery an the knoll near Fabyan reads as follows- -

"In memory of Cap. Eliezer Rosbrook [sic] who died Sept. 25, 1817 in the 70 year of his age.

"When I lie buried deep In dust. My flesh shall he thy care, These with'ring limbs with thee I trust To raise them strong and fair."

The headstone to his wife's grave, on which the name is spelled correctly, states that she died May 4, 1829, aged 84.

President Dwight, who, as we have seen, stayed overnight at Rosebrook's on his first journey to the Mountains, thus speaks of his host: -

This man, with a spirit of enterprise and industry, and perseverance, which has surmounted obstacles, demanding more patience and firmness, than are in many instances required for the acquisition of empire, planted himself in this spot, in the year 1788.... Here he stationed himself in an absolute wilderness; and was necessitated to look for everything which was either to comfort or support life, to those, who lived at least twenty miles from him, and to whom he must make his way without a road. By his industry he has subdued a farm of one hundred and fifty, or two hundred acres; and built two large barns, the very boards of which he must have transported from a great distance with such expense and difficulty, as the inhabitants of older settlements would think intolerable. . . .

Hitherto he has lived in a log hut; in which he has entertained most of the persons traveling in this road during the last eight years.... For the usual inconveniences of a log house we were prepared; but we found comfortable beds, good food, and excellent fare for our horses; all furnished with as much good-will, as if we had been near friends of the family.

Our entertainment would by most Englishmen, and not a small number of Americans, be regarded with disdain. To us it was not barely comfortable; it was, in the main, pleasant.... During twelve out of fourteen years, this honest, industrious man labored on his farm without any legal title. The proprietor  was an inhabitant of New York; and sold him the land through the medium of an agent. When he bought it, the agent promised to procure a deed for him speedily. Throughout this period he alternately solicited, and was promised, the conveyance, which had been originally engaged. Nor did he resolve, until he had by building and cultivation increased the value of his farm twenty fold, to go in person to New York, and demand a deed of the proprietor himself. The truth is; he possesses the downright unsuspecting integrity, which, even in men of superior understanding often exposes them to imposition, from a confidence honorable to themselves, but, at times, unhappily misplaced. Here, however, the fact was otherwise: for the proprietor readily executed the conveyance, according to the terms of the original bargain. In my journey of 1803, I found Rosebrook in possession of a large, well-built farmer's house, mills and various other conveniences; and could not help feeling a very sensible pleasure at finding his industry, patience, and integrity thus rewarded.

This is different from what is given on a preceding page, which is taken from the Crawford History, the chief source for information about Rosebrook and Ethan Allen Crawford.

Rosebrook left his property to his grandson, Ethan Allen Crawford, who, with his cousin and, later, wife, Lucy Howe, had tenderly cared for his grandfather in his last illness. Crawford, whose grave, situated in the little cemetery not far from the Fabyan House and marked with a modest shaft, is seen yearly by thousands, was the most famous of the pioneers of the White Mountains. From his great strength and his stature - Starr King and others say " He grew to be nearly seven feet in height," but a daughter affirms that he stood just six feet two and one-half inches in his stockings - he was known as the "Giant of the Hills." He was born in 1792 in Guildhall, Vermont.

When he was an infant, his parents, as we have seen, moved to Hart's Location in New Hampshire and lived in a log house in the wilderness, twelve miles from neighbors in one direction and six miles in the other. Here he grew up in circumstances that made him tough and healthy. In 1811, he enlisted as a soldier for eighteen months. Soon he was taken sick with what he called "spotted fever," and, when he was recovering, he started for home on a furlough, reaching there, traveling mostly on foot, in fourteen days. After regaining his health, he returned to his duty.

Upon the expiration of his term of service, he engaged in various occupations, such as making roads, working on a river, and farming. On the 8th and 9th of June, 1815, he records that the ground froze and snow fell to the depth of a foot or more, lasting for two days, during which he drew logs to a sawmill with four oxen. His extraordinary strength appears from his being able to lift a barrel of potash weighing five hundred pounds and to put it into a boat, hoisting it two feet. There was only one other man of those working with him who could do more than lift one end of the barrel. He had settled in Louisville, New York, near a brother, and had got a good start when, in 1816, a letter was received from his grandfather Rosebrook, telling of his illness and asking for one of them to come to live with him. Ethan went to visit his grandfather, not intending to stay permanently with him, but when the afflicted old man entreated him with tears to make his future home here, Ethan's determination to remain in Louisville was overcome. Returning to that place, he sold his property there and came back to his grandparents, assuming the indebtedness on the farm and taking care of them, as has been noted. Then began his connection with the region in whose early annals he played so important a part.

In July, 1818, less than a year after his grandfather's death, while Crawford was absent, his house took fire and burned to the ground, causing him a loss from which he was never able to recover. With the help of his neighbors, a small house, twenty-four feet square, which belonged to him and was situated one and a half miles distant, was drawn by oxen to the site of the burned house. This was fitted up so as to be a comfortable home for the winter of 1819. In it he entertained individuals who came along, as best he could, but parties were compelled to go to his father's, eight miles from the Notch, for accommodation. From year to year he struggled along, working at various occupations, such as assisting travelers up and down the Notch, guiding people up Mount Washington, and building paths, endeavoring all the while to lighten the pecuniary burden which he was carrying.

 In 1819, with his father, he opened the first path to Mount Washington, which started from the site of the present Crawford House, and which was improved into a bridle path by Thomas J. Crawford in 1840. This trail was advertised in the newspapers and soon visitors began to come. In the summer of 1820, a party consisting of Adino N. Brackett, John W. Weeks, General John Wilson, Charles J. Stuart, Noyes S. Dennison, Samuel A. Pearson, all of Lancaster, and Philip Carrigain, "the author of the New Hampshire Map" (as Mr. Crawford quaintly puts it), made the ascent of the chief peak of the Presidential Range and gave names to such peaks as were unnamed. These were Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Franklin, and Pleasant. They engaged, as guide and baggage-carrier, Mr. Crawford, who has given a brief account of the expedition, which is enlivened by a quiet humor. He was, he says, " loaded equal to a pack horse," as the "party of distinguished characters" wished to be prepared to stay two nights. They reached the top of Washington via the Notch, where they stayed some hours enjoying the prospect and naming the peaks as aforesaid. Descending to a lower level, they spent one night. Mr. Crawford recorded that he was 84 tired to the very bone" that night through being compelled virtually to carry one member of the party, " a man of two hundred weight," who for some reason was not able to get along without his assistance.

About a month later, Brackett, Weeks, and Stuart, accompanied by Richard Eastman, spent a week in leveling to the tops of all these mountains from Lancaster, camping on them four nights, one of which, that of August 31, was passed on the summit of Mount Washington. The height of the highest peak was computed by them to be 6428 feet.

The following summer, Crawford cut a new and shorter path 1 to the summit of Mount Washington, This path was made passable to horses by Horace Fabyan soon after 1840 and was known thereafter as the Fabyan Bridle Path. which went directly up over a course nearly the same as that of the present railroad. On August 31 of the same year (1821), three young ladies, the Misses Austin, formerly of Portsmouth, came to Crawford's house to ascend the hills, as they wished to have the honor of being the first women to reach the top of Mount Washington. They were accompanied by their brother, a friend of the family, and a tenant on their farm in Jefferson.

They went as far as Crawford's first camp that night, but, bad weather coming on, they could go no farther, and were compelled to stay there until a more favorable day should come. When their stock of provisions began to fail, Mr. Faulkner, the tenant, returned to Crawford's house and asked the pioneer to go to their relief. Mr. Crawford had severely injured himself with an axe when cutting the path, and was lame in consequence, but he nevertheless went to their assistance and accompanied them to the top, where they had the good fortune to have a splendid clear view. The ladies are said to have felt richly repaid for the discomfort and hardship entailed in a journey under such unfavorable conditions. They were out, all told, five days.

Mr. Crawford built in July 1823, three small stone huts on Mount Washington, but, owing to the dampness of the place where they were located, they were little used. The ruined walls of one may still be seen near the Gulf Tank on the railroad.

In the spring of 1824, Mr. Crawford built and raised a frame, thirty-six by forty feet, the outside of which was in the autumn finished and painted. This addition, the interior work on which was completed in the winter and spring of 1825, was ready for the accommodation of the summer guests of the latter year. He thought his house with this enlargement would be sufficiently commodious to take care of all who would be likely to come, but in a few years, such was the increase in the number of visitors, another addition was imperatively demanded. Sometimes, the guests were so numerous that they could be accommodated for the night only at great inconvenience to the family.

After considerable delay and much consideration, Mr. Crawford, although he was in debt, and would get, by such a step, more involved, finally decided to build again; so, having succeeded in getting a loan, in the winter and spring of 1832 he bought and drew the lumber and other materials for an addition. This was raised in May, and before the last of July the outside was finished and painted. It was sixty feet long and forty feet wide, consisted of two stories, and was provided with two verandas, that on the Mount Washington side being two-storied and extending the entire length of the building. The plastering and papering were postponed until the next year, in the summer of which the addition was first used.

About this time Mr. Crawford was much annoyed by the encroachment of the new proprietor of an establishment for the entertainment of travelers which had been erected three quarters of a mile below his house. This man, who bought the place in the autumn of 1831 and took possession of it the following January, acted in such a clandestine manner toward Mr. Crawford in the matter of acquiring and occupying the property, that the latter, who was prepared to be neighborly, was much offended. Moreover, the rival landlord made use of the mountain road which Mr. Crawford had constructed at great expense of money and labor, and tried by false representations to the authorities at Washington to have the post-office taken away from Crawford's house and transferred to his own.

This rival hotel, which appears to have been on the site of the present White Mountain House,  did not, however, interfere with Crawford's summer business, and for a number of years the sturdy pioneer continued to entertain visitors and to conduct individuals or parties up the paths he had made.

The distance, as given in the text, and the additional statement of Mr. Crawford, that Mount Washington could not be seen from it on account of Mount Deception intervening, point to this conclusion. The English traveler Coke speaks of it as displaying a gaily painted sign of a lion and an eagle, " looking unutterable things at each other from opposite sides of the globe," and as having already attracted numerous guests. He declares that the spirit of rivalry had proved of some service to Mr. Crawford, as it had "incited him to make considerable additions to his own house, all of which were run up with true American expedition."

At length, seriously involved in pecuniary difficulties and broken down in health, Crawford, on the advice of some friends and of members of his family, decided to give up his farm and to retire to a more secluded place, where health might be regained. Hard as it was for him to leave the spot where he had lived twenty years, had worked so hard, and, as he says, "had done everything to make the mountain scenery fashionable," and distressing as it was to let the property go into the possession of others, he bravely accepted his lot, and, having made an arrangement with his brother-in-law to change situations with him for a time, he moved to a farm at Guildhall, Vermont, his birthplace. This removal took place in 1837, the year which is signalized in White Mountain hotel history by the establishment in the landlordship of Crawford's old hostelry of the man who was to give his name to the railroad center that was to rise at this place, Horace Fabyan, of Portland, of whom more will be said later.

After Crawford had remained on his brother-in-law's place ten months, where he raised barely enough to support his family, Mr. Howe was compelled to lease the Crawford farm at the Giant's Grave, which was put into other hands. As he wanted his own place at Guildhall to live on, Crawford again had to move. Fortunately, he was allowed to take the use of an unoccupied dwelling, one mile farther down the Connecticut River, and by various arrangements he was permitted to live for a number of years on this "beautiful farm," which included the site of his grandmother's home and the scene of her adventures with the Indians.

The fifth year a lawyer in Lancaster obtained a lease of the place and thereafter Crawford was obliged to give him half of what he raised. This condition not pleasing him and his family, he determined to make a change; so, in 1843, he hired the large three-story dwelling,  then empty, which was in sight of where he had formerly lived at the Mountains. There he passed the remainder of his days.

In spite of his strength and wonderful endurance, Crawford was not destined to be long-lived. Worn out by the hardships of his early life and by the suffering caused by bodily ailments and by distress and anxiety due to the pecuniary embarrassments of his later life, he died prematurely on June 22, 1846, at the age of fifty-four. He was a man of fine qualities - "one of nature's noblemen," says Willey. His wife, Lucy Crawford, was a fitting mate for such a hardy and brave man. Other members of the Crawford family were of the same sturdy type. Ethan's father, Abel, has already been mentioned. In his younger days he sometimes acted as guide to persons who wished to climb Mount Washington. In September 1818, he performed this service for John Brazer, of Cambridge, and George Dawson, of Philadelphia, whose expedition deserves mention

This building, the inn of his unneighborly rival of the early thirties, stood on the site of the present White Mountain House, a portion of which it still forms.

 

Both the headstone and the granite shaft in the cemetery give his age at death as fifty-two. The Crawford History states, at the beginning of chapter ii, that he was born in 1792, and on page 187, in giving the family genealogy, Crawford says, "Ethan Allen is my name, and I am fifty-three." The shaft of granite was erected in memory of Crawford and of his wife, who died February 17, i869. aged seventy-six. Crawford's headstone bears the following interesting inscription.- - " In Memory of Ethan Allen Crawford, who died

June 22, A.D 1846; aged 52.

" He built here the first Hotel at the White Mountains, of which he was for many years the owner and Landlord.

"He was of great native talent & sagacity, of noble, kind, and benevolent disposition, a beloved husband and father, and an honest & good man."

because of the amusing fact that they nailed to a rock a brass plate1 with a Latin inscription engraved on it as a record (of course, calmly prepared some time beforehand) of their ascent, the anticipated achievement and arduousness of which were evidently realized.

 This brass plate remained intact on the summit until July, 1825. when it was carried off by some vandals from Jackson.

Another ascent under the guidance of the future Patriarch " is pleasantly narrated by Grenville Mellen, the poet and miscellaneous writer, who was one of the participants in the excursion. This "pilgrimage " was made in August 1819 (the year of the opening of the bridle path), and was from Portland through Fryeburg to the top of Mount Washington (the party camped out one night "in a rude-fashioned camp" part-way up the trail), and over the same route in returning. The chronicler portrays his guide and host, who, he says, "received us with a wintry smile (he never laughed, in the world!) and a sort of guttural welcome," in the following somewhat rhetorical paragraph: -

Crawford has no compeer. He stands alone; and we found him, in all the unapproachableness of his singularity. We defy Cruikshanks [sic] to hit him; and painting and poetry would despair, before such a subject. What we shall say, in downright prose, will be mere attempt. If you wish to unfold him, and his sons, go and hire him, or them, as guides; and let them act themselves out before you, on a pilgrimage to Mount Washington.

It was he, who in 1840, at seventy-five years of age, made the first ascent of Mount Washington on horseback. At eighty, he could, it is said, walk with ease five miles before breakfast, to his son's house. He constantly attended the sessions of the New Hampshire Legislature, in which he was a representative of his district, when eighty-two years of age. A man of great good-humor, it was his pleasure, after he was confined to the house, to entertain visitors with amusing and interesting anecdotes. He died at eighty-five, having survived, it will be noted, his son Ethan by several years. His length of days is in striking contrast to the latter's short life.

His eight sons were all, it is affirmed, more than six feet tall, and Ethan was not alone in his endowment of unusual physical strength. Thomas J. Crawford, already spoken of as a pathbuilder, kept from 1829 to 1852 the Notch House, which was built in 1828 by Ethan and their father and which stood between the present Crawford House and the Gate of the Notch, its site being marked to-day by a signboard. About 1846 he constructed the carriage road up Mount Willard.

The tragic episode of the destruction of the household of Samuel Willey, Jr., in the Crawford Notch has been many times narrated most fully by the householder's brother, the Reverend Benjamin G. Willey, who devotes two chapters of his " Incidents in White Mountain History " to this unhappy event. The lonely and awe-inspiring place of the disaster, and the fact that the slide caused the greatest loss of life of any accident or natural disturbance that has occurred in the White Mountain region, and the further fact that an entire household perished, have attached a melancholy interest to the event and its scene and have drawn to them an amount of attention which may seem disproportionate to the importance of the occurrence. However this may be, it is certain that the interest in the sad fate of the Willey family has been long-continued and general. One evidence which proves the existence of this interest comes to mind when one thinks of the great number of persons who, during all the years that have elapsed since the time of the disaster, have visited the scene from curiosity.

Further witness to the generality of this interest is afforded by recalling the considerable literature which has grown up about the story of the catastrophe and which includes, besides numerous recountings of the circumstances, a romance based in part upon this event and written by an author bearing the family name,  one of Hawthorne's "Twice-Told Tales," and several poems. Hawthorne's allegory, "The Ambitious Guest," is the chief literary monument of the Willey disaster. Among the poems inspired by it the more notable are one by Mrs. Sigourney, the Connecticut poet, and, particularly, a spirited narrative ballad by Dr. Thomas W. Parsons, the Dante translator and " the Poet" of Longfellow's "Tales of a Wayside Inn."

 It was formerly the custom, one which was established early, for visitors to add a stone from the material of the slide to a memorial pile on the spot where the bodies of a number of the victims were found. In process of time this has accumulated into a natural monument of considerable size, but of late years it has become hidden be. cause of the growth of vegetation about it.

 Soltaire, by George F. Willey.

"The White Mountains after the Descent of the Avalanche in 1826," printed in the Ladies Magazine (Boston), August, 1828.

The sublimity of the scenery and the tragedy of the fate of an entire family made a profound impression upon travelers who passed that way in the score or so of years after the event, and those who published accounts of their tours in almost all cases devoted a goodly portion of the record of their trip to the White Mountains to a narration of the story of this sad occurrence. Especially is this true of the foreign travelers who traversed the Notch in these early days.

The facts about the terrible storm to which the avalanche was immediately due, and those relating to the disastrous effects of the heavy rain and of the landslide, which were learned or inferred by relatives and friends of the destroyed family as the result of visits to the scene a few days afterward, together with much conjecture as to the circumstances and course of events on the fatal Monday night, are set down in great detail by the historian brother, who was one of the searchers for the bodies of the victims. A few additional particulars may be gleaned from the narrative of Crawford and from the recollections of contemporaries recorded in the newspapers.

The highway, whose construction through the Notch shortly after the discovery of the pass has been already chronicled and which connected Upper Cobs with the seaboard, soon became an important route of commerce. After the turnpike was built, early in the nineteenth century, long lines of wagons loaded down with merchandise of various descriptions passed through the gateway both summer and winter, and toward the end of the eighteenth century pleasure travelers -few in number, to be sure, when compared with the later travel of this character had begun to find their way thither, mostly in private carriages. This increasing traffic made greatly felt the need of public houses as places of shelter, particularly in winter, when the northern winds are bitterly cold and the road is buried in snow, often deeply drifted, and the passage through the defile therefore extremely arduous and not a little hazardous. From soon after the beginning of the last decade of the eighteenth century, there had existed on this route simple taverns for the entertainment of the passing traveler who should be in need of a meal, or who, overtaken by night or storm, should require a lodging, in the house of the elder Crawford near the modern Bemis Station at the southern entrance of the Notch and in Eleazar Rosebrook's inn (near the present Fabyan House), thirteen miles distant from the other. In view of the circumstances just mentioned, it is evident that the opening of a public house somewhere on the road between these two places would be not only an act likely to be profitable to the innkeeper, but also one partaking of the nature of a benefaction to the traveler. Especially was such an establishment in the depths of the Notch itself a desideratum in those days.

There is a disagreement in the statements as to the time of building of the house which was to become famous as the Willey House. Mr. Spaulding says it was erected by a Mr. Davis in 1793, which would make its building contemporaneous with the settlements of Rosebrook and Crawford. Mr. Willey is very indefinite as to the time when the house was constructed, his statement being that it "had been erected, some years previous to the time [1826] of which we write, by a Mr. Henry Hill." 

Be that as it may, this simple story-and-a-half dwelling, situated about midway between the two houses that have been mentioned, was doubtless a timely inn to many a weary teamster or "lated traveler" in its early days. The supervention of a tragedy was destined, however, to intermit its use as, a place of shelter and to change the nature of the interest of visitors in the building and its environment.

After it had been kept by Mr. Hill and others for several years its occupancy was abandoned.

 Mr. Crawford says in the History, under 1845, "the Notch House, which place was settled, Uncle William [i.e., William Rosebrook, then seventy-two years old, who lived with the Crawfords] says, about fifty-three years ago, by one Mr. Davis, who first began there; since which period, others have lived there for a short time, until Samuel Willey bought the place, and repaired it." The signboard (missing in 1914) at the site states that the house was built by Davis in 1792, was repaired and occupied by Fabyan in 1844, and was burned in 1898. E. A. Kendall, who passed through the Notch in November, 1807, speaks of a house, twenty miles from Conway, evidently the old Mount Crawford House at Bemis, at which he ate a meal, and says that "at a distance of seven miles, there is another house, which second house is only three miles short of the Notch," the context showing that by the latter he means the Gate of the Notch.

 Ethan Allen Crawford engaged the house in the fall of 1823, 'and agreed to furnish it with such things as are necessary for the comfort of travelers and their horses." He records the buying of hay at Jefferson in the winter of 1824 and the carrying of it sixteen miles to furnish the Notch place.

In the autumn of 1825, after the house had been for several months untenanted, Samuel Willey, Jr., a son of one of the early settlers of Upper Bartlett, moved his family into it. As the house was much in need of repairs, he spent the autumn in making such as would render it comfortable during the winter, and he also enlarged the stable and made such other improvements as the time would permit. In the spring further improvements were planned and begun with the design of making the house more worthy of patronage, which had been good during the winter and was increasing.

 Samuel Willey, who came to Bartlett from Lee, later moved to North Conway and lived on what is known as the "Bigelow Farm" until his death, in 1844, when he was more than ninety years of age. His son, Benjamin G., the historian, was the second pastor of the Congregational Church in Conway. He died in 1867.

Nothing unusual occurred during the winter and spring to arouse any apprehension as to the unsafeness of the situation of this lone abode, but one rainy afternoon in June Mr. and Mrs. Willey, when sitting by a window which looked out upon the mountain which now bears their name, saw, as the mist cleared up, a mass of earth begin to move, increase in volume and extent, and finally rush into the valley beneath. This was soon followed by another slide of lesser magnitude. Although these avalanches occurred near the house, they did no damage to the property, but they served to startle the occupants greatly, and Mr. Willey at first purposed to leave the place and, it is believed, even made ready to do so, under the impulse of the first panic. His decision against an immediate removal was largely determined by the counsel of Abel Crawford, who with a force of men was at work the day of the storm repairing the turnpike near by.

After a short lapse of time, Mr. Willey, who had looked about in vain for a safer place in which to establish his home, became calmer and his apprehensions of danger were allayed, if not altogether removed. Would that he had heeded the warning! But he came to think that such an occurrence was unlikely to happen again, and so remained, little fearing danger and not presaging any evil, to fall a victim with all his family two months later.

The midsummer of 1826 was characterized in the White Mountain region by high temperatures and a long-continued drought. Under the hot sun the soil became dry to an unusual depth and so prepared to be acted upon powerfully by any heavy rain. The great heat and extreme drought continued until after the middle of August, when clouds began to gather and eventually to gain permanence and to give rain, at first but little in quantity. Finally on Monday, August 28, came a day of occasional showers, which were but a premonition of what was to follow, for toward evening the clouds began to gather in great volume. They were of dense blackness, which condition combined with their magnitude to make a sublime and awful aspect of the heavens. just at nightfall it began to rain, and then ensued a storm which will be ever memorable for its violence and its disastrous consequences. Some time during this furious downpour, which lasted for several hours, occurred the dreadful avalanche which buried the entire household of the little dwelling in the depths of the Notch.

The destructiveness of the storm began to be evident to the dwellers south of the Notch early the next morning when the intervales became so flooded that the cattle and horses had to be removed from them, and when daylight revealed the desolating effects of the copious rains on the summits and sides of the mountains. Many trees were seen to be destroyed, a vast amount of rocks and earth to be displaced, and many grooves and gorges to have been created on the slopes.

At first, no fears were felt by the relatives and friends of the family in the solitary Notch House as to their safety and, indeed, so occupied were they with their own immediate concerns because of the floods, that they had little time to think of anything else. Not until Wednesday night, when unfavorable reports began to reach the southern settlements, did suspicions arise that all was not well with the household in the Notch. It seems that the first person to pass through the Notch after the storm was a man named John Barker. He left Ethan Allen Crawford's about four o'clock and reached the Notch House about sunset, on Tuesday. Finding it deserted except by the faithful dog, he concluded that the family had betaken themselves to Abel Crawford's, and he took up his lodging for the night in the vacated house. Evidences of a hasty departure were seen in the opened doors, the disarranged beds, the scattered clothes, and the Bible lying open on the table. When trying to compose himself to sleep he heard a low moaning. Unable, because of the dense darkness and of having no provision for striking a light, to do anything in the way of ascertaining the source of this or of rescuing the person or creature giving utterance to it, Barker lay terrified and sleepless until dawn, when he arose and, after a search, found the cause of his excitement. It was an ox, which had been crushed to the floor by the fallen timbers of the stable. After releasing the suffering animal, Barker proceeded on his way to Bartlett, and on arriving at judge Hall's tavern told about the fearful slide at the Willey farm. That night a party of men from Bartlett started for the Notch. They arrived at their destination toward morning, on Thursday, after a difficult journey. As soon as day broke they began their search. The confirmed reports of the perishing of the family having reached the relatives, they too started for the scene of the disaster, which they reached about noon of that day. Many other people had come as the result of the spreading of the news.

 "At eleven o'clock," says Ethan Allen Crawford, "we had a clearing-up shower, and it seemed as though the windows of heaven were opened and the rain came down almost in streams."

This animal, it is recorded, did what he could to make the disaster known, for, before any news of it had reached Conway, he appeared at the home of Mrs. Lovejoy, Mrs. Willey's father, and by moanings and other expressions of anguish, tried to tell the members of the family that something dreadful had happened. But not succeeding in making himself understood, he left, and, although he was afterward frequently seen running at great speed, now up and now down the road between the Lovejoy home and the Notch House, he soon disappeared from the region, doubtless perishing through grief and loneliness.

It was a vast scene of desolation and ruin that met the eyes of the searchers as they approached the spot. On a clearing perhaps a hundred rods below the house, one great slide had deposited its material, consisting of large rocks, trees, and sand. The sides of the mountain above the house, once green with woods, were lacerated and stripped bare for a vast extent, while the plain appeared one continuous bed of sand and rocks with broken trees and branches intermingled with them. Many separate scars and slide deposits were to be seen above and below the house, which stood unharmed amid the ruin all about it. The avalanche of greatest magnitude, which started far up on the mountain-side directly behind the house, would have overwhelmed it but for a curious circumstance arising from a peculiarity in the configuration of the ground. It so happened that the slide, when it had reached a point not far above the little dwelling, had to encounter in its course down the mountain a low ridge, or ledge of rock, which extended from this place to a more precipitous part of the mountain. This, when met, not only somewhat arrested the slide, but, what was yet more remarkable, served to divide it into two parts. One portion of the debris flowed to one side, carrying away the stable above the house, but avoiding the latter building, while the other passed by it on the other side. In front of the house the two divisions reunited and flowed on in the bed of the Saco. This strange circumstance in the action of the landslide, with its even more singular results, the sparing of the house and the destruction of its inmates - for it was doubtless this particular convulsion that was the occasion of the latter event, lends to the story of the disaster, when one thinks of the perversity of fate in this instance and of what might have been, a peculiar pathos.

Just how the members of the household met their deaths will never be known. Whether, on hearing the frightful noise which must have accompanied the avalanche and have heralded its coming, they fled precipitately before it from the house and were overwhelmed by it when it reached the low ground, or whether they had already, for fear of being drowned by the rising waters above the habitation, betaken themselves to the foot of the mountain before the slide came down and there had been caught in its course and carried away with it, we cannot tell. However it may be, these alternative suppositions, at any rate, embody the principal theories that have been advanced as to the probable course of events, but, it must be admitted, they both rest upon inference and, largely, upon conjecture.

Such search as had been made for the bodies up to noon on Thursday had been unavailing. Not long after, however, a man who was searching along the slide just below the house happened, through the accidental moving of a twig, to notice a number of flies about the entrance to a sort of cave formed by material of the slide, and as the result of a search which was immediately instituted about this spot the location of one of the bodies was disclosed. This body proved to be that of David Allen, one of the farmhands. Not long after, the eager searchers came upon the body of Mrs. Willey, even more terribly mangled than that of the farmhand. Further search soon revealed the body of Mr. Willey, not far away. These were all that were found that day, and, as it was decided to bury them near their habitation until they could be more conveniently moved to Conway the next winter, coffins were made of such materials as could be obtained there, and the bodies, after prayer by a Bartlett minister, were buried in a common grave.

Among the searchers was Ethan Allen Crawford, who had been sent for by the friends of the Willey family. He tells of nailing to a dead tree, near the place where the bodies were found, a planed board on which he had written with a piece of red chalk, "The family found here," which " monument " was afterward taken away by some of the later occupants of the house and used for fuel.

Search was continued on the next day, and during its course the body of the youngest child was found and buried. On Saturday 1 the body of the eldest child, a girl of twelve years, and that of the other hired man, David Nickerson, were recovered and buried. The bodies of the three other children have never been found. They were covered so deeply beneath the sand and rocks that no search has ever been able to discover them. In view of the magnitude and extent of the avalanche and the quantity of materials deposited upon the valley, it is more remarkable that so many bodies were recovered than that these were not found.

 Mr. Crawford says Nickerson's body was recovered on Saturday and that of the eldest daughter on Sunday, the latter being found some distance from where the others were and across the river, she apparently having met death by drowning.

The only living things about the premises to escape were the dog and two oxen. These latter were endangered by falling timbers, but suffered no serious injury. Two horses were, however, crushed to death by timbers of the stable.

The foregoing narrative embodies the main facts of this melancholy event. The story of the storm which was the proximate cause of the landslide would not, however, be complete without some mention of the disastrous work of this terrific downpour, not only in the region in the vicinity of the Willey House, but elsewhere, for it did great damage in other parts of the Mountains also.

The road through the Crawford Notch was in many places destroyed. All the bridges but two along the entire length of the turnpike, a distance of seventeen miles, were carried away. The directors, seeing it would take a great sum to repair the road, voted, after the good people of Portland had contributed fifteen hundred dollars to help and encourage them, to levy an assessment upon the shares. These sums, with some other assistance, provided means for accomplishing the work, which is said to have been carried on by the hardy natives by moonlight as well as in the daytime.

The storm utterly destroyed the road through the Franconia Notch also, and travel had to be suspended until after repairs were made by means of a state appropriation of thirteen hundred dollars.

The best part of Abel Crawford's farm was destroyed. A new sawmill, which had just been built by Crawford, who was away from home at the time of the flood, was swept away, together with a great number of logs and boards and all the fences on the intervale. Twenty-eight sheep were drowned and a great deal of standing grain was ruined. The water rose so high as to run through the entire house on the lower floors and sweep out the coals and ashes from the fireplace. Many other dwellers on the banks of the Saco and its tributaries suffered more or less damage.

At Ethan Crawford's on the Ammonoosuc much injury to property and livestock was occasioned by the flood. The whole intervals in the vicinity of the Giant's Grave was covered with water for a space of more than two hundred acres. The road was greatly damaged and in some places entirely demolished. The bridge was carried away, taking with it in its course down the river ninety feet of shed which had been attached to the barn that escaped the fire of 1818. Fourteen sheep were drowned and a large field of oats was destroyed. The flood came within a foot and a half of the door of the house, a strong stream ran between the house and the stable, and much wood was swept away. Mr. Crawford's camp at the foot of the mountain, with all its furnishings, which were enclosed in a sheet-iron chest, was carried away by the rising water. No part of the iron chest, or of its contents, which included eleven blankets and a supply of cooking-utensils, was ever found, except a few pieces of blanket that were caught on bushes at different places down the river.

An incident relating to a party of travelers, which occurred at the time of the storm, may well be narrated here. On the 26th of August, some gentlemen from the West arrived at Crawford's for the purpose of ascending Mount Washington. Crawford, as the weather was threatening, advised them not to go that afternoon, but as their time was limited they said they must proceed, and so he guided them to the camp, where they arrived at ten o'clock at night. Early the next morning it began to rain, which took away all hope of ascending the mountain that day. Reluctant to abandon their excursion, now that they were so near the goal, it was decided that Crawford should go to his home for more provisions and return to the camp. Crawford arrived home tired from a slow and wearisome journey through the rain and mud. His brother Thomas, who happened to be at the house, cheerfully consented to take his place. When the latter arrived at the camp, he found that the rain had put out the fire and that the party were holding a council as to what was to be done. He told them that it would be very unpleasant, if not dangerous, to remain where they were, and that by rapid traveling it might be possible to reach the house. By fast walking, by wading, and by crossing the swollen streams on trees cut down and laid across to serve as bridges, they managed to reach the house safely about eight o'clock in the evening. Fortunately, they reached the bridge over the Ammonoosuc just in time to pass over it before it was swept away. Had they remained, they would have shared the same fate as the Willey family, or, at least, have suffered greatly from cold, hunger, and exposure. On the following Wednesday, the water having by that time sufficiently subsided to permit the fording of the Ammonoosuc, with Thomas Crawford for guide, some of the party, with the addition of another small party from the West, achieved the ascent of the mountain, although they had much difficulty in finding their way owing to the destructive effect of the rain on the path.

Farther down the Ammonoosuc, at Rosebrook's, and elsewhere in the valley, much damage was done, although conditions were not so bad as at Crawford's. Many other slides, also, besides the one at the Willey House, devastated great areas on the slopes of the Mountains, notably a very extensive one on the west side of Mount Pleasant.

Such, then, were some of the effects of this most remarkable storm in White Mountain history, which will be ever memorable for its destruction of property and human life.

The disaster at the Willey House did not deter others from occupying it, for, somewhat more than a year after, a man named Pendexter moved into it with the object chiefly of affording entertainment for travelers during the winter. Some time after his removal a storm, not so severe as that of 1826, but yet a very heavy one, took place. The impressive circumstances of this terrific storm of thunder, lightning, and rain, together with the remembrance of what had occurred there, so affected the family then residing there, that, it is said, not a word was spoken for nearly half an hour.


Excerpted from book                                           by   Frederick W. Kilbourne
first published in 1916

             

 

                                                                                                                  

       

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