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Popular Resorts:
Grand Hotels of the White Mountains

Guests at the Crawford House in New Hampshire's Crawford Notch
Guests at the Crawford House in Crawford Notch, NH, circa 1910.

Popular Resorts: Grand Hotels of the White Mountains told its fascinating story through re-created sets and a rich combination of paintings, hotel furnishings, photographs, memorabilia, and promotional materials. The exhibition was on view at the Society's museum from June 14, 1997, through May 17, 1998.

Heyday of New Hampshire's Grand Hotels

In the late 19th century, there was a greater concentration of grand resort hotels in New Hampshire's White Mountains than anywhere else in America. Between 1885 and 1910, at the height of the era, more than 12,000 people could be accommodated in the region's 200 hotels, inns, and boarding houses. The railroads spurred hotel development in the 1850s, although even prior to that time travelers would often undertake the long and uncomfortable stagecoach ride north. The White Mountain hotels originated with the first highway taverns and inns of the 1820s and 1830s. Nathaniel Hawthorne, a frequent traveler to the region, characterized these as "at once the pleasure-houses of fashionable tourists and the homely inns of country travelers."

With the increased accessibility that the railroads provided, plus expanded wealth made available because of the industrial revolution, a newly emerging middle class contributed to a dramatic rise in tourism to the region. From 1851 on, a trade that had been measured in hundreds of people would now be measured in tens of thousands.

Major hotels such as the Crawford House, Fabyan House, Profile House, the Maplewood, the Waumbek, and the Glen House each had its own train station or livery service and its own versions of comfort and elegance: gas lighting, fancy dining, lawn tennis, coaching parades, and mountain guides. Each of these establishments had a guest capacity of 400 or more, each was built entirely of wood, and each was eventually destroyed by fire. The last of the truly grand hotels to be built was the Mount Washington in Bretton Woods. One of the largest, and one of the few still operating today, it opened in 1902 in an era when corporate executives commonly sent their families to the White Mountains for the summer months and visited them on weekends.

The hotel industry flourished in the White Mountains because of the district's proximity to major East Coast cities. Europeans were also drawn to what English novelist Anthony Trollope described as "a district in New England containing mountain scenery superior to much that is yearly crowded by tourists in Europe, that is to be reached with ease by railways and stage-coaches, and that is dotted with huge hotels, almost as thickly as they lie in Switzerland."

Just as tourists a century ago traveled by train to vacation amid New Hampshire's majestic White Mountains, museum visitors began their journey through the museum's exhibition in a simulated railroad car. The use of sound and video in period settings transported visitors back in time to experience life at a 19th-century resort hotel. Visitors relaxed and browsed through tourist publications, played games of the period and enjoyed paintings of the White Mountains by John Badger Bachelder, Frank Shapleigh and Edward Hill. Rocking chairs beckoned visitors to stop and linger awhile on the exhibition's re-created hotel veranda.

Thanks to Our Sponsors

Bryant F. Tolles Jr., Director of the Museum Studies Program at the University of Delaware, was guest curator for the exhibition. Funding for Popular Resorts was provided by the Mount Washington Hotel and Resort, Chubb Life, New Hampshire Humanities Council, Citizens Bank, Community Bankshares, Inc., the Balsams Grand Resort Hotel, Tillotson Corporation, the HBB Foundation, Martha Fuller Clark and Geoffrey E. Clark, M.D., Hilary P. Cleveland, and Mr. and Mrs. Bryant F. Tolles Jr.

About Us

The New Hampshire Historical Society is the independent nonprofit that saves, preserves, and shares New Hampshire history. The Society serves thousands of children and adults annually through its museum, library, educational progams, and award-winning publications.

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New Hampshire Historical Society - Founded 1823