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History of Mount Washington: The 1850s

THE FIRST SUMMIT HOUSE photo - click to enlarge The first summit house (shown here) was built in 1852 by J.S. Hall and L.M. Rosebrook, at a cost of $7000. Standing rigidly against the fiercest winds, the 64-foot-long stone house was anchored by four heavy chains over its roof. The house was located just northwest of the summit rock.

TIP TOP HOUSE IN 1854 photo - click to enlarge

1853 is the year when two of Mt. Washington's still-present attractions were started: Tip Top House and the Carriage Road. In June of that year, the New Hampshire State Legislature chartered the Mount Washington Carriage Road Company to plan and build the road to the summit, and a month later construction was begun on Tip Top House right next to the geographical summit of Mt. Washington. The stone hotel, seen in the 1850s engraving left, was built for $7000 by Samuel F. Spaulding & Co. Anchored to the mountain by a cement and iron foundation, the 24' x 84' one-story building had a nearly flat roof and small, square windows lining the sides.

On September 1 in nearby Gorham, the Mount Washington Carriage Road Company first convened, presided by David O. Macomber. Their original plans states, "The road is to be sixteen feet wide, macadamized, and have a protection-wall, three feet high in dangerous places. A route has been thoroughly surveyed and located, with no greater rise than that of one foot to eight, to the top of Mount Washington, from Thompson's Glen House."

THE SUMMIT IN 1854 photo - click to enlarge

In 1854, Timothy Estus of Jefferson, NH built a 40' high platform atop the summit rock, which he called an 'observatory'. It can be seen in the engraving on the left, depicting the summit in 1854. Estus' $600 structure was anchored by four vertical posts in the corners connected by cross-bracing, and a moving platform in the middle which could be raised and lowered with ropes and pulleys. For 50 apiece, tourists could be elevated to this highest point on the summit. The 'observatory' was more or less unsuccessful, and was abandoned the following year and torn down the next.

CARRIAGE ROAD HALFWAY HOUSE photo - click to enlarge

In 1855, work had begun on the Carriage Road, which climbed up toward what is now called Chandler Ridge. However, in the autumn of 1856, the Company went bankrupt (due to extremely high costs) and the new road reached no further than the newly-constructed halfway house (left), about four miles up from the Glen House.

PLAN FOR A COG RAILWAY photo - click to enlarge

The Cog Railway also has its roots in the 1850s. A man by the name of Sylvester Marsh and a friend had climbed to the summit of Mt. Washington in August of 1857. They had encountered a fierce storm and didn't complete the harrowing trek until after darkness fell. While bunking out at Tip Top House, Marsh envisioned a plan to ascend Mount Washington via steam trains. With the Carriage Road Company in bankruptcy, he quickly tailored his ideas and soon had a working, conceptual model of a steam engine pushing a passenger car up a central cog rail, as seen in the drawing here. He experimented with several prototypes the next winter, and in 1858, Sylvester Marsh presented a working model engine to the New Hampshire State Legislature. The engine climbed successfully up the piece of inclined track, but the demonstration wasn't convincing enough. It would take Marsh a few more years to convince the public that a mountain-climbing train could be a reality.

MOUNT WASHINGTON CARRIAGE ROAD photo - click to enlarge

By the end of the 1850s, enough funding allowed work to resume on the Carriage Road, with high hopes of completing the monumental job, "thus completing a carriage-route that for novelty, and unparalleled wonder-exciting location, will not in the western world have an equal." (J.H. Spaulding, Historical Relics of the White Mountains, 1858.) Progress physically resumed in 1859 under the reorganized Mount Washington Summit Road Company, and soon a path was laid closer and closer to the summit. The photo above is looking northeast down the 6-mile grade, where clouds dot the landscape far below the road's edge.

By the end of the 1850s, the top of New England's highest peak was finally beginning its new life as a tourist attraction. Soon the Carriage Road and Cog Railway would be complete, new buildings would go up and come down, and more people would be able to experience the weather, grand views, and sheer thrill of ascending Mount Washington.

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