The Conway Scenic Railroad, Part Three

A few more hardy soulsMy last post had us on the Conway Scenic Railroad "Notch Train" with our twin diesel engines all finished with their run-around to make the back of the train the front of the train and we were now ready to head back the way we came through Crawford Notch on our 30-mile journey back to North Conway. It was still raining intermittently and there was a semi-cold breeze blowing but I had abandoned the comfort of my seat in the first-class C.P. Reed car bound and determined to get some decent pictures from the open coach car where it was a bit cold but tolerable. Even though Jamie and my mom had both opted to stay "indoors", I wasn't alone as there were a few other hardy souls sharing the car with me on our trip south. In his 1884 guidebook Sweetser's White Mountains, Moses Foster Sweetser wrote that "No other railroad in this region traverses such wild gorges, or looks out on such majestic peaks, close at hand" and I was darned well going to find that out first-hand or fall out of the train trying!

Notch Train & Trestle

Leaving Fabyan Station behind, we crossed over a small trestle while I practiced leaning out of the open car to get a shot or two.

Blurry Trees

A quick check of a couple more pictures had me a little worried that trying to take a picture of anything that we passed wasn't going to work very well unless I wanted all of my pictures to look like the one above but after a couple of quick adjustments I seemed to have the kinks worked out.

Dark Skies & Trees

As you can see, it wasn't exactly lightening up outside but at least the rain itself was holding off for a little bit as the train stopped in several places so that we could take pictures of the beautiful Mount Washington Resort Hotel - a place that has long been on my "Bucket List of Places I Want to Stay Someday"!

The Mount Washington Hotel

The Mount Washington Hotel was built from 1900-1902 by Concord, New Hampshire native Joseph Stickney, who had made his fortune in coal mining and the Pennsylvania Railroad. Stickney spared no expense in building his imposing Spanish Renaissance Revival-style hotel by bringing in 250 Italian craftsmen who were skilled in masonry and woodworking and housing them on the grounds. When the doors of the most luxurious hotel of its day opened on July 28th, 1902, there was a staff of no less than 350 ready and waiting to cater to wealthy guests from Boston, New York and Philadelphia.

The Mount Washington Resort Hotel

In 1986, the Department of the Interior recognized the historical and architectural significance of The Mount Washington Hotel with the National Historic Landmark designation which really makes the beautiful hotel right up my alley and as it's also a member of the Historic Hotels of America, you can bet your bottom dollar that I'm chomping at the bit to stay there someday!  Gee, think they'd have pity on a poor blogger and offer me a good rate in exchange for one of my stellar hotel reviews?  Nah, probably not ... oh well, on with the ride!

Looking to the front of the train

Leaving the beautiful Mount Washington Hotel behind I practiced a bit at taking pictures while keeping myself inside the train car. After all, I was pretty sure I wasn't going to want to tumble out when we got back to the Willey Brook Bridge or the Frankenstein Trestle!

Looking towards the back of the train

Just for fun, I put the pictures together while I was editing them to see how they looked ...

Front & Back - sort of!

Anyway ... in no time at all we were heading back past Crawford Station ...

Crawford Station

.. and Saco Lake ...

 Saco Lake

... and entering Crawford Notch State Park.

Crawford Notch Sign

The thought occurs to me that I really haven't told you much about Crawford Notch so I'll try to give you what I hope is a brief history!

A rainy Route 302 through Crawford Notch

Way back in 1771, a hunter named Timothy Nash from the town of Lancaster discovered what was then known as the Great Notch while tracking a moose over Cherry Mountain. After making his way through the notch and on to Portsmouth, he told Royal Governor John Wentworth of his discovery and the governor, doubting it could happen, made Nash a deal that if he could get a horse though from Lancaster that he would grant him a large parcel of land at the head of the notch with the condition that he build a road to it from the east.

Crawford Notch

Taking the governor up on his deal, Nash got together with his friend Benjamin Sawyer and after much perseverance and most likely Yankee stubbornness, the two of them managed to haul a keg of rum through the notch on a very mellow farm horse which they sometimes had to lower over boulders with ropes in order to get through. The governor kept his word and in 1775 a road  which was not much more than a trail was opened.

Clouds on the mountains

The Abel Crawford family, as the first permanent settlers in the area in 1790 at what is now known as Fabyans in Bretton Woods, was tantamount in getting the area developed and as such, the notch came to be called Crawford Notch. The Crawford families operated inns for the growing number of tourists as well as being mountain guides that escorted visitors to the top of Mount Washington. In 1821, Abel’s son Ethan Allen Crawford blazed a trail up Mount Washington that is closely followed by the Washington Mountain Cog Railway.

Crawford Notch

Most of the land in Crawford Notch was acquired by the State of New Hampshire in 1913 as the result of a bill that was aimed at rescuing the northern region of the notch from excessive timber harvesting.  The state park extends for almost 6,000 acres and there is a lot of history in those 6,000 acres - history that I loved learning about while on our ride.  Some of the most tragic history involved the family for whom the bridge that the train was approaching was named. 

Approaching the Willey Brook Bridge

The Willey Brook Bridge appropriately spans Willey Brook which runs into the Saco River; it and Willey Mountain were named in remembrance of the Willey family who were one of the main reasons that this area of the White Mountains became such a major tourist destination.

The Willey Brook Bridge as seen from the train

The oldest building in Crawford Notch was erected in the heart of the Notch in 1793 by a Mr. Davis to accommodate travelers who may have been passing through the area either on business or out of curiosity. During the fall of 1825, Samuel Willey, Jr. of Bartlett moved into the small house with his wife, five children, and two hired men. Situated in the shadow of what later became known as Mount Willey, the three men enlarged and improved the house and the family operated it as an inn to accommodate travelers through the mountains.

Just about to cross the Willey Brook Bridge

The following year - in late August after a long drought - the White Mountains were hit with some of the most violent and destructive storms to ever pass through the region - storms that set farms afloat, carried livestock away, rose the Saco River 20 feet in one night, and carved great gorges into the sides of the mountains.  

Engines crossing the Willey Brook Bridge

Fearing that their house would be swept away in an avalanche as large chunks of the mountain which would later be named after the family came sliding down, the family fled to a shelter that was to have been their safe spot located a short distance above the house. Tragically, the house from they fled was untouched during the avalanche while the entire family and the two hired men were killed either on their way to their shelter or while there. Mr. and Mrs. Willey, two of the children, and both hired men were found crushed in the wreckage of the slide nearby while three of the children were never found at all.

Crossing the Willey Brook Bridge

The incident provided the basis for an 1835 story by Nathaniel Hawthorne titled “The Ambitious Guest” as well as attracting many artists to the region so that they could paint the dramatic and untamed mountain wilderness after they had heard the tragic story (this was the beginning of White Mountain Art) which in turned then prompted people to flock to Crawford Notch so that they could see it for themselves. The original Willey House remained standing until 1899 when it was destroyed by fire.

Looking down from the Willey Brook Bridge

The story is a very sad and tragic one that still echoes throughout the Notch and causes visitors to shudder at least a little bit as they're reminded that sometimes even very beautiful things can be quite deadly. If you're interested in reading more about the story, you can check out an interesting account of the 1834 Willey Slide and Rescue as told by Ebenezer Tasker, the son of a member of the rescue party, that appeared in the New York Times on August 20th, 1894.

Dark & Cloudy Skies

As we crossed over the Willey Brook Bridge, the clouds started to gather again and it looked like we were in for some more heavy rain though I was really hoping it would hold off until we got over the Frankenstein Trestle.

Riding into the clouds

Before we got there, though, we passed the remains of another Willey House:

Remains of the Willey House

 The Willey House Station was home to the railroad's resident passenger service operator as well as the section foreman. Parts of the building lasted longer than most other railroad structures and was still standing in the mid-1980's but now all you'll find is a cellar hole and some old iron parts and pieces.

Crossing Over the Frankenstein Trestle

Shortly after passing the remains of the Willey House Station, we came to the famed Frankenstein Trestle that I told you about in my last post.

The Frankenstein Trestle

The Frankenstein Trestle is an 80-foot high spindly-looking bridge that spans the Frankenstein Gulf adjacent to Frankenstein Cliff. It's apparent that Dr. Samuel Bemis, who owned much of the land in the area, obviously really liked artist Godfrey Frankenstein to name so many things after him!

Straight Out of the Camera - Crossing the Frankenstein Trestle

Oh, I should also probably mention that Dr. Bemis was one of the first photographers in the United States; his early daguerreotype images of the White Mountains are the earliest known American photographs of natural landscapes.  I've heard the guy was somewhat of a recluse and an eccentric in his later years after being spurned in romance but ya know, I think he and I would have gotten along famously!

The Frankenstein Trestle

After crossing over the Frankenstein Trestle I decided it was time to head back to the warmth of the C.P. Reed, especially considering it was starting to rain harder as we got closer to North Conway.

It's Raining - It's Pouring!

Jamie told me she and her grandmother had been chatting away nicely while I was away but shortly after I sat down, I found a head resting on my shoulder as the motion of the train lulled Jamie into a late afternoon nap.  My mom also nodded off (that's her hand there next to the window) but I'm pretty sure she'd not be too pleased were I to post a picture of her catching some zz's!  I'll just have to keep that picture for myself!

Enjoying the ride?

There was a slight delay in getting back to the station when we had to stop so that the train crew could remove parts of a tree that had fallen on the tracks while we were journeying through the Notch; according to our narrator, the same thing had happened the day before, too. By the time we arrived back at the station, the rain had started to come down again in earnest and when I got to where I parked the car I had to try to maneuver around a huge puddle that hadn't been there when I parked it just to get in the door!  Still, it was worth it as I had thoroughly enjoyed our ride on the Conway Scenic Railroad in spite of the rain and the gloom.  After all, it was a train and it had history and I got to take pictures while not falling out of the train - what more could a girl want??

It was after 5:30, getting dark, and quite rainy when we finally put North Conway behind us and started north up Route 16 in the direction of Route 2 west and our destination for the night about 50 miles away - the Chapman Inn in Bethel, Maine.


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