The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Autumn Dinner in the White Mountains, September 1875

It is ‘Leaf Peeping’ (fall foliage viewing) season in New England, so here are a few inspired leaves of thought...

Looking through our collections I came across an intriguing broadside, having read about the once opulent Hotels that dotted the New Hampshire Countryside in the mid nineteenth century. The [Dinner menu and wine list for Sunday September 12], no doubt, would serve as a glimpse into the grandeur of the majestic New Hampshire Resorts.

This unique Broadside attests to the lavish dinners served at the Crawford House, located in Crawford Notch New Hampshire. The most fascinating feature of this broadside is the material on which it is printed, a lovely piece of Birch bark. Birch trees are known for their beautiful lenticel marked white bark and can be seen throughout the forests of the White Mountains.


The single page pamphlet is printed on both sides and folded in half conveniently presenting the day's fare and other pieces of information for hotel guests. For those intrigued by gastronomical history this is a fascinating specimen. Examining what was served on Sunday, September 12th 1875, one can truly note the changes in our collective palate and food culture over 150 years.


Finally, the last page features an extensive wine list, after all, how else would one be on a proper vacation? Modern coinsures will be intrigued by the Hock (German White wine) and Sauternes (French sweet wine) being such popular categories, but otherwise the list is quite familiar. Moet et Chandon champagne was a full $4.00 (The equivalent of $86.96 modern currency) proving that some things never change!


The first Crawford House was built in 1850. Described as having "a three and a half story central pavilion with a fine Greek Revival portico, identical five-bay, two and a half story wings, topped by pitched roofs with dormer windows."  By 1852 there was such a high demand for rooms, that the owners of the Crawford House expanded, to create 200 sleeping rooms, by enlarging each wing by "eight bays". Unfortunately the first Crawford House succumbed to fire, although within two days plans for the new Crawford House were already underway. Cyrus Eastman and his partners utilized a workforce of 175 men and 75 oxen and horses to complete the fastest hotel construction 1859 had ever seen.   Opening night was July 13th when 40 guests were received for dinner and 100 were entertained for the night, and the press noted that it was "the most spacious hotel about the mountain".  In Eastman's words "The Crawford House is a large and new edifice, very commodious and agreeable for a summer hotel. There are pleasant piazzas on the outside, and five halls, much used in the evening for promenading, run the entire length of the house within. The parlor is large and well furnished, the dining room ample in its proportion, and its tables always supplied with the delicacies of the metropolitan markets, as well as such substantial articles of mountain production, as delicious berries, and the richest milk and cream. The office is situated in the central part of the house... Here also is the post office of this wild region. Portraits of two of the Crawfords, patriarchs of these mountains, adorn the wall. The lodging rooms of the house are well furnished, and pleasant, especially those which have windows toward the Notch. Connected with the hotel are a bowling-alley for rainy-day and evening amusement, and extensive stables, furnished with a large number of horses... Last summer two tame bears afforded guests much amusement."

Bostonians have always flocked to the White Mountain of New Hampshire to enjoy the striking natural beauty, although we in the modern era will never experience the grandeur met there by our predecessors.  A great transformation came to the region in the 1850s, the beginning of a huge tourist Industry, prompted by the laying of railroads, and later fueled by the Industrial Revolution which created a surplus of wealth in eastern cities. In the 1820s and 30s, the mountains and lakes were home to only a few highway taverns and Inns that provided rest for the weary stagecoach traveler on the harrowing passage north. After 1850, the region that had only been visited by a few hundred, started to see tens of thousands of tourists. This was the heyday of the White Mountain Resorts and Hotels. Rising up from scenic valleys, construction began on the grandest hotels in America in the mid-nineteenth century. These hotels were famous for their luxurious lodging, exquisite dinning, and state of the art facilities such as gas lighting. Travelers came from Europe to admire the grandeur of these Hotels, and to admire the beauty of the White Mountains, which, according to some European Newspapers, rivaled that of the Alps. Each of these hotels could accommodate 200-500 or more guests, offering extensive entertainment, numerous excursions, exquisite gardens, elegant parlors and dining halls serving the finest cuisine. Some of these Hotels had their very own railroad stations, conveniently bringing guests from Boston, Portland and New York directly to their doors and promising a scenic journey through the mountains before arriving at the their lavish lodgings. These hotels were The Crawford House, the Fabyan House, the Profile House, the Maplewood, and the Waumbek.

Unfortunately, the grand Hotels of New Hampshire were all built of wood, and almost all perished in fire. The Appalachian Mountain Club Highland Center sits on the site of the former Crawford House. The last of the majestic hotels built in the region was the Mount Washington Hotel, the grandest and largest, which still remains, a testament of the elegance and luxury of a bygone era and the largest wooden structure in New Hampshire.

The Massachusetts Historical Society lists 153 titles under the heading ‘Menu’ in our catalog. For this broadside, or to search for other broadsides in our collection, please use ABIGAIL, our online catalog. Visit the library of the Society to research more culinary history!


Next up:

Nineteenth Century Travels through New Hampshire

(Burrage, Mary Greene Hunt. Letter to Margaret Howe (Cotton) Hunt [transcript] [1854} in Miscellaneous Manuscripts 1854)

Followed by:

The first map of the White Mountains done by none other than our very own Jeremy Belknap!


permalink | Published: Friday, 23 September, 2016, 3:35 PM


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