Itinerary – Exploring The Grand North’s Historical Highway Markers
History by the Wayside — A Day Trip Exploring the Region’s Historical Highway Markers
Written by: Helena Historiana (aka The Happy Wanderer)
Bio: “I love to go a-wandering,” says the song, and I couldn’t agree more. Whether it’s along mountain trails, city sidewalks, or verdant countryside there is always something to see, some new fact to learn, and you’re apt to meet the most interesting people. So, pack a lunch or stop along the way. Get out there and have fun!
When you’re visiting New Hampshire’s North Country for the first time — or the fifth! — there is a lot to be said for taking a day or two for a relaxing meander, exploring out-of-the-way spots, discovering new landscapes and uncovering some interesting bits of information that help to explain the region’s history and culture.
The New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources has a new mobile phone-friendly app that maps all the historical markers in the state, including two-dozen in Coos County — New Hampshire’s Grand North! This easy-to-use resource makes it simple to plan a road trip seeking out these hunter green highway markers. Use this suggested itinerary that makes a loop around the region for stops at selected markers, or map out one of your own using the NHDHR app. Historical markers in Coos Country are included in both the Great North Woods and White Mountains sections of the app.
Evening: Settle into your room at the Mount Washington Resort in Bretton Woods, unpack and take a tour of the historic hotel, including its magnificent lobby. If weather permits take a spin in one of the rocking chairs on the veranda. Breathe in the crisp mountain air and be prepared for jaw-dropping views of Mt. Washington and the Presidential Range of the White Mountains! On your drive into the resort you may have noticed two of the historical markers on our list — one describing the magnificent Mt. Washington Hotel, itself, and the other highlighting the 1944 Bretton Woods Monetary Conference, which established the International Monetary Fund and World Bank following WWII (be sure to visit the actual room where the documents were signed, just off the hotel’s lobby).
Morning: Forgo the hotel’s breakfast for a later one at the Water Wheel Restaurant in Jefferson, famous for its dinner plate-sized pancakes! Head north to Lancaster and your first stop at the entrance to Weeks State Park on Route 3 and read about the Weeks Act of 1911, which established the national forest system in the East, including the White Mountain National Forest. The Lodge at the top of Mt. Prospect was the summer home of Lancaster native son Congressman John Wingate Weeks, who authored the historic legislation.
Pick up Route 2 East for expansive views of the Presidential Range and the marker explaining the history of Lake Coos, a huge lake formed by receding glaciers thousands of years ago. Further on is the marker commemorating Jefferson-born Thaddeus S.C. Lowe, an inventor, scientist and Civil War balloonist, who provided aerial reconnaissance to Union troops. In the center of Jefferson, take a short detour off the main highway, onto the Meadows Road, for the marker commemorating Granny Stalbird, 1755-1845. A travelling herbalist and the region’s first “doctress” she was well-known for her knowledge and care of early settlers. She is reputed to have brought the first Bible to the North Country when she arrived in 1796.
Following your hearty breakfast at the Water Wheel, continue east on Route 2 to the historical marker for the Ravine House, 1877-1963, in Randolph, a hotel favored by hikers and trail builders of the northern Presidential Range. At the height of its popularity between the two World Wars, the hotel accommodated some 100 guests and featured amenities like tennis courts, a bowling alley, trout fishing and a swimming pond. Today, Randolph offers some of the region’s best hiking, and the Randolph Mountain Club maintains over 100 miles of trails in the Crescent and Presidential Ranges.
Nest stop: Berlin. Learn about the Boom Piers, those funny wooden structures in the middle of the Androscoggin River, which were used during the heyday of log drives to separate a river full of logs and send them to the correct lumber mill downstream. Further north on Route 16, you can’t miss the towering 171-foot-high Nansen Ski Jump, once the tallest ski jump in the world! The 1938 Olympic trials were held here, as were the U.S. Ski Jumping National Championships in 1940, 1957, 1965, and 1972. It’s hard to believe those jumpers didn’t land in the middle of the river, but I guess they knew what they were doing!
Route 16 meanders along the Androscoggin River through a section called 13 Mile Woods, famous for its beauty and for the moose that frequent that stretch of highway. If you’re lucky you may see one — or more! Snap a few photos of the magnificent beasts, but don’t approach them — they are wild animals and unpredictable.
In Errol, pick up Route 26 toward Colebrook and set your sights on the towering cliffs of Dixville Notch, lovely Lake Gloriette and the beautiful Balsams Hotel (closed and awaiting renovations). Here you’ll find the marker for the country’s First in the Nation presidential primaries. Since 1920, Dixville’s handful of voters have cast the first votes in the nation. Media from around the world converge here every four years to report the results.
Afternoon: Stop for lunch in downtown Colebrook, where you’ll find a variety of restaurants. For freshly prepared soups, salads and sandwiches try the Moose Muck Coffee House. For a lighter lunch, experience a taste of Paris at Le Rendez Vous Bakery (look for the red and yellow building on Main Street), followed by a decadent dessert. Their breads and croissants are local favorites.
Just north of Colebrook, on Route 145, you’ll find one of the region’s most intriguing markers. Metallak, known as “The Lone Indian of the Magalloway,” was the last survivor of a band of Abnaki and reportedly died in 1847 at the age of 120. He is buried here in the North Hill Cemetery.
Also on Route 145 you can stand on the 45th Parallel, a point that is exactly halfway between the Equator and the North Pole. And, contrary to what I believed as a child, you won’t end up in China if you dig straight down through the center of the earth, but in the Indian Ocean, almost 1,000 miles southwest of Perth, Australia!
It’s time to set your sights southward along Route 3, which parallels the Connecticut River. From its headwaters at Fourth Connecticut Lake on the U.S./Canadian border in Pittsburg, the river travels 410 miles through four states and empties out in Long Island Sound in Connecticut. Make a stop just south of North Stratford to read about the annual spring Log Drives on the river, when thousands of trees cut down in nearby forests were floated downstream to market, tended by the “whitewater men” who risked their lives doing the hazardous work.
Don’t miss Camp Stark, German Prisoner of War Camp, just north of Groveton on Route 110. Approximately 250 German and Austrian soldiers lived here during World War II while working in the surrounding forests cutting the pulpwood necessary for the war effort. Some of the prisoners and local residents struck up friendships and a reunion of soldiers and townspeople was held here in 1986. Stark is also famous for its picture-postcard setting of white clapboard church and historic covered bridge in the center of town.
Return to Route 3 where your next stop is in Lancaster at the Wilder-Holton House at the junction of Routes 2 and 3 south. The structure was Coos County’s first two-story dwelling, and later became a tavern, a church, and a meeting place. Now a museum, it hosts a well-attended flea market on alternate Sundays during the summer months.
Just south of Lancaster on Route 3, you’ll again pass by the entrance to Weeks State Park. When the road is open during the summer season, it is worth the drive to the summit of Mt. Prospect, both for the panoramic views and a tour of the fire tower and the beautiful Weeks Lodge, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Back at the Mt. Washington Hotel, it’s time to put your feet up and enjoy an afternoon cocktail or tea on the veranda while you savor all of the day’s sights before tucking into a wonderful meal in the hotel’s dining room followed by a dream-filled sleep.
Check out the historic marker (on Base Station Road, just west of the hotel) describing the Mt. Washington Cog Railway and then hop aboard for an unforgettable ride — and breathtaking vistas — along the three-mile raised track to the summit of Mt. Washington. Built in 1869, the world’s first mountain climbing cog railway was once known as the Railway to the Moon!