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Monday, August 10, 2020

Summer Tourist Trade

The Breezy Point House at the base of Mt. Moosilauke's Carriage Road hosted summer tourists seeking relief from the stifle of the city.  It featured a challenging golf course.
Below: Around 1902, Hope Farm in Bradford offered large airy rooms and a good table to those looking for a moderately-price summer lodging.  With spectacular views of the New Hampshire mountains, it touted its location above the fogs of the valley. (Bradford Historical Society)

Journal Opinion August 5, 2020 “It is not to be forgotten that many classes of our people derive direct benefit from the host of summer tourists who are coming to our State and spending the heated term at hotels and boarding houses and in some instances buying summer places for themselves.” Burlington Free Press, Dec.14, 1905

For over 200 years, area residents have invited strangers to visit, enjoy and explore the pristine environment while sampling the local way of life. We have invited them to stay at our hotels and cabins, youth camps, and even our farms and village homes.
As early communities grew, local entrepreneurs provided housing for both tourists and commercial guests year-round. The first major hostels developed along stage and railroad centers whereas others developed near physical attractions. The following are examples from area towns. Significantly greater coverage of this topic is included in Over the River and Through the Years, Book Five by Katharine Blaisdell.

Sadly, most of the establishments mentioned have disappeared. Many burned and were not rebuilt. Others were re-purposed or torn down.
Early hotels that prospered because of their location near stagecoach roads included hotels in Haverhill Corners. The Exchange Hotel, the Hotel Merrill, and the Bliss Tavern met the needs of scores of passengers who arrived each night. Sessions of the nearby county court brought additional guests.

The village of Orford offered an equally attractive setting as well as a stopover for those traveling through. Washington Irving is quoted as saying “In all my travels in this country and Europe I have seen no village more beautiful. It is a charming place. Nature has done her upmost here.”

The Orford Hotel and Hale’s Hotel/ Elm House offered early lodging. In Aug 1871, it was reported, "There are now in Orford a large number of city boarders who have come to stop through the hot weather…”

In Groton village, two hotels included the Railroad House and the American House. Lodging serving travelers along the Bayley-Hazen Road and Route 5 in Ryegate included Peters’ Tavern and Long Meadow Farm. The Rowe tavern in Corinth Center did a thriving business during stagecoach travel on the Old Post Road.

There were two commercial hotels serving the mining industries with were the Ryegate Granite Works Hotel and the Eagle Hotel in West Fairlee operating near the Ely Mine in Vershire. Of the latter it was written, “There is no better place to study human nature than in the bar-room of the old Eagle Hotel in West Fairlee.”

The commercial centers of Bradford, Wells River, and Woodsville each had at least one major hotel. Each hosted guests who first arrived by stage and later rail and auto. In Bradford, the Trotter House offered downtown accommodations from 1846 until it burned in 1887. Just before it was destroyed, the local newspaper reported, "A party of Boston ladies and gentlemen are rusticating in our village."

The Hotel Low replaced that hotel in 1890. It was common for tourists to stay at the hotel for a month or more during the summer. In July 1895, the United Opinion reported, "Hotel Low is rapidly filling up with summer boarders." It was renamed the Bradford Inn in 1924 and a golf course was built with the first tee on its rear lawn.

The dominant hotel in Wells River was the Coosuck House built about 1830. It was renamed the Wells River House before being destroyed by fire in 1892. In 1895, Hales’s Tavern opened on the site. It was described as having 39 pleasant and nicely furnished rooms and all the modern conveniences of the day.

The arrival of the railroad created the need for hotels in Woodsville. The Parker House was built in 1872, followed by the adjacent Hotel Wentworth in 1890. The latter had 25 large guest rooms. Their clientele was primarily commercial travelers.

Mountain locations were especially appealing to summer tourists. The Breezy Point House at the base of Mt. Moosilauke’s Carriage Road opened in 1886. Later renamed the Moosilauke Inn, it hosted wealthy summer guests at a time when they arrived in July and stayed until Labor Day, trading the stifle of the city for the fresh air of the mountains. Its challenging golf course, nicknamed "the St. Andrews of the Mountains," was a major attraction.

Maplewood Tourists’ Inn was a summer resort located in the hills of West Corinth. From its establishment in 1886, “the fame of Maplewood grew as guests, some of them famous in the theatrical and business world, poured in from all over the country.”

Another early location for Vermont tourist hotels was adjacent to mineral springs. The only local site that offered hotel guests the opportunity to “take the waters” was in the village of Newbury. The Spring Hotel and the Montebello House were both located there, attracted by the nearby sulphur and iron springs.

In addition to bathing in the curative waters, tourists were invited to hike the neighboring hills, cruise, swim and fish in local waters or just relax. In August 1873, some of the guests of the Spring House tried something different. They took a ride to Bradford in primitive fashion, riding in spring board wagons.

If a community had the luck of having a lake, summer tourists were more likely to visit. The Connecticut River did not have the same impact. One only has to compare the effects of Lake Morey as a tourist attraction on Fairlee and the lack of impact of the same acreage of Connecticut River waters on riverside towns.

Fairlee had the fortune to have one lake and the part of another. Many private cottages hosted guests from both adjacent towns and down country. There was also the Glen Falls House that hosted up to 75 guests until it was destroyed by fire in 1912. The United Opinion in August 1895 suggested that lakefront facilities "was especially desirable to that large and increasing class of tourists of moderate means who desire quiet and retirement and restful recreation."

Kaulin Inn was built at the south end of the lake in 1909. The following summer, the United Opinion wrote that its accommodations featured “every modern improvements”. It was later renamed the Lake Morey Inn and the golf course was added. Added to these was the nearby Rutledge Inn and, at the other end of the lake, Bonnie Oakes.

Fairlee shared Lake Fairlee with Thetford. That town's inns were influenced by the need for housing for summer visitors to the lake as well as the earlier stagecoach routes and the copper mining industry. Each village in Thetford had at least one inn, including the Commodore House in Post Mills and the Porter Tavern in Thetford Center.

In Piermont, the largest hostelry was the Lake Tarleton Club. First established as a tavern serving turnpike travelers, it later became a private residence. In 1910, it was developed into a lakeside resort catering to urban tourists. One observer described the throngs of wealthy tourists who “began to crowd the place which had a few years before been very nearly a wilderness.”

At a time when Jewish tourists were not welcomed at many establishments, the Club offered a luxurious summer resort for “unrestricted clientele". It was reported that during the height of the season there were hundreds of guests at the Club at any one time. The Club closed in the late 1960s.

At Groton's Ricker Pond was the Lake House, a hotel for summer boarders. It was a two-story facility with a beautiful view of the pond plus opportunities for fishing.

After 1870, farm abandonment was having a major impact on both local population and tax receipts. Agencies in both states, along with the railroad companies, began a major campaign to sell farms to new residents, either as permanent homes or summer residences.

By 1911, spurred on by The New Hampshire Plan,” 4,000 New Hampshire farms had been sold to summer residents. The campaign “Vermont As Home” preceded the “Vermont the Beckoning Country” campaign by a full century. In 1875, The Vermont Farmer mentioned, "many towns have farms for sale that would make fine summer homes. Available farms in 1891 included an East Haverhill 300 acre farm with a 10-room house and barn for $800. A similar one in Bradford was available for $1,500.

Farmers "awoke to the fact that city boarders paid better than farming." Many came to understand that "milking the city people for their money" was more profitable than milking cows.

One Vermont newspaper published a letter entitled "The Vermont Farmer and his Wife." It indicated, "They do not ask too much for board." It praised “the role of the farmer's wife in bringing in more ready money than the land ever yields.”

The Hope Farm on Goshen Road in Bradford is a good example of farm tourism. In addition to large airy rooms and a good table, the farm offered a spectacular view of the New Hampshire mountains above the fogs of the valley. This was especially important at a time when tuberculous was epidemic. Nevertheless, not all were welcomed. Advertisements stated "Protestants preferred."

In each village, there were also businesses such as tourist homes, tea rooms, and livery stables that prospered from the summer trade. As the auto traffic increased, roadside stands and tourist cabins began to appear.

Some village homes were purchased for part-time residency. Some of the luxurious homes on the Ridge in Orford became summer homes for individuals who spent the rest of the year elsewhere.

Orford historian Art Pease writes that the 1905 newspaper notice that “Helen Dana (of Boston) has opened her home on the Ridge for the summer” is the first mention of the Ridge houses as “summer homes.” Subsequent notices refer to the coming and goings of Ridge folks from their winter homes. These summer homes were opened as early as March and some residents stayed as late as November.

After 1885, the Old Home Week movement in both states was part of the effort to stem the population exodus as well as draw new residents. These elaborate celebrations, as well as alumni reunions, were a great success and offered a major attraction for summer tourists. Residents and tourists enjoyed a variety of events to celebrate the towns and their histories. In Fairlee, residents work with “summer people” to hold an annual Fairlee Day, a partnership that has lasted.

Residential youth camps have flourished in the Upper Valley from early in the 20th century. Some were established by individuals who are considered pioneers in the youth camping movement. The earliest were Miss Farwell’s Summer Camp for Girls on Hall’s Lake and a short-lived summer camp at Maplewood Farm in West Corinth. By 1910, other camps had been established. Those included Camp Aloha on Lake Morey, Hanoum in Thetford, Billings on Lake Fairlee and Moosilauke in Orford and Pemigewasset in Wentworth.

Within the next decade, there was Tahoma on Lake Tarleton, Pinnacle in Lyme, Stinson in Thetford Center, among others.

Campers, many of them from urban areas, arrived on special train cars that stopped at area stations. Whether they came for the whole season or just a part, the campers learned to swim, sail and canoe on area lakes and rivers. Along with their counselors, they practiced handicrafts, played group games, hiked local mountains, tented in wilderness areas, and went horseback riding on wooded trails. For city youth, this was “fun with a purpose,” a fulfillment of the back to the country movement, nature up close and personal.

The summer camp industry had a major impact on the local economy. It offered employment to locals and a market for area businesses and farmers. Parent’s weekend or alumni gatherings had a significant impact on local hotels and restaurants.

In subsequent years, the summer tourist trade in both states evolved into a year-round economic boon with millions of visitors annually. While the Upper Valley may not have the same attractions as other areas of the Northeast, the economic disruption of the current pandemic indicates just how important that trade is to the local economy. We look forward to the time when the typical flood of tourists will again be welcomed.

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