The Presidential Range comprises seven mountains—all named for U.S. presidents—situated within the picturesque White Mountains of New Hampshire. Mount Washington is the highest peak in this contiguous, twenty-five-mile line of granite summits, precisely positioned where high altitude systems from the Great Lakes and Canada collide with warmer air from the southern states and eastern Atlantic. As a result, the unpredictable weather can turn deadly in winter, renowned for sub-zero temperatures and the fastest wind gusts on earth. In summer, the conditions are much calmer, affording spectacular views in all directions on a clear day. A small stone hotel was built atop the mountain in 1853, followed sixteen years later by a cog railroad, the first in the world. In the early 1870s, the old hotel was replaced by a cushier one, as tourism began to take root throughout the United States.
After the Civil War, a large portion of the country’s wealth was used to expand the railroads and build hotels, making it possible for even moderately well-to-do Americans to take long, leisurely vacations. The early resort hotels offered a similar variety of languid diversions, such as playing croquet on the front lawn, taking carriage rides to see the local sights, or simply lazing away a hot afternoon in the shade of a gazebo. Still, people traveled in all directions to partake in these summertime rituals. For holiday “excursionists” who loved the beach and strolling along the boardwalk, there were places like Atlantic City, Cape May, Ashbury Park and Long Branch. Church groups flocked to campgrounds on Martha’s Vineyard and Ocean Grove, while high society packed their trunks for the fancy dress balls at Newport, the hops at Bar Harbor, and the horse races at Saratoga Springs. Those seeking cooler climes took trains to the Catskills, the Adirondacks, Vermont’s Green Mountains and the White Mountains of New Hampshire, where some say it all began. In addition to brisk air and dramatic scenery, the absence of pollen was one of the key reasons many people favored the White Mountains in summer.
In his best-selling travelogue A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson describes the grand hotels that once dotted the valleys of the Granite State. Excerpts from the book appear below, along with seven menus from these fashionable resorts during their heyday. Although the cuisine is typical for the era, the menus contain a few small surprises, such as the lingering presence of an old-fashioned American wine or of an uncommon reoccurring dish that may have been a house specialty. They also reflect various aspects of the budding tourist industry, including the introduction of more vigorous leisure activities.
Crawford House - 1865
(Longworth’s sparkling Catawba wine)
(Lyonnaise chicken livers)
(Lyonnaise chicken livers)
(New roller skating rink)
Fabyan House - 1886
(Advertising a winter resort in Florida)
“Fashion was moving on. American vacationers were discovering the seaside. The White Mountain hotels were a little too dull, a little too remote and expensive, for modern tastes. Worse, they had begun to attract the wrong kind of people—parvenus from Boston and New York. Finally, and above all, there was the automobile. The hotels were built on the assumption that visitors would come for two weeks at least, but the car gave them a fickle mobility. In the 1924 edition of New England Highways and Byways from a Motor Car, the author gushed about the unrivaled splendor of the White Mountains—the tumbling cataracts of Franconia, the alabaster might of Washington, the secret charm of little towns like Lincoln and Bethlehem—and strongly urged visitors to give the mountains a full day and night. America was entering the age not just of the automobile but of the retarded attention span.
(Women’s golf makes a stylish appearance)
Mount Washington Hotel - 1903
(Bretton Woods farm peas)