Today was a wonderful fall day in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and we set out for the summit of Mt. Israel. We were in the mood for a long circuit hike; so instead of retracing our steps, we descended via a trail that led us into the backcountry; and then we returned to our car via Sandwich Notch Road.
Sandwich Notch Road runs about eight miles from Center Sandwich to Thornton, New Hampshire. This road is the only one of its kind in America. Both its location and character have been unchanged from the early 1800s, when it functioned as a critical part of the heavily traveled trade route from the seacoasts of New Hampshire and Maine to the mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont.
At its peak, over 300 families lived along the road. Once there were farms, sawmills, stores, taverns, and schoolhouses. Now all that remains is a cemetery and old cellar holes. Where once was open space, now is the densely forested Sandwich Range Wilderness of the White Mountains National Forest.
Life was hard. The Halls lost Ada, age 7, and Willie, age 11, within a month of each other in 1869. This photo is from a cemetery, in the woods off Sandwich Notch Road, that is protected by the American Antiquities Act of 1906.
America’s First Billboard? The writing carved on an overhanging rock on the side of the road advertises a general store and reads: P. Wentworth 6mls 1838
A Quaker minister, Joseph Meader, spoke on fair-weather Sundays from the top of Pulpit Rock to his congregation which would assemble below.
What happened? After the Civil War young people began to leave for an easier and more prosperous life in the mills of Massachusetts. The forest began to encroach on the cleared land until nothing remained. The value of a homestead fell to zero.
Talk about an impact on the community—but, there was nobody to bail them out. Of course, this cycle of the birth and death of a community was played out all over America. It was played out as technological innovations and industrial changes favored some communities over others and as preferences of consumers changed, and it played out for reasons that can never be fully understood.
To try to prevent any of this would have been sheer insanity. The thought probably never crossed anyone’s mind.