50@50 Franconia NH
Landscape shapes culture, but the people who come from elsewhere create impose their own terms and names onto the landscape. It is so interesting how different waves of immigrants saw and named the landscape differently. Since I’m from the Midwest “Notch” was a new term – V-shaped cut, an indentation, a gap, a mountain pass –ahhh. I’m exploring the culture of central New Hampshire, and mountains here certainly have a lot of them.
Except for the coast, most of New Hampshire was historically occupied by what is today known collectively as the Western Abenaki which included the Winnipesaukee, Pigwacket, Sokoki, Cowasuck and Ossipee tribes. A culturally rich group of people, they set up villages with bark covered, houses along rivers and lakes so they could farm, hunt and fish. After epidemics resulted in population declines, most of the Abenaki retreated to Quebec during 1670s. While the White Mountains famously bear the appropriated names of our early presidents, many of the lakes and rivers reflect the names given by their original inhabitants.
In spite of the rocky terrain – this is the Granite State after all – most of New Hampshire was settled by farmers with small rural communities. With the hills and valleys blanketed with thick hardwoods, evergreens and shrubs, farming is difficult at best. Tourists began coming to the White Mountains to escape the dirty, noisy cities as early as the 1820s. Taverns accommodated travelers even escorting them into the mountains. Grand hotels began to be built in the 1850s with the expansion of the railroad. “As early as 1858, music was written specifically for the Grand Hotels in the White Mountains…describing the scenic gems of the region” including Franconia Notch. Hotel managers hired resident orchestras which played an important role at the hotels”. As a composer, I also am inspired to write about place. Not exactly a new idea!
The party didn’t last long. The railroads also brought timber barons who decimated the forests. By the end of the 19th century, debris clogged the waterways and the remaining rotting stumps sparked a torch. The loss of New Hampshire’s serene beauty caused a public outcry. Out of this plight, legislators passed a bill in 1911 to protect and manage the landscape establishing the National Forest Service.
One person was so inspired by the state’s beauty, that he won a Pulitzer in 1924 for writing about it. Robert Frost first moved to Derry in 1900 for eleven years to farm and write. The farming part didn’t work out. After three years in London, Frost returned to New Hampshire and purchased a small homestead in Franconia where he created a life writing and teaching – one so many artists know today. The farm has a path through a meadow and wood which he is reputed to have spent a lot of time. New Hampshire: A Poem with Notes and Grace Notes was awarded his first prize. The farm, now owned by the town of Franconia, houses a museum and poetry center called Frost Place.
Nearby I hiked Artist’s Bluff, just outside of Franconia. A short 1.5 mile hike, the terrain is rocky, with some steep steps at the end. Take your time and some water because the view to the east and south is amazing! Bald Knob is just a short extension and faces west. An easy hike a few miles south in Franconia Notch State Park is a 2 mile planked walk along a glacial gorge called The Flume Gorge.
New Hampshire’s rural heritage and historic traditions are the backbone of the state’s character. An important part of its culture is agriculture. Native Americans gave us the process to make maple syrup, and maple lined farms produce a lot of it. Politically conservative and involved in their communities, people are proud of their landscape and heritage and work hard to preserve it.