Franconia New Hampshire Hotel Owner & Early Tourism Promoter: Richard Taft (1812-1881)

Before Richard Taft arrived in the White Mountains, it was a pretty quiet place, even in the summer. He was greatly responsible in the early days for building the tourist business of the area through his hotels and promotions.

The Flume House, from page 171 of "Views of the White Mountains with  Descriptions," by M.F. Sweetser

The Flume House, from page 171 of “Views of the White Mountains with
Descriptions,” by M.F. Sweetsereven during the summer.

At the White Mountain Notch the Crawfords kept a small hostelry, whose visitors were mostly farmers making their annual “pilgrimage to Portland” (to sell their farm goods). The Rosebrooks had been succeeded by Horace Fabyan, at the small hotel named after its owner. A score or two of visitors from cities drove, rode or climbed Mt. Washington each summer. In the Franconia Notch, near where the Profile House later stood, Stephen C. and Joseph L. Gibb kept the Lafayette House, furnishing entertainment for not more than fifty guests. Although the capacity of these houses was limited, they easily handled the needs of the time.

Richard Taft, born in Vermont in 1812 was, as a very young man, literally on his own. By the age of nine he was living in Alstead New Hampshire, working on a farm until 1830.  At that time he entered the hotel business, working for a hotel in North Chelmsford Massachusetts.  He must have worked diligently, as within two years, he was made a partner.  Later he was landlord of the Washington House in Nashua NH, and then another hotel in Tyngsborough, MA.   From 1844 to 1849 he was the lessee and landlord of the Washington House in Lowell, Mass.

According to some records, the Flume House was first known as an inn by the name of  Knight’s Tavern. However, Richard Taft purchased the property, and built the first Flume House in 1848. At that time travel to this area was rare.  Bristol was the closest location that could be reached by railroad, and there were only a few small hotels in the area, that easily handled the traveling public.

Richard Taft was keenly alive to the wonderful beauties of Franconia Notch, and never for a moment wavered in his faith in their attractions. He worked quietly behind the scenes to promote Franconia Notch, and the White Mountains as a tourist destination.

When he began hotel keeping at the Flume House, the price of board was $1.50 a day. The entire receipts of his first season were only eighteen hundred dollars, but, as business increased from year to year, Mr. Taft “with characteristic enterprise,” purchased the Lafayette House, a hotel five miles above, and a tract of land around it,

In 1852, with his associates George T. Brown and Ira Coffin, he began the building of the Profile House. This famous hotel was completed and opened to the public in 1853, with a capacity of one hundred and ten rooms, which was increased by a large addition in 1866, the year after Colonel Greenleaf entered the firm.

From 1865 to 1869 the proprietors were Taft, Tyler and Greenleaf.  In the latter year Mr. Tyler retired from the firm.  In 1872 extensive additions and improvements, including the great dining-hall, were made by Messrs. Taft and Greenleaf, the new firm.

The old Flume House having been burned in 1871, the second hotel was rebuilt in 1872, even grander, erected on the same site, with the two properties being under the same ownership. The first of the group of cottages, which formed such a feature of the Profile House settlement, was built in 1868.

In their heyday, 25 coaches loaded every evening and departed every morning from Plymouth. They visited Profile House, and picked up passengers at Flume House, and then reached Plymouth in time to connect with train to Boston. After meeting the northbound train, the coach left for return trip to Profile House. Arriving by 6 pm. The trip was 29 miles one-way.

Mr. Taft gradually acquired a title to the vast tract of land extending from the Profile farm in Franconia by Bald mountain through the valley to and beyond the Flume House. Richard Taft was not only the owner of this land, and these two hotels, but also one of the proprietors of the Profile Franklin Notch Railroad, and at his death he was president of the company.

In 1918 the Flume House burned down for the final time. It was replaced by a restaurant, then a tourist center. The contemporary visitors center was built as part of the Notch Parkway project in 1986. The Profile House was located at the northern end of the notch about where Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway is now. In 1923 a fire destroyed the Profile House.

During the summer of 1932 Katharine Peckett, a proponent of alpine skiing, realized a need for appropriate ski slopes in the area, spearheaded a drive to raise funds from Franconia and surrounding communities for the construction of same. She was successful, and construction took place in the summer and fall of 1933 on land owned by the State of New Hampshire and by the heirs of Richard Taft.

In 1933, the Richard Taft Trail was cut on the north face of Cannon Mountain. ‘This fast, steep, wide, Class A race trail’ set a new standard for down-mountain descents, and it was an instant hit with the Boston-area ski clubs. The state of New Hampshire decided in the late 1930’s to build an aerial tramway that would serve the Taft and its sister trails. The tramway from Franconia Notch to the summit of Cannon-the first aerial tramway in the U.S. and a remarkable feat of engineering-opened in June 1938 on the north face. Tucker Brook and Coppermine were swiftly forgotten.

The Franconia Notch region in particular, and New Hampshire in general, owes a great debt to Richard Taft, for what he accomplished in the development of the New Hampshire mountain country as a summer resort and in the introduction of city conveniences, methods and cuisine into hotel life here.

Janice

———–
BRIEF BIOGRAPHY and SOME DESCENDANTS of RICHARD TAFT

RICHARD TAFT, a distinguished hotel proprietor, son of Phineas & Polly (Bliss) Taft was born in Barre VT March 14, 1812 and died at Littleton NH February 14, 1881.

On May 23, 1839 in Hancock NH, he was married to Miss Lucinda Knight, daughter of Aaron & Rebecca (Adams) Knight. She was born 5 Sep 1817 at Hancock NH and died 18 Oct 1895 at Boston, Suffolk Co. MA. She was, in every way, especially fitted for the work and position of a landlady, and it was often his remark that she had done more than her share to establish his reputation as a hotel-keeper.

For the nine months before his death, he was an invalid and confined to the house. He left a wife, one daughter, Mrs. Charles F. Eastman of Littleton, two sisters and a brother, Denison Taft of Montpelier VT. He left a legacy of $1000 to the New Hampshire Orphans’ Home at Franklin, the income only to be used.

Richard Taft’s only child and daughter, Mary Ida Taft, b. 3 Oct 1850 in Lincoln, Grafton Co NH d. 19 Apr 1887 in Littleton, Grafton Co NH; m. 15 Sep 1875 to Charles F. Eastman, he b. 1 Oct 1841 in Littleton NH, son of Cyrus & Susan French (Tilton) Eastman. He m2nd 4 March 1891 in NH or VT to Mary Rebecca Colby. She b. 9 Apr 1857 in Candia, Rockingham Co NH. She d. 9 May 1899 in Boston MA
Children of Charles F. & Mary Ida (Taft) Eastman:
1. Richard Taft Eastman, b. 2 Jan 1881 in Littleton NH; m. 4 June 1902 in Littleton NH to Elizabeth Hartshorn, daughter of Harry C. & Mary E. (Grant) Hartshorn. She b. 1883 in VT. In 1920 living in Northumberland, Coos Co NH with wife and in-laws, Harry C. (age 69 VT CT VT) and Mary E. (66 NH NH NH) Hartshorn. In 1930 living with wife in Pittsburg, Coos Co. NH occupation hotel manager. In 1940 they were living in Pittsburg NH, occupations: his a clerk in logging camp, hers a proprietor of a sporting camp. No children shown in any censuses.
2. Ida Taft Eastman, b. 28 Dec 1886 in Littleton NH, and died January 1965 in PA; she married 20 Dec 1913 at Boston MA to Stewart O. Elting, son of Oscar & Fannie B. (Stewart) Elting. He was b. abt 1883 at Fort Grant, AZ. They removed to various places including the Phillipine Islands, Georgia,  Shawnee, Frederick Co. Virginia, and in 1940 in Woodbury, Litchfield Co., CT.  They had at least 3 children: (1) Charles H. Elting, b 13 Sep 1916, Manila, Philippines; (2) Steward E. Elting , b 20 September 1914 in Georgia, died October 1983 in Cumberland, Pennsylvania; and (3)  Anne Elting, b 18 Aug 1918 in Charleston, South Carolina; m. — Eldridge.

Sources:
1. Chronicles of the White Mountains by Frederick Wilkinson Kilbourne; Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1916
2. Granite Monthly, March 1881
3. FamilySearch — various birth, marriage, death and census records.
——————

Additional Reading about White Mountain History:
1. Willey, Benjamin G. & Thompson, Frederick (revised) “History of the White Mountains.”; 1870, New York, Hurd and Houghton & Cambridge Riverside Press.
2. Sweetser, M.F. “Views of the White Mountains with Descriptions.” Portland: 1879, Chisholm Brothers.
3. Kilbourne, Frederick W. “Chronicles of the White Mountains with Illustrations.” 1916. Boston and New York. Houghton Mifflin Company.
4. The History of the White Mountains from the First Settlement of Upper Coos and Pequaket, by Lucy, Wife of Ethan Allen Crawofrd, Esq. First published in 1845. Portland Maine, 1886, B. Thurston & Company
5. Historic Relics of the White Mountains, by John H. Spaulding, 1855, Boston, Published by Nathaniel Noyes
6. The Mountains and Other Nature Sketches, by Olin Alfred Curtis, c1920, The Abingdon Press
7. Incidents in White mountain history: containing facts relating to the discovery and settlement of the mountains, Indian history and traditions, a minute and authentic account of the destruction of the Willey family, geology and temperature of the mountains; together with numerous anecdotes illustrating life in the back woods (1856), New York and Boston
8. Historical relics of the White Mountains. Also, a concise White Mountain guide; and a meteorological table for 1853-4, giving the indications of the thermometer, on the top of Mount Washington, at sunrise, noon, and sunset, with a synopsis of the same for each summer month – Spaulding, John H, 1855
9. The White hills; their legends, landscape, and poetry – King, Thomas Starr, 1824-1864; Boston, Crosby, Nichols and Company
10. Buel, J.W. America’s wonderlands : a pictorial and descriptive history of our country’s scenic marvels as delineated by pen and camera (c1893)
11. When the Mountains are White a chapter from New England and Its Neighbors written and illustrated by Clifton Johnson 1902, New York, The MacMillan Company [a logging camp in the white mountains]

[article updated January 2014]

This entry was posted in Genealogy, New Hampshire Men, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Franconia New Hampshire Hotel Owner & Early Tourism Promoter: Richard Taft (1812-1881)

  1. Mark F. Hardy says:

    Thanks for all the info. I have recently been reconstructing out Knight family history of which includes Mrs. Lucinda Knight Taft. Much appreciated. Always fun to learn history this was. We didn’t know Lucinda was a pioneer of sorts.

Leave a Reply