New Hampshire: Some Mount Washington Firsts

Called the “Crown of New England,

the White Mountains have been both awe inspiring and a final destination. The highest mountain in the northeast, it was first climbed (by European colonists) in 1642 by Darby Field and two native guides.

But the earliest winter climbers are all but forgotten.  The first winter ascent of Mount Washington was accomplished by Lucius Hartshorn, of Lancaster, son-in-law of Samuel F. Spaulding, one of the proprietors of the Tip-Top House.**

Lucius was a deputy sheriff of Coos County, and as such was employed by his father-in-law, in the winter of 1858, to go up the Mountain and make an attachment of property at the Summit in connection with litigation as to the title.  The noted guide, Benjamin F. Osgood, of the Glen House, who died in December 1907 at the age of seventy-eight, was Mr. Hartshorn’s companion in this first scaling of Mount Washington in winter, which was done on the 7th of December in the first-named year.  Their course was up the carriage road to the Halfway House and thence over the crust to the top.  Mr. Osgood, who had piloted many distinguished men through the Mountains in the old Concord coaches or on horseback over the Mountain trails, and who had a large fund of reminiscences of the early days, used often to tell of his thrilling experience on this historic occasion.

Some of the details of their stay on the Summit, and of the descent, are given in an issue of the “Coos Republican.” On arriving, they immediately worked to enter one of the houses, which, as these were covered with snow, was a work requiring time.  Unable to force an entrance at the doors, they finally got in through a window, on which the frost was a foot and a half in thickness. The interior of the hotel was like a tomb, the walls and all the furniture being draped with some four inches of frost, while the air was extremely biting and the darkness was such that a lamp was necessary to enable them to distinguish objects.  As delay was dangerous in the extreme, the two men, their legal duty having been performed, prepared to return.  Upon emerging, they saw to the southwest a cloud, which was coming on toward them with alarming swiftness and which rapidly increased in volume.

Knowing that to be caught in this frost cloud would probably be fatal, they hurried on and just managed to reach the woods at the base of the Ledge, when it enfolded them. So icy and penetrating was it, that to have encountered it on the unprotected part of the Mountain would have been to have perished in its enveloping pall.  They intrepid pair reached the Glen in safety, where they received a hearty welcome from their anxious friends.

Lucius Hartshorn’s wife managed the Tip Top House for three seasons. In a letter she gave a vivid description of the difficulty of managing a hotel on the Mountain at that day. Everything had to be brought on horses’ backs from the Glen House, and fresh meat, potatoes, milk, and cream were absent from the menu. Among the supplies kept on hand were bacon, ham, tripe, tongue, eggs, and rice, and pancakes, johnnycake, friend cakes, and varieties of hot bread and biscuit were served. The number of guests for dinner was very uncertain and could be roughly estimated only from the number of visitors at the foot of the Mountain and from the weather conditions.  Among her guests she names Jefferson Davis, Charles Sumner, Horace Greeley, and William H. Seward.

She was born Mary Baker Spaulding, b. 11 March 1832, d. 13 Dec 1924; m. 15 Aug 1864 as his third wife, Lucius Hartshorn of Stratford NH innkeeper, Sheriff (Thompon’s History of Stratford, p 146) and of Charles City, Iowa in 1871, real-estate manager. He was b. at Norwich VT 22 Aug 1825, d. 11 Feb 1917, son of Reuben and Anna (Hunt) Hartshorn.  Mary was the dau of Samuel Fitch & Lucy Maria (Cole) Hartshorn. see p. 21 of “Cole Family of Stark, NH, descendants of Solomon Cole of Beverly MA; NY, 1932, by Henry Winthrop Hardon.

Another noteworthy winter ascent was accomplished on February 10-11, 1862, by John H. Spaulding, Chapin C. Brooks and Franklin White a photographer, all of Lancaster, NH who spent two days and nights in the old Summit House.

The first known person to perish on the Mountains was the victim of his own rashness and obstinacy
. Frederick Strickland, the eldest son of Sir George Strickland, an eminent member of British Parliament, came to Thomas J. Crawford’s Notch House one day in the latter part of October 1851.  An heir to large estates, a graduate of Cambridge University, and a cultivated scholar, he was then about thirty-five years of age.  The next day after his arrival at the hotel, he set out, in company with another Englishman and a guide to ascend the mountains via the Crawford Bridle Path.  On the summit of Clinton they encountered deep snow and a wintry wind. The guide advised him to turn back, which he refused to do. The guide and his companion returned to Crawfords.  Finding that he had not returned by the following day, they went in search of him. Two days later they recovered his frozen body lying face down in a stream.  Four years later a young woman, Miss Lizzie C. Bourne of Kennebunk Maine, dau of Judge Edward E. Bourne of York County, died during a climb near the railroad track and the Summit House.  The location at the time was marked with a monument.


*Related Reading*

The Summit of Mount Washington-

Surviving Mount Washington

New Hampshire Web Cam Tourist (previous blog post here)-

Arm Chair Tourist (blog)-

**The majority of this section of the text was taken directly from “Chronicles of the White Mountains,” by Frederick Wilkinson Kilbourne; Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1916, page 305

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  1. Pingback: Death on Mt. Washington: The Tale of Lizzie Bourne | Cow Hampshire

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