In 1825, the Willey family moved to Crawford Notch to farm and host overnight travelers. The following summer, a severe storm struck the area. The family, anticipating a destructive rock slide, fled the house for safety but the house remained undisturbed while the Willey family perished. Drawn by the macabre disaster, the number of leisure travelers grew, the ultimate irony for the Willeys.
The Notch was a well-traveled commercial route, especially in the winter. As Nathaniel Hawthorne noted, the road through Crawford Notch was “a great artery through which the lifeblood of internal commerce is continually throbbing between Maine, on one side, and the Green Mountains and the shores of the St. Lawrence, on the other.” Some early travelers stayed with the Crawfords and were so impressed with the area that they hired them as mountain guides.
The Crawfords’ hospitality made them famous. Dr. Samuel Bemis made some of the first daguerreotypes in America, capturing images of the Crawfords’ inns around 1840. Cyrus Eastman and his partners purchased the Crawford House and, in 1859, built a new hotel with added amenities: gas lights, a post office, bowling alleys, gardens, and more. In the late 1870s, Shapleigh painted a nostalgic scene of the Notch House as it would have looked from the Crawford House porch had it not burned in 1859.
The speed of train travel, the increased numbers of guests, and a wide variety of accommodations opened the White Mountains to larger groups of people. As the nation turned its collective eyes west or focused on the benefits of industrialization, the White Mountains provided a nearby and increasingly accessible escape from the multiplying pressures of modern life.