Allure of the White Mountains

The Allure of the White Mountains

What was the allure of the White Mountains? Why did people maintain a fascination with the area even as American culture underwent massive changes? Drawn by the dramatic depiction of the mountains, many early visitors came to the mountains to see the hand of God at work. Others were interested in scientific study while still others came because it was fashionable to do so. These groups were urban, sophisticated, and well educated. They had the time to read, study, and recreate in the mountains. By the 1850s, some in the leisured middle class were able to afford the time and train travel to vacation in the mountains. Their stints in the mountains included less time and covered less distance than that of the more well-to-do. Middle class tourists generally followed a set path and stayed in smaller hotels and boarding houses. The allure of the mountains increased after the Civil War as many people sought escape from the rapidly changing technology in crowded cities, but still demanded urban amenities in the mountains. Tourism in the White Mountains was democratized during this time as the middle class was able to seek pleasure away from their daily urban lives. They slipped the bands of their time-governed lives to re-create themselves among the mountains.

Each visitor was drawn to the mountains with personal expectations. He or she might be seeking serenity, excitement, entertainment, recreation, or personal challenge. Throughout the nineteenth-century, guests arrived in ever increasing numbers. They traveled by coach, wagon, and on foot, with time to explore and find the sites that would become popular. The slow excursions of the 1830s were accompanied by fewer demands and more rustic accommodations as well as additional time for introspection. They could apply what they read to their mountain experiences. Each could explore unknown sections of the forest. It was a powerful but privileged experience. Their time in the mountains encouraged artists to paint the sublime and beautiful. The distance they traveled also encouraged investors to put money into improved transportation through the mountains. They prepared the mountains for tourism.

As the urban east discovered the accessible wilderness at their backdoor, they commercialized nature through advertisements, more rapid transportation, and art. Later tourists found the mountain hotels had become extensions of urban life, and they reveled in that. They explored the known gentle paths and shared their tales. Civilization had tamed the wilderness. By the later nineteenth century, the drama in White Mountain travel was gone. Tourists knew what awaited them. But the mountains remained, drawing in the hiker, artist, thinker, climber, and disciple of the hills to pass through the mountains.—Marcia Schmidt Blaine


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