Franconia Notch is known for its curious rock formations such as the Old Man of the Mountain, the Flume, and the Basin. The Old Man was “discovered” during an 1805 survey for a proposed state turnpike through the notch. Articles published between 1826 and 1828 let the world know of these geologic wonders, enticing early travelers to the White Mountains.
“The Great Stone Face, then, was a work of Nature in her mood of majestic playfulness, formed on the perpendicular side of a mountain by some immense rocks, which had been thrown together in such a position as, when viewed at a proper distance, precisely to resemble the features of the human countenance.”
– Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1850
In an October 9, 1828 journal entry, artist Thomas Cole wrote, “Through the pass called Franconia Notch there is a good road on which a small coach passes on its way to Plymouth. After taking a hearty breakfast and securing a little bread and cheese in case of necessity I sallied forth expecting the coach… to overtake me in the Notch.” With the many streams flowing through the Notch and the deep quiet of the region, Cole wrote that he “was often deceived by the sound of falling streams for among these mountains the sound of falling streams is always heard either whispering in the distance or thundering in the foreground.”
The first visitors to the White Mountains tended to come from three groups: those with wealth and time enough for the slow course through the mountains, those who came to do scientific research, and those who came on business. If travelers walked, they could average 14 to 18 miles per day; with horses, travelers could double the mileage. If they traveled with luggage and needed a coach, their movement could be slower than a walk.
In 1835, Stephen and Joseph Gibbs opened the Lafayette House, the first fashionable hotel in Franconia Notch to provide service to the pleasure traveler. When it first opened, the Lafayette House was so popular that guests often slept on the floor of the parlor when the rooms were full. It was the first of many hotels in the Notch.