Conway Valley

April 3rd, 2013 by Lindsay

Tourists took home White Mountain art, guidebooks, sheet music, china, and maps that reminded them of their time in the mountains. After the Civil War, the middle class began to holiday in the mountains, away from their lives in the cities. They generally followed a set path and stayed in smaller hotels and boarding houses. With easy access, rapid travel, and comfortable accommodations, civilization had tamed the wilderness.


The charismatic artist Benjamin Champney arrived in the White Mountains in 1850, amazed by what he found in Saco Valley. In 1853, he settled in North Conway, where he welcomed clients and artists to his home. As he wrote in his memoire, Sixty Years’ Memories of Art and Artists: “Thus every year brought fresh visitors to North Conway as the news of its attractions spread, until in 1853 and 1854 the meadows and the banks of the Saco were dotted all about with white umbrellas [shielding artists from the summer sun] in great numbers.”

College student F.W. Sanborn left Marblehead, Massachusetts at 6:30 a.m. on a July morning in 1874 and arrived in Lisbon, New Hampshire at 5 p.m. “Our ride of 175 miles was without unpleasantness. There were no disagreeable people on the cars: there were no noisy babies.” His journal includes nothing about the world outside his window. Instead, he was interested in the relaxation and distractions vacation could bring.


Samuel Thompson’s Tavern became a haven for artists beginning in 1850 when Benjamin Champney, John Kensett, and John Casilear discovered the area. Champney noted that by 1852 “there was quite a little knot of artists at Thompson’s and we nearly filled the dining room in the old house.” Thompson made sure that the artists who received special rates signed their paintings identifying the place as “North Conway.”  It was good advertising for the artists, the town, and vacationers.