Pemigewasset Wilderness, Random History – This designated wilderness is the result of one the greatest conservation laws ever passed; the Wilderness Act, which has protected over 109 million acres across the United States. While the history of New Hampshire's Pemigewasset Wilderness mostly revolves around the East Branch & Lincoln Railroad, the railroad is not the only interesting piece of history surrounding this unique region of the White Mountains. This blog article features random tidbits of history about this one of a kind designated wilderness area.
One of the grandest pieces of New Hampshire logging railroad history, trestle No. 16 (above) collapsed in late May or early June 2018. Spanning Black Brook, it stood for over 100 years and became a favorite attraction among outdoor enthusiasts. Logging railroads were built to be temporary and its remarkable that this trestle stood for as long as it did. The last log train rolled over this trestle most likely in the summer or fall of 1946.
In the 20th-century, there was concern that a highway, connecting the Kancamagus Highway to Route 302, was going to be built through today’s Pemigewasset Wilderness. To prevent this from happening, outdoor groups began pursuing the Wilderness designation for this wilderness. But Forest Service suggested too first use the more easily obtainable scenic area designation too quickly protect the area from any highway building. And in 1969 the Lincoln Woods Scenic Area, consisting of 18,560 acres of this wilderness, was created. Once the scenic area designation was in place, the highest level of protection for federal lands was pursued. And in 1984, the United States Congress designated the 45,000-acre Pemigewasset Wilderness. With the exception of about 1,200 acres, the Lincoln Woods Scenic Area became part of the Pemigewasset Wilderness.
When it comes to conserving the character of designated wilderness areas, today’s cry to maintain the primitive trails in the Pemigewasset Wilderness to city park standards is similar to the 1960s highway proposal.
Bondcliff, Mount Bond, and West Bond were named in 1876 for Professor G.P. Bond of Harvard University. In 1853, Professor Bond created a detailed map of the White Mountains. And he is among the first geographers to create a somewhat accurate map of the White Mountains.
Because these mountains are on the White Mountain Four Thousand Footers hiking list, this region of the Pemigewasset Wilderness is heavily visited. However, because of the tight wilderness management guidelines of the Wilderness Act, the Bonds are still one of the most peaceful locations in the White Mountains.
During the late 1800s and early 1900s, railroad logging contributed to a number of forest fires in the White Mountains. Sparks from locomotives were responsible for starting fires along the railroads. And the logging slash (unwanted part of the tree left behind after an area is logged) left on the mountainsides fueled the forest fires.
The infamous August 1907 Owl’s Head Mountain fire was started by a lightning strike on the eastern side of Owl’s Head Mountain in an area that had been previously logged by J.E. Henry and Sons. Fueled by logging slash, the fire burned for days, and the smoke could be seen from miles away. An estimated 10,610 acres of forest burned in the area surrounding Owl's Head.
From the late 1800s to the early 1920s, Franconia Brook was known as Red Rock Brook. And the brook on the western side of Owl’s Head (today’s Lincoln Brook) was called Franconia Brook; there was no Lincoln Brook in the early years. Between 1920 and 1924, the names of both brooks were changed on maps to Lincoln Brook and Franconia Brook.
In the early years of the Wilderness Trail, the trail began on the south side of the East Branch & Lincoln Railroad’s trestle No. 17 and followed much of the old railroad bed to Stillwater Junction. Above logging Camp 18, at the first crossing of the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River, a cable car was used during the 1940s to cross the river. Above is likely remnants of the old cable car.
On Saturday, February 21, 1959, a Piper Comanche airplane took off from the Berlin, New Hampshire Airport, around 3:30 p.m., destined for Lebanon, New Hampshire Airport. The pilot was Dr. Ralph E. Miller, and his passenger was Dr. Robert E. Quinn. Both were doctors affiliated with Dartmouth Medical School.
Unfortunately, they ended up crashing in a remote area of the Pemigewasset Wilderness along the abandoned North Fork Branch (at the time, a section of the Thoreau Falls Trail) of the East Branch & Lincoln Railroad, near “New” Camp 22. The doctors successfully crash-landed and survived for four days before dying of exposure. It wasn’t until months later in May that the crash site was discovered by a plane flying over the area. At the crash site, the search party found the bodies of the two doctors and a journal they had kept during the four days.
One of the more intriguing pieces of Pemigewasset Wilderness history is the possible remnants of a logging sluice (above) on the side of Southwest Twin Mountain in Redrock Ravine. To date, there is no known information that suggests J.E. Henry and Sons’ East Branch & Lincoln Railroad built a logging sluice in this ravine. And while this rock structure resembles a section of a sluice, its real purpose will likely never be known.
From 1893-1948, J.E. Henry and Sons’ East Branch & Lincoln Railroad ruled the Pemigewasset wilderness. And artifacts from this era can still be found throughout the area, but they will eventually be swallowed up by mother nature. But because most of the hiking trails in this wilderness utilize old logging roads and the railroad bed of the East Branch & Lincoln the history of this railroad is forever preserved.
To license any of the photos in this blog article for publications, click on the photo. And you can view more images of the Pemigewasset Wilderness here.
Happy image making..