Cherry Mountain, White Mountains

Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge - Cherry Mountain from Moorhen Marsh along the Presidential Range Rail Trail (Cohos Trail) in Jefferson, New Hampshire USA during the spring months.
Cherry Mountain from Moorhen Marsh, Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge

Cherry Mountain, White Mountains – Once referred to as Pondicherry Mountain, Cherry Mountain is in the New Hampshire towns of Carroll and Jefferson. The mountain consists of two peaks: Mount Martha (3,557 feet) and Owl’s Head. Mount Martha, the highest of the two peaks, is one of the mountains on the New Hampshire 52 With A View hiking list. The history surrounding this mountain is interesting but complicated.

Three hiking trails lead up this mountain: Cherry Mountain Trail from Route 115, Owl's Head Trail from Route 115, and Cherry Mountain Trail from Old Cherry Mountain Road. And from Route 302, the abandoned Black Brook Trail leads to the Cherry Mountain Trail. Connecting Mount Martha and Owl’s Head is a section of trail known as Martha’s Mile, named for Mount Martha. Dating back to the 1870s, there was a path leading to the summit of Owl’s Head; cut by a farmer, John M. King, he charged 30 cents per person to hike the trail. There was also a path between Owl’s Head and Mount Martha in the 1870s.

Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge - Cherry Mountain from Moorhen Marsh along the Presidential Range Rail Trail (a section of the Cohos Trail) in Jefferson, New Hampshire during the spring months. Consisting of two peaks, Mount Martha (the highest peak) and Owl’s Head, this mountain used to be called Pondicherry Mountain.
Cherry Mountain from Moorhen Marsh, Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge

As early as the 1770s, the mountain range was called Pondicherry Mountain. The name origin of Pondicherry Mountain is unclear. Some believe the name comes from France; Pondicherry, now spelled Puducherry, is the capital of French India. The thought is that French explorers from Canada gave the mountain this name. Others think it took on the original name of Cherry Pond, which was Pondicherry Pond. However, the mountain range may have actually been known as Pondicherry before the pond was, and if this is the case, the pond likely took on the name of the mountain. The name origin could also be very simple. "Pondicherry" is sometimes used to refer to cherry trees, so the name may have come from the abundance of cherry trees in the area.

In the mid-1800s, “Cherry” Mountain started appearing in place of Pondicherry Mountain on maps. Up until the 1870s, some maps labeled the mountain as Cherry Mountain while others labeled it as Pondicherry Mountain. Around this time is when Cherry Mountain seems to have become the preferred name for the mountain. The name origin of Cherry Mountain is also unclear. It may be nothing more than a shortened version of Pondicherry.

The two peaks that make up the mountain started being labeled on maps in the late 1800s. While Cherry Mountain appears to have always been attached to the southern peak and Owl’s Head to the northern peak, Mount Martha is the problem. In the late 1800s, on some maps, the northern peak was labeled Mount Martha. And now in the 21st century, the southern peak is labeled Mount Martha, and the northern peak is labeled Owl’s Head on maps.

View of the Presidential Range from Owl's Head (Cherry Mountain) in Carroll, New Hampshire after sunset during the winter months. Consisting of two peaks, Mount Martha (the highest peak) and Owl’s Head, this mountain used to be called Pondicherry Mountain. The Cohos Trail passes by this view.
Presidential Range After Sunset From Owl's Head (Cherry Mountain)

Owl's Head peak is named for the peak’s resemblance to an owl’s head, but the naming of Mount Martha is clouded. The common belief is that the mountain was named for Martha Washington (1731-1802), the first lady of the United States. However, this may not be true, and there is a possibility that Martha was a local woman or another Martha that has been overlooked in history.

One self-published hiking guide states that the name “Mount Martha” first started appearing on maps in the early 1900s, but this is incorrect. Three maps from the 1800s have the northern peak (today’s Owl’s Head) labeled as Mount Martha. At least one book from the 1870s mentions that Owl’s Head has been renamed Mount Martha. Another 1880s publication notes that Mount Martha is south of Owl’s Head; this writer likely learned the name “Mount Martha” from Oscar Stanley (see Cherry Mountain slide below). For almost 150 years, locals, writers, and cartographers have been calling one of the peaks on this mountain “Mount Martha”.

Who could this local Martha be? John Holmes, who arrived in Jefferson around 1797, may have had a daughter named Martha. Robert and Louise (Rosebrook) Tuttle had a daughter named Martha. Benjamin Hunking and Rebecca Plaisted had a daughter named Martha Jane. Joseph Cotton married Martha Jane, daughter of William Summers. And William Haynes Crawford of the legendary Crawfords, and proprietor of the Cold Spring House in Jefferson during the late 1800s, wife was Martha E. Tuttle Crawford. The problem with these local Marthas is that they all may have passed away after the name Mount Martha started being used. It was uncommon to name mountains for people who were still alive.

The Willey family, who all died on August 28, 1826 in the famous Willey landslide in Crawford Notch, had a daughter named Martha; all seven members of the family and two hired men perished in the landslide. And in the late 1800s, there was also a Mount Martha House in the area.

The town of Jefferson is named for Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States; his wife’s name was Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson (1748-1782). They had a daughter named Martha “Patsy” Jefferson (1772-1836). Educated in France, she was named for her mother and for Martha Washington, wife of George Washington. Of the six children the Jefferson's had, only two, Martha and Maria, lived past childhood. Thomas Jefferson never got over the loss of his wife. The Jefferson family is intriguing.

Old Jefferson Turnpike (now Old Cherry Mountain Road) in the White Mountains, New Hampshire during the autumn months. The Cohos Trail follows this road.
Old Cherry Mountain Road – White Mountains, New Hampshire

The Jefferson Turnpike was incorporated on December 11, 1804, and the road opened in 1811. This short-lived toll road traveled from the 10th New Hampshire Turnpike (today’s Route 302 in Carroll), over Cherry Mountain, to Jefferson and Lancaster. It was abandoned after the flood of August 1826. Today, this road is known as old Cherry Mountain Road, a seasonal forest road with dispersed roadside camping.

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. The House that was destroyed, Great Avalanche, from Owl's Head, Jefferson.
Destroyed House, Cherry Mountain Slide, Jefferson (1885) – From The New York Public Library

Cherry Mountain is the site of the Cherry Mountain Slide. Also referred to as the Stanley Slide and the Owl’s Head Slide, at 6:00 AM on July 10, 1885, a massive landslide came down the side of Owl’s Head, traveling about two miles down into the valley, destroying Oscar Stanley’s farm. Stanley’s house (being rebuilt from a fire weeks earlier), barn, and animals were destroyed in the landslide; one horse and cow were rescued. One of Stanley’s hired workers, Donald Walker, was fatally injured in the slide. The landslide was a huge tourist attraction. Special excursion trains and stagecoaches brought thousands of tourists to the destroyed farm daily.

Reflection of Cherry Mountain in Airport Marsh, near Mt Washington Regional Airport, in Whitefield, New Hampshire on a foggy summer morning. Consisting of two peaks, Mount Martha (the highest peak) and Owl’s Head, this mountain used to be called Pondicherry Mountain.
Cherry Mountain From Airport Marsh, Whitefield

On November 22, 1948, a Stinson Voyager plane, originating from Whitefield Airport destined for Bedford, Massachusetts, crashed into the west side of Cherry Mountain. Returning from a hunting trip, the pilot, Fred Valenti, and his two passengers, Virgil A. Jennings and Donald W. Smith, all from Lexington, Massachusetts, were killed. An eyewitness stated that just before the crash, flares were being dropped from the plane; they were likely trying to find a place to land.

From 1939-1968, a forty-foot fire tower was on the summit of Mount Martha. The Forest Fire Lookout Association ( notes that this tower was built in 1939, razed in 1982, and dismantled in 1989. Only the footings of the tower remain today. The razing (blown up) of the tower in 1982 was part of a training exercise done by the 10th Special Forces Group out of Fort Devins. Apparently, blowing up the tower was unsuccessful, and the tower ended up being dismantled by hand.

In 1953, there was an attempt to change the name of Cherry Mountain to Mount Eisenhower. A bill was filed in the New Hampshire legislature to change the name, but it did not pass. Mount Eisenhower was originally named Mount Pleasant in July 1820 by the Weeks-Brackett party, but after President Dwight D. Eisenhower died in March 1969, the mountain was renamed Mount Eisenhower.

Maybe someone will eventually stumble upon an obscure reference in a publication that positively reveals who Martha really is.

Happy image making..


© Erin Paul Donovan. All rights reserved | Historic Information Disclaimer | Cherry Mountain Prints
The historic images used on are in the public domain and / or used with permission.

Basch, Marty. “Bill Nichols: the man behind Martha’s Mile.” Concord Monitor, 30, September, 2007, p C6.

Donovan, Erin Paul. “Cherry Mountain Landslide, Jefferson.” ScenicNH Photography LLC, 17 Apr 2023,

Donovan, Erin Paul. “Jefferson Turnpike, White Mountains.” ScenicNH Photography LLC, 23 Apr 2023,

Evans, George C. History of the Town of Jefferson, New Hampshire 1773-1927. Manchester, NH: Granite State Press, 1927.

Hitchcock, C.H. The Geology of New Hampshire; Part II Stratigraphical Geology. Concord, NH: Edward A. Jenks, State Printer, 1877.

Julyan, Robert, Julyan, Mary. Place Names of the White Mountains. Hanover, NH: United Press of New England, 1993.

Martha "Patsy" Randolph (1772- 1836). Geni Family Tree. .

New Hampshire. General Court. Senate. Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of New Hampshire. Exeter, NH, 1824.

“No Change Here.” Portland Press Herald, 03, April 1953, p. 6.

“Prof. Lockwood’s White Mountain Letters, No. IV. The Stanley Avalanche.” Monmouth Democrat, 24 September 1885, p.1.

State of New Hampshire Annual Reports, 1891, Vol. II. Concord, NH: Ira C. Evans, Public Printer, 1982.

Sweetser, Moses Foster. The White mountains: A Handbook for Travellers. Boston, MA: James R. Osgood and Company, 1876.

“Three Killed in Jefferson Plane Crash.” Nashua Telegraph, 22 November 1948, p. 1.

Willmann, Robert. “The ides of march: The DNC changes the debate rules to keep Tulsi Gabbard out.” Sic Semper Tyrannis, 14, Mar 2020, .

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