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Majestic Mt. Washington Hotel in the Distance

First off, I’d like to qualify the term, Historic Inns and Hotels. There appear to be many varying descriptions of this term, depending upon your focus of research. A very informative site NH Grand Hotels has one perception, the Historic Hotels of America has another. I have read several books and visited many sites. Each source seems to have a different list of surviving inns and hotels. I have developed my own list which includes the Grand Hotels that existed in the heyday of the era, and a few other large inns with history that have been around since that same time period.

I lived in Rye NH, on the seacoast, from the 8th through 12th grades. At that time, the old Farragut Hotel was decaying on the local shore. I would often bike past the site and try to imagine it in its glory days. I did a little research and was inspired to keep looking into the Grand Hotels of the New England Region. My Grandmother, a true history lover and living in nearby Hampton NH, took me a few times to Sunday brunch at the Old Wentworth by the Sea. At that time, the hotel was just a shadow of it’s former self, much of it closed off due to being unsafe. I was awestruck however, by the ceiling in the room used as the dining room at the time, formerly a grand ballroom. The ceilings were high and intricately frescoed, cherubs and billowy clouds abounded, the effect was truly heavenly. Eventually, that hotel was closed and slated for destruction. I was shocked and heartbroken about it. It sat for years, looking terribly forlorn. When my children were young, it became a favorite seacoast picnic destination, we’d eat on the lawn, in the abandoned rose gardens in front of the looming hulk of former glory.

Wentworth by the Sea, Restored to Glory
One day, I heard it was to be saved from the wrecking ball and rejoiced. It had a rather rough, start-and-go stretch of renovation for a while, then finally seemed to be firmly underway to true preservation. Today, I am very pleased to say that it has been wonderfully restored to its once Grand Style.

My research into the days of the Grand Hotels of New England, focused mostly in the seacoast and on the White Mountain Region. I found it very interesting that in days gone by, before air conditioning, and even before electricity, wealthy city dwellers would take the trains and stagecoaches to the White Mountains in NH and to other ‘cool in summer’ areas, and spend the summer in the clean fresh air of the mountains and ocean resort areas. I spent hours poring over old drawings and photographs of the hotels and inns, inside and outside. Most featured large porches, stunning views, towers and Victorian atmospheres. The menus were astounding, running to multiple courses. It was all a bit daunting to imagine but I was very intrigued by the grandeur and immensity of the industry.
I began to investigate how many of these old places still existed, in either abandoned or operating state. I made it a personal quest to stay in as many as I could, that were still operating, over the course of my life.

I am happy to say, that due in large part to support from family members, I think I’ve just ‘wrapped up my NH list’! Patrick has been very supportive in this mission, in no way discouraged by the fact that most of the large Historic Hotels now include golf courses, ranging from interesting to World Class. So, as a result, we have planned many one or two night getaways to these destinations and Pat’s sisters have been awesome about giving us joint gift certificates to stay at various places on our ‘historic hotel wish list’. At each location I have tried to do some research, both before and during our stay and to bring along my camera to visually document these fascinating subjects. I not only look into the historical aspects, I delve into potential spiritual history as well, which most old hotels and inns seem to include if you ask the right people. It’s not unusual as well, to discover various ‘history mysteries’, which I will save for another time…

Eagle Mountain House Porch, Reading with a View

While focusing on NH Historic Hotels and Inns of Interest, we have taken some side trips to other New England Historic establishments. These will be highlighted in a future post.

I’ve summarized the historic places we have stayed in NH…

Wentworth by the Sea is located in a very historic section of New Hampshire; the island of Newcastle, easily accessed by bridge from the Portsmouth mainland. Newcastle also has a nearby village common with public beaches and 2 historic forts, one with a lighthouse. Located minutes from Portsmouth, this region offers no end of possibilities for entertainment, or if you prefer, there are a lot of places to just lose yourself in ‘alone time.’

Wentworth by the Sea from Across the Harbor

The Eagle Mountain House  is located on the side of a mountain on a road leading from the center of Jackson Village, New Hampshire. Jackson has a lot of restaurants and music venues, country-type stores and other locations of interest. North Conway is only half an hour away. There is an awesome porch at the Hotel, with stunning views of the golf course and mountains behind. A lounge and restaurant on location mean you could stay there and not leave at all if you chose. A vintage lobby and adjoining library are comfortable with fireplaces and are inviting to read and visit in.

Wentworth Hall

Wentworth Hall is located in the center of Jackson New Hampshire, the inn manages to be a peaceful refuge but is also conveniently located to a lot of amenities. There is the main inn itself with a wonderful wrap around porch adrift in flowers, then there are several nearby cottages that can be rented by the night or longer as well. An elegant dining room and a comfortable lounge offer meal options. A picturesque golf course is a 5 minute walk from the front door.

Mountain View Grand

The Mountain View Grand offers spectacular views and a nice but busy porch. There are many newly restored public areas within. The inn offers several dining options in-house. Not a lot else in the immediate vicinity of Whitefield, but it’s only about one half hour from Littleton, an interesting little town with quite a bit to see and do. A petting Farm on the hotel grounds features alpacas and other interesting critters. Horse drawn carriage rides are available here. There’s a very scenic golf course on premises. Many ‘green’ innovations are included in the program here.

The Mount Washington Hotel is set in Bretton Woods NH, the infamous Mt. Washington Cog Railway is just a few minutes away. This hotel offers various dining and pub options, a world class golf course and many all-season activities. There’s a 360 degree surrounding porch with inspiring views and a history tour is  included, if your stay is timed accordingly. The grounds also offer incredible views of Mt.Washington and other Presidential mountains. Several historic areas are identified within the hotel itself.

Mt. Washington Hotel, Foggy Day

The Balsams grand hotel is remotely located in a large tract of wilderness in Dixville Notch NH and is a completely self-sufficient establishment. Many conference rooms and a huge auditorium are available here, plus a library and a game room make for plenty to do, even in inclement weather. The Balsams even has its own Nature Center. One thing I love about the Balsams, is all the little nooks and crannies inside with comfortable chairs, many with fireplaces, perfect for reading. Miles of hiking trails surround the resort and your guest package includes the use of skis, skates, boats, fishing rods and many other outdoor essentials that guests may require.

The Oceanic Hotel on Star Island is ten miles off the seacoast of New Hampshire and Maine. I have been fortunate to stay twice at the Oceanic Hotel on Star Island at the Isles of Shoals. It is very rustic, so much so that you may feel transported back through time as you enter the lobby off the incredible front porch. Electricity is limited and rooms don’t lock. Fortunately, neither seems important here. The original hotel desk greets you and not much else has visibly changed there inside the facility. The windows are wide open, no screens are necessary. Curtains fly in the omnipresent ocean breeze. Simplicity abounds, the rooms are spartan, the amazing food is served family style and the sunsets are unsurpassed.

If you have a favorite NH historic accommodation, I’d love to hear about it. If you have never stayed in an old inn or hotel with history, add it to your to-do list. Ask a lot of questions when you get there. It’s a great way to appreciate a vanishing piece of the past.