Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the summer of 1979 in The Mountain Ear, an award-winning local weekly newspaper founded by the late Steve Eastman and Jane Golden Reilly in May 1976. The Ear was sold to Salmon Press in March 2005 and published its last issue in 2014. The Conway Daily Sun is publishing “The Best of the Ear” in collaboration with Steve Eastman’s brother, Sun reporter Tom Eastman; Steve Eastman’s widow, Sarah W. Eastman; and former staff writer Karen Cummings. Ann W. Bennett of Jackson became editor in 1978. An avid gardener, she now writes the “More Thoughts While Weeding” column for the Sun.
By Ann W. Bennett
CRAWFORD NOTCH — Mount Washington has lured explorers to its slopes since the first white settlers inhabited the forests of New England. The Native Americans of the region referred to the peak as Agiochook, and believed it to be the abode of the gods, dooming any trespasser to death. Such legends, however, did not deter Darby Field, the Exeter resident who made two ascents in 1642, giving the peak the distinction of being one of the first major mountains in the world to be climbed.
Abel Crawford was from the pioneering family for whom Crawford Notch is named. (CONWAY PUBLIC LIBRARY)During the century that followed, adventurers continued to be drawn by the mysterious "White Hills." Although pioneers had settled the Connecticut River Valley west of the range, no known route existed through the northern White Mountains until the late 1700s. It was not until 1771 that a Lancaster hunter, Timothy Nash, discovered quite by chance a little-used Indian trail that descended the rocky pass known today as Crawford Notch. Nash struggled down the notchway and continues south, seeking out the Royal Gov. John Wentworth. News of Nash's discovery spread rapidly.
The significance of a direct path between the farms of the upper Connecticut River and the seaboard towns was immediately apparent, and use of the rough route through the notch increased at a great rate. Following the Revolutionary War, travel and commerce grew dramatically, and the roadway was gradually improved, although it was not until 1803 that the New Hampshire Legislature chartered it as an actual "highway."
During this period, the White Mountain wilderness began to fascinate young Abel Crawford. In 1790, Crawford, then 25, married Hannah Rosebrook and left the security of the family farm in Guildhall, Vt., to seek a home in the rugged hills to the east. The first people to settle the western slopes of Mount Washington were squatters who built their small log homes near Fabyan, some 4 miles north of the gateway to the notch. Hearing of this, Crawford sought them out and bought their claims. Busying himself with the construction of a house for his young family, Crawford spent late 1791 alone in the notch and in the early winter of 1792 moved his wife and two small sons to their new home.
It was not long after that his father-in-law, Eleazer Rosebrook, came for a visit. Rosebrook decided the notch was the ideal spot to spend his elderly years, bought out Abel and transported the rest of his family from Guildhall to the rugged homestead.
When the in-laws moved in, Abel moved out, heading south and settling on a site in Hart's Location, 12 miles below the Rosebrooks' and 8 miles above Bartlett. The spot was close to the present-day Notchland Inn on Route 302, and well-suited to farming since it was situated on a fertile plain on the banks above the Saco River. Also, the waterway supplied power for a sawmill and gristmill, and the Crawfords flourished.