PINKHAM NOTCH — The Mount Washington Auto Road took a step back in time Saturday evening, as friends and management of the “Road to the Sky” celebrated the peak of the road's season-long 150th anniversary celebration with a vintage costume dinner and fireworks that even included an appearance by 17th-century Mount Washington explorer Darby Field.
Among those on hand for the tented gala at the base of the Auto Road were descendants of the Libby family, the original owners of the road, which is said to be America's oldest man-made attraction.
Family member Sam Appleton, the road company's president, thanked all for their attendance and support, and saluted his late cousin, former Auto Road general manager Doug Philbrook, for his many years of firm stewardship of the 8-mile- long mountain road as well as current general manager Howie Wemyss and staff.
Appleton said the road has not changed in spirit or character.
Wemyss, likewise, said it was his privilege to carry on the road's proud legacy and to serve the four ownership families who are descendants of the Libbys.
"The Mount Washington Auto Road may be a New Hampshire and American icon, but it is also a family business, owned and run by the same families for more than a century," noted Wemyss. "We all take immense pride in being a part of this remarkable history and the day to day operations that take place here. This whole season has been an opportunity to see a glimpse of the Auto Road's past come to life."
The evening was highlighted by a theatrical time-tripping walk through Mount Washington history by English explorer Darby Field, who first scaled the peak in 1642. Impersonating Field was local writer and Auto Road public relations director Steve Caming of Madison, with various guest “voices” from the mountain's past.
That presentation included appearances by a carriage wagon pulled by a make-believe horse, driven by Sue Wemyss, and by a vintage locomobile that is identical to the one driven by Freelan O. Stanley in the first motorized ascent of the road in 1899.
The dinner was catered by White Mountain Cider Company of Glen, and featured a dinner menu inspired by the 1890 Glen House that formerly stood at the base of the road where the offices of the Auto Road and Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center now stand. Entrees consisted of Beef Burgandy, Chicken Fricasse and Roasted Haddock.
A champagne toast, vintage music and dancers, three large birthday cakes resembling Auto Road stage vehicles over the years, a dance band and a spectacular fireworks display by the Atlas Fireworks Company were also featured.
On Sunday, the Auto Road hosted a stage drivers' reunion and the opening of an art exhibit on the White Mountain School of Art.
The Auto Road opened as the Mount Washington Carriage Road on Aug. 8, 1861. The road celebrated its formal birthday on Monday with a birthday cake and free admission to motorists with a "This Car Climbed Mount Washington" sticker permanently attached to their cars' bumpers.
In addition, Monday's activities included a steam car rally which brought more than 20 vintage vehicles, (mostly Stanley Steamers) to the Auto Road. Many of these 100-plus year-old cars, ornate and painstakingly restored (valued at between $60,000 and $150,000) took a drive to the top of the Northeast's highest peak to further celebrate the history making day.
The U.S. Postal Service was also on hand to offer a one-day only commemorative pictorial postmark, recognizing the road's unique place in history as the nation's first manmade attraction.
Sponsors for the 150th birthday festivities include: PSNH, Berlin City Auto Group, Northway Bank, Infantine/Cross Insurance, Pike Industries, Acadia Insurance and FairPoint Communications.
Upcoming planned events for the 150th anniversary season after this weekend's activities include:
*Aug. 13-14: 24 Hours of Great Glen: 24-hour annual mountain bike race, noon to noon.
* Aug. 20: Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb: The original bicycle hillclimb up the Mount Washington Auto Road and fund-raiser for Tin Mountain Conservation Center. www.MWARBH.org
* Aug. 27: Roaring '20s Evening: A recreation of a 1920s speakeasy, this casino night at the base of the mountain will be a fund-raiser for M&D Productions.
* Aug. 28: Sunrise Drive: An opportunity for guests to view the sunrise from the summit of Mount Washington. The road will open early for guests to drive themselves.
* Sept. 9-11: Muster in the Mountains: A colonial encampment of re-enactors will recreate life in North America from 1750 through 1840. Participants will demonstrate the use of appropriate tools, clothing, and firearms from this time period. Saturday will feature a mock battle.
For more information, visit www.MtWashingtonAutoRoad.com or call 466-3988.