The Entrepreneurial Character: Dolly Copp
Over the river, snugly ensconced at the foot of Mount Madison, is the old Copp place. Commanding, as it does, a noble prospect up and down the valley, and of all the great peaks except Washington, its situation is most inviting; more than this, the picture of the weather-stained farm-house nestling among these sleeping giants revives in fullest vigor our preconceived idea of life in the mountains…
- Samuel Adams Drake (The Heart of the White Mountains: Their Legend and Scenery)
Dolly Copp is synonymous with New Hampshire. One of the largest campgrounds in the state bears her name, encompassing the old Copp farm along with the farms of neighbors Culhane and Barnes. These farms were once located at the base of the Presidential Range along the newly constructed road leading through Pinkham Notch. The campground is still fairly remote, even by today’s standards, which only proves how secluded the Copp farm would have been in the 1830's.
Of the farmstead, author Samuel Adams Drake wrote, “The Copp farm-house has a tale of its own, illustrating in a remarkable manner the amount of physical hardship that long training, and familiarity with rough out-of-door life, will occasionally enable men to endure.” Not only men, but women, as well. Dolly Copp was one such formidable woman.
Dolly was described as “a tiny woman with fair complexion and yellow hair, but her pride in her appearance centered, as did that of many a maid in the past century, in her unusually small feet which she always shod with footwear that she managed to purchase from city factories. She was not an unsophisticated woman although she lived in the back woods; she had visited the thriving cities to the south and knew their amusements and culture. However, she was trained in all domestic arts of a pioneer housewife who must live isolated from human contacts.” (from Folk Tales of People and Place)
Thankfully, Dolly was never really without human interaction in her later years. Much like Lucy Crawford on the other side of the Presidential Range, Dolly and her husband Hayes have been credited in the Osgood guide book as running a small inn for fatigued travelers. In contrast, however, Dolly was the charismatic character that people remembered, not her quiet husband.
Unlike Lucy Crawford, who has nearly been forgotten by history, the clay-pipe smoking Dolly Copp still has a prominent place in New Hampshire culture. She was independent and entrepreneurial, taking every advantage to prosper from the newly developed tourist trade.
According to George Cross, her biographer, “No other housewife wove so many bolts of woolen homespun, so many yards of linen, could match her dyes of delicate blue, could rival her golden butter, rich cheese, and maple syrup.” She became famous in her time for her apple butter, cultivated from trees she transplanted to her farm. She sold everything she could to the passing tourists. Even the local competition, such as J.M. Thompson, the owner of the newly opened Glen House, wasn’t shy about sending his guests to her roadside trading post.
Perhaps the most notable attraction of the farm, however, was their view of a rocky profile jutting from the side of one of the Carter Mountains. It is Dolly who can be credited with naming this profile The Imp, which can still be seen from Dolly Copp Campground today.
It isn’t for her duties as a housewife that Dolly is most remembered for. It is her need for independence and her acumen as a businesswoman that seems to resonate with people most. Though the campground still bears her name, the story most commonly told about Dolly Copp is about her decision to leave her husband on their 50th wedding anniversary. It is claimed that Dolly said, “Hayes is well enough, but fifty years is long enough for a woman to live with any man.” And they parted amicably.
Today, thousands of travelers quaff a cool drink from the spring on the old farm where the home of the Copps once stood as strangers quenched their thirst in the days of Dolly’s hospitality. Dolly Copp and her spring will be remembered as long as the white birches rustle their leaves at nightfall over the tents of summer visitors to the camp ground that bears the name of this able woman who lived with such endurance in the days when the Peabody River flowed through primeval forests that encircled her mountain home. – Eva Libby & Emmie Whitney, “Dolly Copp in Pinkham Notch”
Though the old homestead no longer remains, there is a stone monument erected to Hayes and Dolly within Dolly Copp campground below the looming Imp. Her entrepreneurial spirit is still alive and well in New Hampshire and, as long as the campground still bears her name, so is she.