The New Hampshire Historian: Lucy Crawford
If thou art worn and hard beset
With sorrows that thou wouldst forget,
If thou wouldst read a lesson that will keep
Thy heart from fainting and thy soul from sleep,
Go to the woods and hills; no tears
Dim the sweet look that nature wears
-H. W. Ripley (preface in History of the White Mountains)
Anyone who lives in New Hampshire is aware of the Crawford family, either consciously or otherwise. After all, we are all cognizant of the striking beauty of Crawford Notch. There’s also the Crawford Path, the oldest continuously-used mountain trail in America, according to the White Mountain National Forest sign at the trail’s start:
In 1819, Abel Crawford and his son, Ethan Allen, cleared this path to treeline near the top of Mt. Clinton. Along this trail the Crawfords guided many groups to the summit of Mt. Washington. The trail was improved to a bridle path in 1840 with Abel, then 75 years old, making the first ascent of Mt. Washington by horseback. By 1870 this historic path reverted to its original use as a footpath to the heights. Countless thousands have traveled this path to the Presidential Range and Mt. Washington.
Ethan Allen is still a bit of a legend around here. No photographs have survived of the Mountain Giant, but his stories of trail-breaking and bear-trapping certainly do. “His fund of bear stories was almost inexhaustible,” wrote Benjamin Willey of the memorable innkeeper.
Ethan Allen's wife, Lucy, was an early New Hampshire historian in her own right. If it wasn’t for her History of the White Mountains, there would be so much we didn’t know about those early days of habitation in the mountains.
The Crawfords were a pioneer family, living in the remote northern area of present day Crawford Notch. Ethan Allen, like his father Abel and brother Tom, opened an Inn for weary travelers and eager explorers over the rocky and undeveloped roads. Tom and his wife ran The Notch House; Abel ran the southernmost Mt. Crawford House; and Ethan Allen and Lucy ran the Old Moosehorn Tavern, the farthest north of the three. They opened their doors to everyone, including noteworthy guests Daniel Webster, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Washington Irving.
Avid adventurers, Abel and Ethan Allen created the present day Crawford Path which ascends Mt. Washington. They also became guides for tourists wanting to reach the summit of the mountain. They promoted their outdoor adventures and had people flocking to the “White Hills” to explore with them.
But Lucy was equally as tough as her trail-breaking husband. She was a woman living in a very rugged area, catering to travelers and running a homestead, all while giving birth to ten children, nine of which survived to adulthood. She, herself, summited Mt. Washington in 1825, an accomplishment for anyone at the time, let alone a woman.
Lucy also recorded the trip that sisters Eliza, Harriet, and Abigail Austin took to become the first women to reach Mt. Washington’s summit several years before she would reach the top. “They were ambitious and wanted to have the honor of being the first females who placed their feet on this high and now celebrated place.” She was sure to record these women’s names for posterity, despite the fact that her husband did not think the trip was suitable for women.
Lucy was able to show us, through her voice and that of her husband’s, what life was like for these pioneers in an area that was harsh, steep, and unforgiving. She was able to paint a picture of the untouched beauty of their natural surroundings, writing of her ascent to the top of Mt. Washington:
We could look in every direction and view the works of nature as they lay spread before us – could see towns and villages in the distance, and so clear was the atmosphere that we could distinguish one house from another; but should I attempt to describe the scenery, my pen would fail, for want of language to express my ideas of grandeur of the place.
Lucy has mostly been forgotten by history, despite the fact that it is because of her that we know so much of this time period. She was aware that there was “something very extraordinary” in what they were doing with their lives. Ethan Allen and Abel are still remembered, primarily because of Lucy's accounts of their exploits and adventures.
Would the legends of Ethan Allen Crawford still exist today had Lucy Crawford not chronicled their life in the Notch and recounted his tall tales? I don’t believe so. If not for Lucy’s History of the White Mountains, how could we?