Members of the Peabody family assemble at the Peabody Tavern (1799) at Gilead, Maine Photo taken 1895; courtesy of Joanne Peabody Stewart
Editor's Note: This circa 1884 account by Daisy Peabody of Gilead, Maine, was provided to the Bethel Historical Society by Joanne Peabody Stewart of Portland, Maine, and her brother, John M. Peabody, of Boothbay Harbor, Maine. Much gratitude is expressed for their willingness to share this document with readers of The Courier.
Late August days, calm, blue skies overhung with a haze, mildly hinting fall. Still, idle days among the hills, and a party of vacation friends, meeting in this gem of Maine towns, friends of fleeting days—we can scarce say weeks, set about to storm Mt. Washington. By twos and threes we planned the trip. We carried it out, and through the weeks that have since followed, whenever from the busy present I catch a backward glance, it and the pleasant and trifling incidents connected with it, stand clear-cut, a bright summer picture.
Like the family of that other little maiden, ours was seven. Mrs. Trowbridge, by right of her quiet dignity and her years, was, from the first, our acknowledged head. Mr. Walter Trowbridge, Mr. Mark Pierce, Mrs. Lovie Burnham, Miss Emma Burnham, Miss May Peabody, and Miss Daisy Peabody—these were the seven.
Yes, the weather was warm and most deliciously indolent. Wednesday, the day before, was a melting day. In the morning we searched out the coolest places, and tried in vain to keep cool.
Late that afternoon, Emma and her sister drove into the yard on the way to Gorham, for it had been decided that they go up the night before, and the rest of us following in the morning. We wished them the best of luck, and remarking for the hundredth time on the prospect of the weather, said good-bye and saw them go, and we, the remaining five, were to start from Gilead at 5:30 Thursday morning. Trowbridge and his friend went to Bethel, got a double carriage, and somewhere found "Old George."
Half past four the next morning found the Peabody household an anxious throng, peering through heavy, misty, moisty atmosphere, trying to prove to each other that it would burn away with the sun. The bright stars in last night's sky had been misleading. The faint-hearts said: "It will rain, no mountains for us today." Not so said we all. Numbers prevailed, and in the early morning they packed the baskets full of tempting eatables. The boys were a little late, or our clock was fast; that was it, and we were on the point of going to them; but with the brave, white charger, whose acquaintance we were yet to make, they dashed up to the door in grand shape. Even then, just a little indecision would have been enough to stay the trip then and there, for the sky wore a dark and threatening face toward us, as pleasure seekers. There was one that was bound to go—and, do you all remember, was sure it was going to clear off?
The drive to Gorham seemed unusually long, owing, no doubt, to the weather, not to speak of the speed of George. We stopped at some of the hills and walked up, at one time Trowbridge and Pierce united their strength with that of George's and actually got him into a run. Mrs. Trowbridge went rolling off in a royal state, leaving us far in the rear.
Places of some local fame we passed, among them the White Mountain Stock Farm, belonging to Col. Burbank—fine buildings, cottages, and neatly kept barns and stables. We drove over the two miles of highway built under the oversight and by the generosity of a certain Mr. Endicott, for many seasons a summer boarder in Shelburne, and now building a fine house for a summer home, the walls of which are made of common road stones. A crew of men were working on and around it as we passed.
Arrived at Gorham, the owner of the mountain team told us at once that he could not drive on to the mountain in such a morning, but would be pleased to take us for a day, to any of the many places of interest hereabout. We held a consultation and agreed upon a drive to Berlin Falls, and the Alpine Cascades.
A busy little village is Berlin Falls, its one long street populous with infants and small children gave evidence of foreign population. But in the upper end of the village were many cottages modern and tasty in their construction. Brown, a classmate, was working at Berlin, and I proposed calling to see him. Mr. Stiles drove on to Berlin Mills—there he watered the horses. A shower was doing its best to brighten up the village. Heavy drops splashed down on the top of the coach, but the fire inside was not quenched. Despite the rain and the black clouds we were in the best of spirits. Brown was not to be found. He was away "logging" so they told us at the store. Mr. Trowbridge thought my endeavors ought not to be wholly fruitless, and we left a hastily written name on the back of a blue envelope, then turned the horses' heads towards Berlin Falls.
Here we left the carriage, crossed a bridge, wandered over the rocks and gathered asters "to keep"—I lost mine—did the others? Again we settled ourselves in the carriage, driving on two miles to the Alpine Cascades.
From the road we struck into a foot-path, and in a twinkling were on a tiny suspension bridge that swayed and tipped at angles hardly appreciable; then a little rocky pathway and another suspension bridge; next our way led up—89 steps—to a toll-house. Here we registered. A picnic table was spread in a grove farther on. With a delicious relish did the contents of those baskets disappear.
By chance we came upon the real glory of the place, the cascades. There are in all eleven sets of falls. We went to the top of three of them, and rain hindered our going higher. The first two were gained by long flights of steps, 89 we counted in each. The third, up which Mrs. Burnham, Trowbridge, Pierce, and I climbed, was over the solid rock. We drew ourselves up by taking hold of iron cables, fastened to the ledge.
An open pavilion, used for both dancing and skating is back a little way from the water. The skates were much too large, the smallest sizes girl's skate being 9 ½. The proprietor seriously remarked that the people of Berlin Falls had big feet, which no one of us questioned. We all skated, Pierce taking his first lesson. Trowbridge, Emma, and I skated three abreast, till the mandate came from Mrs. Trowbridge, only once more around. Then we packed up the remnants of the dinner and bade good-bye to the Alpine Cascades.
The drive down to Gorham was delightful; the clouds had cleared, and for the first time in the day the sun did really shine. Now it was, we had our first view of the presidential group. Monroe, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Washington in their nearness. Arrived at Gorham, we again held close council in Mrs. Stiles' sitting-room, and came to resolution as follows: Remain over another day; go on to Mr. Washington; telegraph to friends in Gilead. Forthwith, dispatched Trowbridge and Pierce to railway station, while we girls went down in the village, and Mrs. Trowbridge rested.
In the village we were caught in a shower and lodged under a grocer's awning, till Frank Adams came to the rescue with umbrellas. We crossed over to the piazzas of the Alpine House, had a chat with the boys, then separated and went our several ways for the night. Mrs. Trowbridge, Emma, and her sister at Mrs. Stiles'; the boys at the Alpine House; May and I at Thomas Adams'.
The day was not yet full—Trowbridge and Pierce testified to spending the evening at the skating rink. Emma and Mrs. B. made vigorous efforts toward refurnishing the lunch baskets, and of their experience with grocers and provision dealers, the soda crackers, pickles, cheese, and deviled turkey, that formed a part of the summit dinner, next day, gave ample proof. May and I, tired children that we were, accepted the invitation of our host and went to the entertainment. 'Twas a mixture of cornet solo, Hiawathan babyhood, and ice-cream, but out of the chaos of the evening I cannot recall any special feature; May might. The end came, and two much confused heads rested, at length, on the soft pillows of Mrs. Adams' spare bed.
At 6:30 next morning, the mountain team stopped for us, and with a fair sky, a shining sun, and exultant hopes, we were in reality off for Mt. Washington. From Gorham to the Glen House the road is through the woods, winding up by a gradual ascent, for eight miles. The Glen buildings, stables, and pavilion attached, are immense, representing over $200,000. Here is the toll-house; paying our toll and providing against the cold by a few more blankets, we pass through the gates and begin the ascent proper.
The way to the Half-Way House was not unlike many of the wooded drives abounding everywhere in this section, except that it was more up. At times we came to places where dark ravines showed that we were on the heights, for in these openings we had glimpses of lands below; but for the most part, the road stretched uneventfully away ahead of us.
By the roadside, at distances sometimes only a few rods apart, were little piles of rocks in semi-circles. We thought at first it happened so, but finally agreed that they had been built as protection for the road during fall rains and spring freshets. A line of telegraph poles seemed out of place, as if infringing on some undefined rights.
At the Half-Way House we had an intimation that the wind might be blowing on top, by the abruptness with which Trowbridge's hat went flying off into space. Emma caught it before it made its final plunge over the brink. Here Mr. Stiles lashed the carriage to the axles with ropes, and rolled the curtains to the very top, as precautions against a strong wind. We looked up and drew long breaths at the thought of the road to be traversed. At this point the woods cease, and the road strikes out upon the bare rocks. It takes on a steeper grade and looks rather uninviting. We were not faint-hearted enough to say it; but inspired with the wildness and daring of the thing were the more eager to start.
Rounding the first corner, at a height above us, we saw two foot-men coming down. They waited for our team to come up, and stopped to speak with us. They were English, and the cold and wind proving too much for them, they had turned back without reaching the summit. The older of the two men, a portly old fellow, with eye-glasses and silk hat, somewhat on a side, said: "O, its all very well for you young people, but as for me I won't risk my life"; and the younger man said: "you'll be blown to bits." We smiled incredulously. Far up the mountain, looking down on the long, perilous road we had climbed, I saw them, two motes in the distance.
What to us had seemed mountains, as we stood in the valley, now looking down upon them were but little hills. Watching the shadows of the clouds on the forest, we mistook a growth of wood as that of another species, when it was but the reflection of a cloud. The driver pointed out to us Kearsarge, towering to blueness above the hills around it. Between it and a cluster of smaller mountains, Lovell's Pond formed a basin of shining water. Down at the base of Mt. Washington the huge Glen House looked like a Noah's Ark cottage. It was all below us, a picture to the eye such as a bird might take in its flight.
As the grandeur of the outlook grew upon us, the coldness began to make itself felt. So long as we had sunshine, the side of the mountain to our right was a shelter, but the road changed, coming out upon a place where the wind had full sweep—and behold—the sun was gone. We were in the midst of a cold, heavy fog that, forced along by the wind, cut with wintry keenness. In quite the coldest place we met two coaches coming back. We knew them not from Egypt's children. But meeting them in that frigid land, they uncovered their faces from double shawls and rubber capes, and with pitying glances and sympathetic voices, said: "We pity you so; you'll freeze to death." We had ourselves found out that it was cold, but with Spartan grit, we wrapped the shawls tighter about our heads, turned our backs to the wind and took it as it came. All in the party had not the same amount of endurance. About two miles' ride through this terrific cold, when "Here we are!" came from the driver and we tumbled, numb with cold, and the long ride. One more little climb, this time up a flight of stairs and we are on the summit, in eager haste to get inside the railway station. Here is warmth which we indulge in to its fullness, for nearly an hour.
A quiet, solemn looking party of five, taking lunch as we came in, eyed us with cool, polite glances, evidently regarding us and our demonstrative manner, boorish. There were two others in the room more to our taste, for their naturalness, if nothing more. Mr. Trowbridge knew they were on the honeymoon trip, though they both looked every day of forty. He gave as argument for this belief that he chanced to overhear this same man settling his bill at the Alpine House, the night before, and that he noticed whenever expense was mentioned the chivalric bridegroom every time stoutly affirmed that he would go the best way—money was of no account; their dress and general appearance not bespeaking exactly wealth, he had formed the sage conclusion that these two were bride and bridegroom, the groom bound for once, at least, to show himself generous. They too, were cold and he produced from some pocket a bottle; mixed a beverage of something hot and gave to his wife; then offered it to us, but we declined. It proved to be Perry Davis' Pain Killer. We looked out the windows of the railroad station, watched the people come and go; the brakeman with business-like bluster, rushed in with time tables, rubbed his hands before the hot stove and was gone: a man who "spoke as one having authority," said the thermometer was 1 [degree] above freezing; that the night before, the wind was blowing at the rate of seventy miles an hour; today it was growing stronger. He too, hurried off and we, warm and bundled up to the chin, stepped into the fog.
The Summit House was larger than I imagined. We found a city in the clouds, and under one roof. Finely dressed people going here and there through the halls; old men and young men, women and children. At a counter, young ladies were selling mountain souvenirs. On the floor above, are sleeping apartments furnished with all the modern conveniences that made us wish to sleep for the night rocked by the winds. The drawing room was as good and nice as could be found in any lower lands. Soft, rich carpets on the floors, easy chairs and sofas, paintings on the walls, a square piano; all these make up the hotel parlor—not exactly a home room.
May and I, standing alone together, looked up to the office of "Among the Clouds," and wished to go to it, but the whistling wind and icy rocks were uninviting. An elderly looking man near us, read the thought, on our faces, for he said: "Would you like to go up, girls?" "Yes," –and we went. He took us through the building. It was the original Summit House [actually, the Tip-Top House], built in 1853; what changes have the years witnessed here, even, we are strikingly reminded when we compare the two houses—the old, and the new. Of the paper, there are two editions published daily, through the season. The editor's brain must be a fertile one if he fills each edition with anything like news matter. I set up my name in type, and as I finished throwing it back into the case, Trowbridge and Pierce came in. Amidst the commotion incident to the gust the boys brought in with them, we lost sight of our newly made acquaintance, and we regret that we did not even thank him.
The descent from the office to the railway station is steep, and some of us were taken off our feet. But at the bottom we all came together again; collected our baskets, shawls, and veils, and down the steps the whole battalion moved with sure, slow pace, our backs turned on Mt. Washington and faces resolutely set toward the valley.
A bright, intelligent looking, young fellow occupied the one vacant seat, on the return trip, as far as the Glen. We did not learn his name. When at last we got down below the coldness, Mrs. B., Emma, Pierce, and this stranger, warmed themselves up by a brisk run of half a mile down the mountain.
We had made the drive up in the morning, in some over five hours, and we came down in much less time. In counting up the number of miles traveled in two days, we found it to be seventy-four, and during the time nearly all our food was taken from the lunch baskets.
But little more of this merry outing—let's see, we are at Gorham again. We left that village about dusk, at a greater speed than on the day coming up. Emma passed us and George's spirit of emulation seemed not wholly dead. From time to time we hailed the girls through the darkness, and knew that they were there by the flutter of a white handkerchief.
The pangs of hunger led us once more to the baskets, and we found them holding out miraculously well. The way seemed long for we were tired and cold. The tongues, ceaseless for the last two days, lagged, and we beguiled ourselves the last miles of the drive with humming and whistling, and some one even ventured to sing, "Things are seldom what they seem." The Gilead lights came in view and our faces and spirits brightened. We said good-bye to the Burnhams and good night to the boys who promised to see us before train time in the morning.
Within doors, we caught sight of a rousing wood fire, and the light thrown out from its open mouth filled the room with warmth and cheer. They brought in steaming bowls of savory herb tea, and stood around and gazed upon us as on heroes from the Arctic regions, while we talked long and loud of the pleasures and perils, haps and mishaps of the two days. The fire burned down to red coals, and we reluctantly broke the circle—leaving rest and quiet to reign for the night.