There is a historic resonance in the North Country. We share a coastline with Massachusetts yet we also possess an element of wildness usually reserved for the Muir-trodden mountains of the west. Nestled between Cherry Mountain and the Presidential Range is the grand hotel that Joseph Stickney dreamed of owning with his wife, Carolyn Foster Stickney. It was among the first hotels to host its own federal post office; its elevator was powered by the nearby Ammonoosuc River; and it was here that the Italian artisans who were brought to this remote area, now known as Bretton Woods, were encouraged to decorate the columns of the Main Dining Room with their family crests before returning home. But all kinds of magical anecdotes along these lines can be learned on the short historic tour offered by the hotel at 10:00 am and 3:00pm daily. What continues to resonate is the feel of this place.
The truth of The Mount Washington is best internalized at the slower pace that was her way in the past. The Great Hall, extending out from the main lobby is bisected by a colonnade. Beyond supporting the heavy red roof above the three floors of guest rooms, the colonnade forms an aesthetic barrier lining a central path from the main stair case to the Grand Ballroom. On either side of this path through greatness and grandeur are groups of chairs and sofas, large coffee tables and cafe seating. Viewed through the right eyes, even the bustling Great Hall smacks of relaxation and quiet conversation.
An old fashion traveler like myself is likely to favor a left turn from the Main Entrance toward what is now called The Princess Room. This once octagonal private dining room for Carolyn Stickney has been retrofitted to create a quiet space, intimate despite its proximity to the Front Desk, with a raised seating area where musicians used to perform for dinner. Up to fifty guests were sometimes hosted by the widowed Carolyn Stickney in her private room, warmed by a fireplace and lit by a crystal chandelier. Another option for class and intimacy is the Conservatory, located just off the Great Hall and past the Concierge Desk. It’s a circular room with beautiful acoustics, the original historic Steinway piano from Joseph Stickney’s Manhattan home is still played, and an almost 100 degree view of 6,288 foot Mt. Washington and the White Mountain Range can be seen through the enormous windows.
An incredibly unique space in the hotel is just down a hallway from the lower lobby. Past the Critters toy store and the Sterling Works jeweler, beyond the historic post office (03575) and Morsel’s Coffee Shop, the observant traveler will encounter a short stone lined hallway descending even lower than the lowest public level of the hotel. You are entering The Cave. Where once natural moss grew from the ceiling in an effort to filter billowing cigar smoke, where a board can be removed from the floor, where a barrel is still lodged, so that when the coppers enforcing the Volstead Act were viewed approaching via the main entrance, Cave patrons were able to deposit their bottles and glasses below the floor and tea cups could be set out, ready for inspection. The Cave is somehow subterranean yet cozy, inelegant yet atmospheric, in its current presentation it is somehow kitschy yet cool.
My inner hipster wants to wear a wool driving cap, suspenders over a button down shirt with rolled up sleeves, and clench a hand rolled cigarette between my lips while crackin’ wise over a poker game. I imagine evenings past when a muted trumpet played over an upright piano accompanied by a stand up bass. Old Fashioneds and Martinis were sipped by folks who donned their evening’s finery to raise glasses first to the 18th amendment, then to our boys Over There, and finally, once they’d gained some sense, to the 21st Amendment.
As $1,000 iPhones top every 10 year old’s Christmas List and wireless earbuds and compression clothing make everybody in the gym look a little more like characters from Star Trek, I will treasure the moments I allow myself to stroll along the Veranda of the Mount Washington Hotel. Every time I stop into The Ammonoosuc Room with its glorious central chandelier, rumored to be the sister Tiffany chandelier to the one that went down with the Titanic, and its single window overlooking the Nordic Trails and the Cog Railway. My feet move me back to the Great Hall. I choose to sit back, crack a leather bound edition by Fitzgerald and whistle a Gershwin tune beside the roaring fire.