Finding History in Franconia

Franconia is known for its mountains, but the small village just north of the namesake notch holds a storied history. From its roots as a ski town to the home of a famous poet, Franconia’s past is captured in area museums and landmarks today. This spring if you head to the North Country for hiking and biking, stop in to these spots on your rest day to learn about about the area’s history.

New England Ski Museum 

135 Tramway Drive

While the last patches of snow are slowly receding from Cannon Mountain’s slopes, the New England Ski Museum gives snow lovers and history buffs alike a year-round destination. Visitors can learn the history of the sport from its prehistoric origins through the accolades of local legend and Olympian Bode Miller.

The museum hosts new exhibits each June in addition to its permanent exhibit, From the First Tracks to the Fall Line: eight thousand years of skiing. The expansive collection includes more than 1,300 books, 23,000 photographs, and 2,600 reels of film in addition to thousands of artifacts and other materials.

The original Mt. Eustis sign.

The museum will open to the public on May 26.

Getting there:

Take exit 34B off Interstate 93 to the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway in Franconia Notch State Park

Franconia Heritage Museum 

553 Main Street

The Franconia Heritage Museum first opened its doors in 1998 in an 1878 New England farmhouse. Starting with a collection from Sarah Nelson Welch, who traces her lineage in Franconia to 1805, the Heritage Museum grew thanks to donations from other local families. Today, the museum houses the history of Franconia since its founding in 1772.

Historic farm equipment at the Franconia Heritage Museum

The museum is open to self-guided and staff-guided tours on Saturdays from 1-4pm and other times by special request. The museum opens to the public on Memorial Day weekend through the end of October.

Getting there:

Take exit 38 off Interstate 93 to Main St. in Franconia. Turn left at the blinking light and head south on Rt. 18 for about one third of a mile.

Besaw Iron Furnace Interpretive Center 

Intersection of Rt 18 and Rt 117

A preservation effort of the Heritage Museum, the Stone Iron Furnace is an octagonal stone stack left from a 200-year-old smelter. The furnace is the only blast furnace of its kind left standing in New Hampshire. The 32-foot stone structure was built of local granite and operated until the mid-1860s.

Today, visitors can see a replica of the original wooden building that housed the furnace. The interpretive center also displays various tools and informational panels about the furnace’s operation. More information and books are available at the Heritage Museum. 

A preserved lenticular-truss iron bridge from 1889 also stands on the picnic grounds. The bridge formerly led across the Ham Branch to Delage Farm Road. Today the decommissioned bridge leads to a walking path that follows the flow of the Gale River.

The Stone Iron Furnace is viewable at any time from the picnic area on Rt. 18. The furnace itself is on private property across the Gale River. 

Getting there:

Take exit 38 off Interstate 93 to Main St. Turn right at the blinking light and follow Rt. 18 for about a half mile.

The Frost Place 

158 Ridge Road

Home to Robert Frost and his family from 1915 to 1920, this farmhouse now stands as an educational center for poetry and the arts. Inside the house, Frost’s original furniture still stands. Along with a collection of signed first editions, the museum is a living piece of literary history.

The Frost Place hosts a number of conventions and seminars throughout the year. The museum also provides a fellowship – including a grant and invitation to live and write in the Frost residence – each year.

Visitors to the museum can stroll through the house and take in the view from the porch that inspired many of Frost’s writings. A half mile trail around the property includes plaques adorned with Frost’s poetry to exercise body and mind.

The museum grounds and trail are open to the public year round. The house opens to the public Memorial Day weekend.

Getting there:

Take exit 38 off Interstate 93. Continue across Main St. on Rt. 116. Turn right onto Bickford Hill Rd. and follow the signs to the Frost Place.

Arthur Farnsworth Plaque

Coppermine Trail, Rt. 116

For those willing to venture off the beaten path – quite literally – the Coppermine Trail hides a piece of local history. Actress Bette Davis, a frequent visitor to the Sugar Hill area, mounted a plaque on a rock in a memorial to her husband Arthur Farnsworth.

“In Memoriam to Arthur Farnsworth
The Keeper of Stray Ladies”
Pecketts 1939
Presented by a Grateful One”

Farnsworth was a manager at Peckett’s on Sugar Hill, a luxurious hotel. Davis was taken with Farnsworth and, while on a hike of the Coppermine Trail, strayed into the woods knowing the hotelier would be sent to rescue her. The two were later married, but Farnsworth tragically died only three years later after a fall.

Getting there:

To find the plaque, hike the Coppermine Trail and explore the boulders alongside Coppermine Brook.

One Response to “Finding History in Franconia”

  1. Connie SorrentoMay 11, 2017 at 9:19 am #

    Excellent write up. I think this will be one of my stops when I’m up in NH this summer!

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