Pemigewasset House, Plymouth, NH (1)

The Pemigewasset House in Plymouth in 1860. Image from History of Plymouth, New Hampshire (1906).

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The rebuilt hotel, around 1908. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2015:

The town of Plymouth is sort of the gateway to the White Mountains; it is located at the very southern end of the region, along the Pemigewasset River. This river valley forms the primary transportation corridor to the White Mountains from the south, and the town was a logical place to run an inn.  Beginning in the 1760s, Colonel David Webster operated a tavern here, which was subsequently expanded by his family in the early 1800s.  Wesbter’s Tavern was sold to Denison R. Burnam in 1841, who renamed it the Pemigewasset House, after the river that runs behind it.  By the time the 1860 photo was taken, Burnam had expanded the building several times, but two years later it was destroyed in a fire.

The Pemigewasset House was quickly rebuilt as the building seen in the second photo.  The hotel came under the ownership of the Boston, Concord, & Montreal Railroad, whose tracks were located on the opposite side of the building.  Around noon, both northbound and southbound trains would stop here for a half hour so passengers could eat in the dining room, and for those who wanted to stay the hotel could accommodate 300 guests at $3 per night or $14 to $17.50 a week.  For those heading further north to the White Mountains, they could either take the railroad or, if the Profile House at Franconia Notch was their destination, they could take a more direct trip on the daily stagecoach.  This 30 mile journey took all afternoon back in the late 1800s; today, a traveler can make the same trip on Interstate 93 in about a half hour.

The hotel is probably best known, however, as the place where Nathaniel Hawthorne died.  Hawthorne had been in poor health, so in the spring of 1864 he took a trip to the White Mountains with his friend, former president Franklin Pierce, in an attempt to recuperate.  The two had been friends since the 1820s, when they met at Bowdoin College.  By the time Pierce became a presidential candidate, Hawthorne had already become famous as the author of The Scarlet Letter, The House of Seven Gables, as well as a number of short stories (including “The Ambitious Guest,” written about a traveler who dies at a hotel in the White Mountains).  In 1852, Hawthorne used his fame and writing talent to write a glowing biography of Pierce, portraying him as a man who could unite north and south and preserve the country.  Later that year, Pierce was elected president in a landslide, and Hawthorne was rewarded with a consulate position in England.

By the time they took their trip together to the White Mountains 12 years later, though, things had changed; the country was in the middle of the Civil War, and many blamed Pierce and his disastrous presidency.  They must have made an interesting sight, with one of the most hated, disgraced public figures in the country traveling with one of the most popular and respected authors of the time.  One of their stops was in Dixville Notch, a small unincorporated village in the extreme northern part of New Hampshire, and from there they traveled 100 miles south to the Pemigewasset House, where they stayed on the night of May 18, 1864.  They had dinner and tea at the hotel in the evening, but next morning Pierce awoke to discover that Hawthorne had died in his sleep, at the age of 59.

Like its predecessor, and like countless other massive wood-framed hotels of its day, the Pemigewasset House was vulnerable to fire.  It burned down in early 1909, probably less than a year after the second photo was taken, and in 1913 a new hotel was built a little further up the hill.  It is also no longer standing, having been demolished in the 1950s.  Today, the site of the first and second buildings has been completely redeveloped, and it is difficult determining exactly where the hotel once stood.  However, maps from the 1800s indicate that it was located between Main Street and the railroad tracks, just south of Highland Street.  The 2015 scene was taken from Main Street, facing the triangular-shaped building on the south corner of Main Street and Railroad Square.

Highland Street, Plymouth, NH

Looking up Highland Street from Main Street in Plymouth, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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Highland Street in 2018:

It’s hard to tell, but I don’t know if any of the buildings from the first scene survive today.  Many of the buildings in both photos are partially hidden by trees, but the most prominent building in the 1900s photo is the Tufts Building, on the far left.  It was built in 1880 by John S. Tufts, a local businessman who opened a dry goods store in 1861 just around the corner from here, and later opened a drugstore.  He died in 1888, but over a decade later his name still appears on the sign above the door.  There are at least four horse-drawn carriages outside the building in the first photo, and one of them is filled with milk cans, so these were probably local farmers making deliveries to the stores in the building.

I don’t know what happened to the Tufts Building, but it is possible that, like many other 19th century wood-framed commercial buildings, it may have burned down.  The building on the site today is Northway Bank, formerly the Pemigewasset National Bank.  This building opened in 1955, with President Eisenhower cutting the ribbon at the opening ceremonies.  The only building that might be the same from the first photo is the white building to the right.  There is a similar-looking building in the first photo, which appears to have been used as a workshop.  There are several carriages in front of it, so perhaps this was a carriage repair shop.  If it is the same building, today it is used as off-campus housing for students at Plymouth State University.

Old Grafton County Courthouse, Plymouth, NH

The Old Grafton County Courthouse on Court Street in Plymouth, around 1900-1910 during its use as a library. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The building in 2018:

Over the years, this building has served a variety of purposes in several different locations.  It was built in 1774 as one of two courthouses in Grafton County, and was located at the corner of Russell and Pleasant Streets, less than a quarter mile from where it is today.  During its time as a courthouse, 24 year old New Hampshire native Daniel Webster argued one of his first court cases here in 1806.  He lost, and his client was hanged, but he would nonetheless go on to be a successful lawyer and one of the country’s most powerful politicians of the pre-Civil War era.

While Webster’s career was just beginning, the old courthouse was becoming obsolete, and in 1823 it was replaced by a more substantial brick building.  The old building was moved south of the main village and used as a wheelwright shop, as seen in the photo below, which was taken in 1860 and published in History of Plymouth, New Hampshire (1906):

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By the 1870s, the century-old building had been abandoned and was in disrepair, but its connection to Daniel Webster’s early career brought it to the attention of Henry W. Blair, a Congressman and future Senator who purchased it in 1876.  After moving it to its present location and renovating it, Blair gave the building to the Young Ladies’ Library Association to use as a public library.  The small building was home to Plymouth’s library until 1991, when the present-day Pease Public Library was built.  Since then, the historic building has been home to the Plymouth Historical Museum.

Plymouth Normal School, Plymouth, NH

Rounds Hall at the Plymouth Normal School, around 1907. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The building in 2018, now part of Plymouth State University:

The history of Plymouth State University goes back to 1808, when the Holmes Plymouth Academy was established as a training school for teachers.  In 1871, the state took over the school and renamed it the Plymouth Normal School, with “normal” in this sense referring to training teachers.  Like many other normal schools in the country, it went through a series of name changes as the school expanded and added more academic programs.  From 1939 to 1963, it was the Plymouth Teachers College, and from 1963 to 2003 it was Plymouth State College before again being renamed as Plymouth State University.

The building in both photos is Rounds Hall, which was built in 1890 along with a dormitory, which can be seen beyond and just to the left of Rounds Hall in the 1907 photo.  Rounds Hall still stands today, and is the oldest building on campus.  However, Normal Hall, the old dormitory, didn’t last too long.  Not long after the first photo was taken, the barely 20 year old building was in such poor condition that it had to be demolished.  Its replacement, Mary Lyon Hall, was built on the same spot in 1916,  is still used as a dormitory today; it can be seen in the distance beyond the trees.