Marcia Strykowski

What Goes On at the Highest Peak in New England

I recently took a trip up Mt. Washington in NH via the Cog Railway. When I returned I was curious to learn more about its history. I’m happy to report there is a lot of online information including many public domain pictures from 150 years ago. I’ll share a few with you and we can compare the old with the new. Our group (celebrating a few recent birthdays) started out quite early and arrived about an hour before takeoff. Because the weather was rather iffy, it turned out an earlier train still had room available, so we hopped on that one instead, with no waiting—ALL ABOARD!Cog Railroad July 23, 2016 -8x10A similar group, anxious to board the Cog, is shown waiting below. Photo by Franklin G. Weller (1833-1877).All_aboard_for_Mt._Washington,_by_Weller,_F._G._(Franklin_G.),,_1833-1877 2

cog engineerOn the trip up, our brakeman (at right) gave us a rundown of what we were seeing and a bit of history. The Cog Railway made its first trip up the 6,288′ mountain in 1869, running on wood-fired boilers. Starting in 1910, coal was used. Today’s trains are biodiesel-powered, but they run on the same tracks and use the same cog technology as they did long ago. Even though they appear old-fashioned, these newer locomotives have a computer package on board that runs the engine and monitors its exact position on the track.

On August 31, 1899, F. O. Stanley and his wife, Flora, of Newton, MA, drove a ‘Stanley Locomobile’ to the top of Mount Washington and became the first people to make this journey by car. It was a dangerously steep trek and took them 2 hours and 10 minutes to reach the top, not counting stops to add water (7.6 miles). The engine was put in low gear to descend, and brakes were used continuously.Driving_to_top_of_Mt_Washington_1899Our trek up and down the mountain was quite a bit different. Several places of interest to see on the ride were the halfway house, hikers (yes, they still moon the Cog), streams, lots of trees, wildflowers (including lupines!), and maybe even a moose…cog-wave-copyAfter a pleasant ride up we reached the top of the highest mountain in New England in about 45-50 minutes. We were met with so much fog it was impossible to take in any views. Apparently there are only an average of 65 clear days a year. This next picture might look like one from long ago, but I took it last weekend and only after a bit of enhancing did any color show.cog-hikers-copyBut still, it was a fun trip and we were happy to reach the Tip Top House which was built in 1853. Visitors can go inside and stroll through the rooms of this old-time hotel.
tip top house groupOn_Summit_of_Mt._Wash'n.,_6285_feet_above_the_sea,_by_Adams,_S._F.,_b._1844019_1860c-2BnyplCog PJ mailCog riders get to hang out on top of the mountain for an hour which is plenty of time to visit the weather museum, gift shops, and cafeteria, and there’s even a post office if you’d like to send mail with a special Mt. Washington zip code stamp to those down below. We also went inside the old Tip Top house and found our way around the foggy summit.

My friends at the top:cog summit 2These two hikers came up the long way on foot on a cold, but brighter day in November 2007. Looks like the sign has had a paint job since then; in fact it’s probably a yearly requirement with so many visitors hanging onto it for dear life, so they won’t blow away. Hikers from all over climb this mountain as its summit is part of the Appalachian Trail.FH000004 - CopyOne of the displays in the museum reminded me of when my nephew worked in the weather observatory on Mt. Washington, home of possibly the most turbulent weather in the world. Back in 1934 winds were recorded at 231 miles per hour. No wonder people look like they’re walking a little strange.walkinglizzie-bourneSadly, this unpredictable weather accounts for tragedies over the years. One of the most famous being the death of Miss Lizzie Bourne in 1855 . She succumbed to the elements after climbing up with her cousin, Lucy, and uncle, George. It’s difficult to imagine hiking in layers upon layers of Victorian garb, plus she also may have had a heart condition. They left at 2 p.m. and were halfway by 4 p.m. As darkness fell with a heavy cloud cover they couldn’t find their way and the girls were too tired to continue on. BourneWooden150Lizzie’s uncle spent hours building a rock wall to protect his daughter and niece only to find Lizzie dead when he finally stopped for a much needed rest himself. After the long night, her grieving uncle discovered with the morning sun that shelter at the Tip Top House had only been a few hundred yards away. Lizzie was buried on what was to have been her wedding day. Never quite the same, Lizzie’s Uncle George died 15 months later. He was the same Bourne who built the amazing Wedding Cake House in Kennebunk. And since this post is all over the place, I’ll include a picture:kennebunk-maine-wedding-cake-house-home-60704Time to return to our focus and head back down the mountain.1280px-Descending_Mt._Washington,_by_Rail,_by_White,_Franklin,_1813-1870If you’d rather travel by steam, there’s still that option, as well. There’s always one steam locomotive scheduled for the first trip of the day. After we came back down, I caught a peek at one moving along the track.cog steamOverall, not too much has changed in over 100 years.Engine,_Mount_Washington_Railway,_from_Robert_N._Dennis_collection_of_stereoscopic_views

Breakdown_on_Mt._Washington_Railroad,_by_Adams,_S._F.,_b._1844For those who might hesitate when reading reviews of the steep incline, have no fear, it’s a very safe ride with only two major accidents, the last one being 50 years ago. It’s a little pricey ($69) to ride the Cog, but it’s well worth it, just make sure you pick a good weather day!

42 Comments

  1. We considered going up Mt Washington when we were in New Hampshire a few years ago but decided against it because of poor weather – had I realised that was what it was usually like, other than the 65 clear days per year, I might not have been so picky! Anyway, now I have read your interesting post and experienced it that way.

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    • Perhaps we’ll both pick one of those rare clear days if we ever get another opportunity. Apparently the view goes on for miles!

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  2. How neat, I’ve never even heard of this railroad. And I totally get why cars were first called horseless carriages, heh. And so sad about Miss Lizzy. =(

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    • I guess there are a bunch of cog railways around the world including a big one at Pike’s Peak in Colorado. Other pictures I didn’t include showed horses up at the summit, that must have been quite a ride.

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  3. Joyce Ray

    HI, Marcia! Your informative post brings back my memory of our first visit to the top last August. It was on our 50th anniversary, and we were blessed with clear skies! It really is a fun trip. Loved the early twentieth century pics!

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    • Hi Joyce, I’ll bet you had beautiful views all around. And wow, 50 years and now almost 51–congratulations!

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  4. Looks like a fun day. I love how you included the old pictures with the new! Great idea.

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    • Thanks, Darlene. It was fun and I love thinking about how other visitors hundreds of years ago saw the same sites as we see–cliffs, oceans, forests, etc.

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  5. This is descriptive, full of history, and all around a great read on the Cog Railway. Love all the photos, past and present. Thank you for a terrific post, Marcia! -Jennie-

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  6. Been to the Tip Top House several times. It’s a very different “ride” on the Cog! Glad you had a great trip!!

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  7. Fascinating 🙂

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  8. clarehelenwelsh

    Looks like a great trip! Lovely to see old and new photos next to each other ! Clare

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  9. This looks precious, Marcia. I would love, love, love to ride a Cog Railway. Throughout your post, I’m reminded of Puffing Bill (a steam loco) in Melbourne – the only time I’ve ridden “an old-fashioned train.” The scenery sounds excellent. The lupines remind me of Barbara Cooney’s Miss Rumphius. And how funny that there’s a post office up there. In your group photo, you look like a girl eager for her adventure, and what a charming one it was!

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    • Now I’ll have to look up ‘Puffing Bill.’ 🙂 I rode a steam train in Pennsylvania a year or so ago. Trains always bring on fun adventures. Wonderful to hear from you, Claudine!

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  10. slochman

    Marcia, your posts are always so amazing. I love your topics. You do such a wonderful job putting everything together. You should be writing nonfiction picture books. You have such a talent for this type of writing. You add the beautiful language from your fiction background to the really interesting facts about your topics. As always, a joy to read!

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    • Wow, thanks so much! I have fun researching and I’m very pleased you find the end results interesting.

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  11. Ashley

    aWESOME, I WOULD LOVE TO RIDE ON THIS TRAIN!!

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  12. Nice history. When we took the cog railway in 2005, it was too foggy to see much then either.

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  13. Bette Norton

    I so enjoyed reading your post on the Cog Railway! My husband and I travel up to the Mount Washington every year and visit at the base station. I was always afraid to travel on the cog to the top.. After reading your post and seeing that it is not that scary a ride, I am planning on riding the cog next summer. I love the old pictures with the new too! It is difficult to imagine the couple from Newton riding up in the open carriage car to the top. Now that is scary! 🙂
    Your blog posts would be great picture books. This post would be perfect with the old and new pictures with the added history. Very delightful post!

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    • Thanks, Bette, I’ll look forward to hearing about your trip on the Cog next summer!

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  14. Sounds like a fun trip!

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    • Can’t beat lots of laughs, adventure, and good food (Flatbreads in N. Conway)!

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  15. Wow! an amazing venture indeed! Love the pictures as well.

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    • It’s amazing how sharp some of the old pictures are, considering they were taken in the 1800s.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. What a fun outing!! And it looks like you had good company Marcia! And– it looked like you had a whole lot more fun than the people in the Weller photo! We traveled up a cog railway in Austria with our young kids and planned to hike down– but it looked like your day– really fogged in! So we got back on he train to head home.All that to say, it looked like you had such a great adventure! thanks for posting it…

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    • Yes, it was a fun day and I’m sure it was a little more comfortable traveling than 100 years ago. Austria must be wonderful, another place on my bucket list!

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      • p.s. Rhonda, to go with the other chat we’ve been having, I happened to think of a few other books I really enjoyed: “All the Light We Cannot See,” “The Summer Before the War,” and “The Invention of Wings.” I’ve just realized they’re all historical fiction, so it depends on your taste. I’m assuming you’ve read “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” –another good one.

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      • and thanks for all the history behind the day Marcia! Waiting to see your next big day out…

        Liked by 1 person

  17. Sounds like a fun day trip with just the right amount of adventure!

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  18. Thanks for all the history. I used to live in Vermont, and in my younger days, we did a lot of NH hiking including Mt. Washington. My dad always insisted we do it the hard way, though. I like the tangent about Lizzie – a sad story. The weather up there is treacherous!

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