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  • Writer's pictureInger and Jeff Latreille

The "Kanc"

~Tuesday, October 5, 2021~

Day 478

We had quite the ambitious agenda today being our final day in New Hampshire….. 1. Drive the Kancamagus Scenic Byway, 2. Circle through the Crawford Notch State Park and 3. Revisit the Washington Hotel for a late afternoon appetizer and a glass of bubbly while watching breathtaking views from their lovely balcony. Unfortunately there was just too much to see on the Kancamagus that we didn’t succeed on doing the last 2 escapades.

We decided to leave Sadie at the campsite today to give her a much deserved rest after our 2 big hike days (remember, she covers triple the distance we do when off-leash). So off we went to drive the Kancamagus Highway, otherwise known as the “Kanc” from North Conway. The 34.5-mile scenic byway was completed in 1959, and ends in the town of Lincoln and has deep roots to the past. Before European settlers arrived, Native Americans traveled a well-worn path through the area to hunt and fish. One of those Native Americans was Chief Passaconaway, known for uniting 17 Central New England tribes into the Panacook Confederacy. The grandson of Passaconaway was named Kancamagus who became chief, where after the dissolution of tribes, Kancamagus and his followers fled to upper New Hampshire (where he later ruled) and Canada. Many, many years later, railroads came to Conway to bring people to the White Mountains and at a much faster rate. What would normally have taken a 3-day stagecoach journey became a 4-hour train trip. In fact, many farmers in the White Mountains area welcomed visitors to their homes which you could say were some of the first “hotels” in the area. Prior to the 1930’s, the road from Conway along the river ended in the Passaconaway Valley in Albany, which at the time did not run along the present-day Kancamagus Highway. In the early 1930’s, as tourism increased, the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) worked to relocate the road closer to the river as interest in the White Mountain area escalated. And it has only increased in popularity over the years. The tour buses are in full force as everyone is interested in being a Fall Peeper right now.

One of the first stops along the highway from the Conway direction was The Lower Falls along the Swift River.

It’s one of those places that you could just sit and gaze at your surroundings ALL day. Stunning would be the word. During the hot, summer months, this is an even greater attraction with thousands of visitors a day cooling off in its inviting cascades and pools.

2nd stop….Rocky Gorge. Carved by glaciers and offering a 10-foot drop with rapids, it is the perfect setting for those Fall pictures.

Evidently, even during drought times, the gorge is known to still thunder on. The footbridge over the Swift River connects to another path leading you to picturesque Falls Pond, surrounded by the dense White Mountain National Forest.

Our last stop, and one we wished we had more time for, was the historic Russell-Colbath House. There’s probably an hour’s worth of things to see on this property. Several families, including the George family, lived on the property. In 1805, he purchased and developed the land, while raising 14 children. Sadly, three of his young daughters were buried on the edge of the property, establishing the Passaconaway Cemetery which is in close proximity to the house. The house, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1832 and is the only surviving structure of a homestead in the town of Passaconaway. Ruth Priscilla Colbath was a lifetime resident of Passaconaway. After her father passed away when Ruth was 29, she continued to run the farm, and eventually married a Jack-of-All trades named Thomas Colbath. But out of nowhere, her world was turned upside down. In 1891, while Ruth, then 41 was preparing dinner, her husband left the house saying he would be back “in a little while”. As darkness fell, she lit a lamp and placed it in the window to guide him, but he did not come home. Every night for the remaining 39 years of her life, Ruth placed a lamp in the window, hoping he would return. Thomas finally came back three years after Ruth’s death, having been away for 42 years, evidently “seeing the world”. Wow, and to continue her isolated life, managing the homestead all by herself. The resilience and hope she possessed must have been a self-fulfilling prophecy. After Ruth Colbath’s death in 1930, the barn and several outbuildings were demolished and a timber frame barn was built (not mirrored after the previous barn) in 2003. It would have been nice to see the remaining ½ mile trail on the property, called the Rail ‘n River with interpretive signs explaining logging and railroading in the area during the 19th century. Another time.

Even though we had been to the Crawford Notch area before, we’re still disappointed that we were only able to view the outline of those amazing White Mountains in near darkness as we headed back to our campground. Wouldn’t it be amazing to have this Fall scenery last an entire season?

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