Touching the Clouds

“For those of you who are passing through, we hope you will return to enjoy our hospitality.”

Self-Guided Historic Tour brochure of The Mount Washington Hotel

A few years ago, I motored through Bretton Woods, New Hampshire.  I parked my car in the visitor’s lot of the grand resort hotel and carefully approached the main entrance.  It was the peak fall foliage and I was one of many happy motorists slipping into the Great Hall.  An impressive place from another time, I thought.  It will soon meet the fate of the Balsams Grand Resort Hotel in Dixville Notch, the once-stately retreat that closed in September, 2010.

I returned to The Mount Washington Hotel a few days ago, to enjoy their hospitality.  I am happy to report the hotel lives on.

The story of resort culture is not a new one.  According to The Grand Resort Hotels of the White Mountains by Bryant F. Tolles, Jr., improved transportation and changed attitudes towards recreation and nature in the 1820’s and 1830’s “encouraged people to seek the resort experience.”  “Prompted by a new romantic fascination in spirituality, ethical and moral standards, healthfulness and the landscape, tourism grew to such an extent that by the 1830’s there were a number of first class hotels located near popular attractions in the Northeast.”

This fervor to visit remote natural landscapes continued and accelerated with the harnessing of steam for ships and railroads.

Joseph Stickney (1840 – 1903) was a wealthy New Hampshire native.  He hired architect Charles Alling Gifford to design a resort hotel that would be Stickney’s crowning career achievement, The Mount Washington Hotel.  Built in the Spanish Renaissance style, the hotel opened on July 28, 1902 after an eighteen-month construction.  The largest wood structure in New England, the building’s foundation is made of local cut granite.  The wooden building has a steel infrastructure.

Stickney died following the hotel’s first full season and his wife, Carolyn ran the resort until she died in 1936.  She left the property to her nephew, Foster Reynolds.  The hotel closed in 1942, due to World War II, and then Reynolds sold the property in 1944.  Oddly enough, the international monetary conference held that same year at the resort may in some way be responsible for the locale’s preservation.

According to the hotel’s self-guided tour brochure, “When the government decided to host the Monetary Conference here at Bretton Woods, they needed to bring in workers to overhaul the hotel since it had sustained damage while it sat empty during the war.  Roofs had collapsed from the weight of heavy snow, wallpaper was peeling off the walls and everything needed to be painted.”

And paint they did.  The federal government sent in 150 workers and gave them each 50 cans of white paint.  Some at the hotel still refer to this time as “the great white paint massacre” since these federal employees painted EVERYTHING white, including mahogany doors, brass light fixtures and Tiffany windows.

Following the Bretton Woods Conference, the hotel continued operating on the resort schedule of May through Labor Day, closing for the winter each year.  Then, in 1999 after a massive renovation, the hotel opened for the “winter season.”

The hotel is now owned by Omni Hotels & Resorts and is open year-round.

I did not know what to expect during my one-night stay.  The Omni’s website features stock photos of the resort, but would it be peaceful?  Would it be that trip back through time to a lost past I am always seeking?

My personal impressions of this grand and gentle place are too numerous to elaborate here.  They might bore those who seek the thrill of the swipe and the filtering of images.  The weather was imperfect; it was too cold for golfers and left the wind-swept 18-hole course available for my delightful and contemplative afternoon hike.  The rooms were clean and crisp.  The food was good.  My traveling companion was five-star.

But I must temper my thrill of this new place with the potential of its imperfection and defer final judgement until I visit the resort again for a longer stay.

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