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White Mountain Art

    New Hampshire's White Mountains are home of the Presidential Range that includes 6300 ft. Mount Washington.  After the tragedy at the Willey House, the White Mountains became a popular subject for hundreds of artists in the nineteenth century.  The landscape scenes painted by artists (like the shown one below) became known as White Mountain Art.  See also White Mountain Art on Wikipedia.  


Crawford Notch
by Thomas Hill (1829–1908)
looking north, before The Slide
Collection of the New Hampshire Historical Society.


    Image reproduced from the Web site White Mountain Art & Artists authored by John J. Henderson and Roger E. Belson.  Visit their Web site at http://whitemountainart.com.

    Thomas Hill's painting depicts the valley before The Slide, in all its "savage sublimity," as it was described at the time.  The small Willey House can be seen in the middle of the picture.  In the distance is Mt. Willard, to the left is the steep slope of Mt. Willey, and on the right is the side of Mt. Webster.  The monumental painting is about 6' by 10' and is owned by the New Hampshire Historical Society.

    By the 1850's, North Conway had become the first artist colony in the United States according to A Sweet Foretaste of Heaven": Artists in the White Mountains 1830-1930 by Robert L. McGrath and Barbara J. MacAdam. Hanover: Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, UP of New England, 1988.  That puts Ball Hughes right in the middle of another "first" as one of the first artists-in-residence at the first artist colony in the United States.

    See a  picture of the Willey House and Hotel with an article about the history of tourism in the 19th century New Hampshire from a Shaker perspective, available at Trekking New Hampshire, NH Tourism - A Quick History.  Note that this site does not always work, if not try again later.

    Video sampler of White Mountain Art on YouTube:


White Mountain Art & Tourism

    Tourists from New England and beyond were attracted to the White Mountains by the landscape paintings of the rugged terrain from the artists-in-residence at the new hotels and inns that sprouted up.  See Grand Hotels of the White Mountains by the New Hampshire Historical Society at www.nhhistory.com and a limited preview of This Grand & Magnificent Place: The Wilderness Heritage of the White Mountains by Christopher Johnson is available at Amazon.com.

    See picture of Willey House Hotel in The White Mountains: Alps of New England by Randall H. Bennett. Arcadis Publishing, 2003, p. 78.  The caption under the picture says "After the 1826 catastrophe, The Willey House evolved into a major tourist attraction.  Each summer, thousands of people visited Crawford Notch to see this cultural icon."

    Bennett states on pp. 66-67 that "The principal inspiration for early White Mountain literature and art, the Willey Disaster produced one of Americas first major tourist attractions."  See also pp. 64-67 for more information.  Note that this book has limited preview privileges on Google Book Search and some pages may be omitted.

    Ball Hughes rustic studio behind the Willey House is quite a contrast to Ball Hughes first professional residence at the mansion of the Earl of Leicester at Holkham Estate in England in the 1820's.  The Ball Hughes probably enjoyed their numerous summers in the White Mountains at the Willey House.




Arethusa Falls?
Crawford Notch, NH
by Ball Hughes or member of Ball Hughes Family
Courtesy of Frederick R. Brown III


    There are several waterfalls near North Conway.  The drawing above looks similar to Arethusa Falls in Crawford Notch, 1.5 miles south of the Willey House, off U.S. Route 302.  The boulders at the bottom of the photo below look similar to the drawing although the actual falls is much higher than the one in the drawing.  The way the water pools is also similar.  Compare the drawing above to the photo below.  Ball Hughes may have painted local scenes like this waterfall for visitors to the Willey House.


The Apex - Arethusa Falls. 176 foot vertical drop. Highest single fall in New Hampshire.

 Arethusa Falls


Travel to the Region

    North Conway is about 140 miles from Boston.  Before railroads, stagecoach travel was limited to about 50 miles a day.  The trip from Boston probably took about three days. See TheConcordCoach.tripod.com for more information on coach travel.


   The Old Willey House
 Colorized postcard from 1800's B/W Photo
Courtesy of the Sandwich Historical Society


    Rail service to the region started in the 1840’s, and was completed in the 1870's, boosting tourism.  In 1875, the railroad was completed through Crawford Notch, ushering in the era of the Grand Hotels.

    The Conway Scenic Railroad operates The Notch Train through Crawford Notch today.  See also SteamPhotos.com for great photos of the Conway Scenic Railroad.

    I couldn't resist adding the following nine minute video of the Notch Train excursion through Crawford Notch on the Conway Scenic Railroad.

 Conway Scenic: The Mountaineer


I hope you enjoyed the trip!

See New Hampshire Studio and Willey House on this site for more information.

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last update 11/1/2010
For noncommercial use, Copyright David E. Brown 2008-2010

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