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History of Mount Washington

This section was created by volunteer and member Adam R. Jones.

The first known ascent of the 6288' mountain Agiocochook (later named Mount Washington) was made in 1642 by Darby Field. In the years to follow, few had dared to brave the climb. It wasn't until 210 years later in 1852 that the first summit house was built, one year before the construction of Tip Top House which stands today. Take a look back at Mount Washington in the 1850s. Shortly thereafter, the Carriage Road and Cog Railway were completed on opposite sides of the mountain. Both were unprecedented feats of engineering marvel, and made New England's highest peak readily accessible to visitors of all ages. The mountain's popularity increased, and many structures were built on the summit, which soon became known as the 'City Among the Clouds'.

As the years rolled by, buildings went up and came down. In fact, all of them save Tip Top House burned to the ground in a great fire on June 18, 1908. Even then, it was only 11 days till that building was again functional! In 1932, four men pioneered the Mount Washington Observatory, which has since kept a daily record of the summit's ever-changing weather. On April 12, 1934, the scientists recorded a wind gust of 231 MPH, the highest wind speed ever observed on the surface of the earth.

summit map by Adam R. Jones

The map here shows today's summit features, the most prominent of which is the Sherman Adams Summit Building to the north and east of the 6288' summit, which is depicted by the orange triangle. Southwest of the summit rock is Tip Top House, and just south of the bottom of its wooden entry staircase you'll find the Mount Washington Observatory's rain gauge. Nearby is the end of the 3-mile long Cog Railway trestle and the Auto Road Stage Office, chained down to the ground! The Yankee Building, WMTW-TV buildings, power house, and transmitting towers adorn the southwest end of the summit complex. Also, three large parking areas have been paved for those who drive up the Auto Road.

A trip to Mount Washington is an unforgettable experience. Whether you take the train or the Auto Road up, whether you hike up in the summer or in the winter, whether it's 60 degrees or 20 below zero, whether visibility's 100 miles or 100 feet, or whether it's a clear day or there's raging blizzard, the summit of New England's highest peak will seem a different place with every visit. It's no wonder they receive tens of thousands of visitors per year!

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Sherman Adams Summit Building

SHERMAN ADAMS SUMMIT BUILDING photo - click to enlarge           MOUNT WASHINGTON OBSERVATORY photo - click to enlarge

The Sherman Adams Summit Building serves as the central visitors' center atop Mount Washington. An engineering marvel in itself, the modern, concrete structure was built in 1979 to the north and east of the actual summit, replacing the deteriorating old summit building. In fine weather, visitors can see up to 130 miles from the rooftop promenade or from inside, where giant glass windows lining the front of the building offer magnificent views to the north and east. Passengers arriving on the Cog Railway can catch a great view of the Adams Building on the ride up.

The large indoor facility, run by the New Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation, has amenities for just about anybody visiting the summit: telephones, restrooms, gift shops, pack rooms, a post office, food courts, a service desk, water fountains, plenty of exhibits, and a museum run by the Mount Washington Observatory. Weary hikers seeking a fun ride down can also purchase Cog Railway tickets near the main entrance.

At the west end of the Sherman Adams Summit Building is the Mount Washington Observatory, whose trademark weather tower (above, right) serves as a platform for a variety of meteorological and scientific gauges and instruments. Adjacent to the tower is the Observatory itself (on the main level), with the crew's living quarters being downstairs on the ground level.

Tip Top House

TIP TOP HOUSE IN 1967 photo - click to enlarge           TIP TOP HOUSE TODAY photo - click to enlarge

Tip Top House is the last of the original structures built at the summit that still exists today. The stone hotel was built in the summer of 1853, a decade before the civil war, by Samuel F. Spaulding & Co., at a cost of $7000. It can be seen in an old engraving depicting the summit in 1854. Also, check out how Tip Top House looked over 100 years ago in this 1895 photograph.

In recent times, Tip Top House has undergone extensive renovations. Not only did it get a new roof, but the interior was restored as well. The 28' x 84' building has been reopened to visitors, so can stop in during tourist season and take a look back in time to the earliest days humans have dwelled on the summit of Mount Washington.

Stage Office

STAGE OFFICE photo - click to enlarge           STAGE OFFICE IN WINTER photo - click to enlarge

The Stage Office was built by the Summit Stage Company in the 1908, and served as the first home of the Mount Washington Observatory from 1932 to 1937. It was in this two-story, rectangular building (above, left) that observers recorded the world's highest wind speed in a great storm on April 12, 1934. At the height of the furious maelström, the anemometer atop the northeast end of the gable roof clocked a peak gust of 231 MPH! Several years later, a sign was put up on the southwest side of the building, commemorating this remarkable and historic observance. (A similar sign can be seen today.)

The building was replaced in 1976 with today's Stage Office, a very close likeness of its predecessor. Owned and operated by the Mount Washington Auto Road, the facility is now open to the public. Inside, visitors can purchase a multitude of Mount Washington gifts and novelties, along with Stage Van tickets for a ride down the mountain. Outside, people often wonder at the giant chains securing the building's roof, a reminder of the fierce conditions that often prevail on Mount Washington.

Yankee Building & WMTW

YANKEE BUILDING photo - click to enlarge           WMTW photo - click to enlarge

If you've ever seen Mt. Washington from a distance, you've probably been able to discern some of the transmitting towers atop the summit. The most notable towers are those of two FM radio stations, WHOM and WPKQ. There are also dozens of other private radio transmitters, used by various state and federal agencies and private companies. Pictured above (left) is the Yankee Network Building (erected in 1941) which houses the bulk of the hardware for the WPKQ transmitter, as well as other radio equipment and workspaces. The photo on the right shows the old WMTW-TV building, which was built in 1954 and destroyed by fire in 2003. For many years this building held station equipment and electrical generators, plus living quarters for the WMTW staff, who operated and maintained the Channel 8 television transmitter. WMTW ceased transmitting in February of 2002, and left the summit entirely that summer. A fire related to the generators destroyed the building the next winter.

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