White Mountain History and Culture
The White Mountains have a long history and a wide variety of cultural sites, including Native American villages, camps, quarries, hunting grounds, travelways, and spiritual places; and Euro-American farms, towns, industrial sites, buildings, structures, cultural landscapes, recreation sites, travelways, and Forest Service administrative sites. These sites and the artifacts associated with them are protected by federal laws, and managed as a non-renewable resource that can never be replaced. It is a federal offense to disturb, alter, remove, or damage archeological sites and objects.
Systematic archaeological testing has located 21 prehistoric Native American sites on the WMNF. A complex of Paleo-Indian sites on private land at the base of the northern slopes of the White Mountains indicates people were in the area 10,000 years ago. For more information on Native American settlement of New Hampshire, visit the New Hampshire Archeological Society.
Exploration of the White Mountains by Europeans began in the mid-17th century. In the late 18th century, after the Revolutionary War, settlers cleared forests for mixed agriculture and grazing, establishing farming communities with schools, stores, and mills. Many of these farms, and sometimes entire communities, were abandoned in the mid to late 19th century, as farming technology changed and people moved west or to cities for better economic opportunities. Large logging companies bought up the abandoned farmland and woodlots, constructing logging railroads and camps and stripping much of the timber from the mountains. The unregulated practices of these logging companies caused massive forest fires, and damaged watersheds vital to the industrial towns downstream, such as Manchester, NH, and Lowell, MA, which depended on water power to run their mills. The public began to advocate protection for the forests of the White Mountains, culminating in the creation of the White Mountain National Forest in 1918. For a visual representation of this landscape history, which was similar in much of New England,
see the Harvard Forest dioramas.
Recreation in the White Mountains has occurred since the early 19th century, and has included trail and shelter development, summer resorts and grand hotels, summer home tourism, and winter recreation, including some of the earliest alpine ski areas in the country.
USFS land management history includes administrative sites, recreation sites, Public Works Program sites such as CCC camps, and fire suppression history.
Visiting White Mountain National Forest Historic Sites
Visitors to the WMNF will undoubtedly notice the traces of the past that can be found across the Forest. The cellar holes and stone walls that criss-cross the Forest are evidence of the farm families who lived and worked here more than a hundred years ago, and the logging camps, railroad grades, and mill dams are remnants of past economic enterprise. The building remains and artifacts now reclaimed by forest are an important resource in understanding how people lived in the past, and how the forest we know today came into being. They are invaluable, non-renewable, and are protected by law. Please do not damage or remove any historic remains you come across on the National Forest, and report damage or looting to Forest Service personnel.