Franconia Notch, New Hampshire

The Profile House

The Profile House, in Franconia Notch, existed for 70 years. The first Profile House opened in 1853 and the “New” Profile burned in 1923. At the time of its destruction, it could accommodate 500 guests and was the most luxurious hotel on the west side of the mountains. The parking lot for the Cannon Mountain Ski Area and Tramway now covers the site where the hotel stood.

In 1852, when Richard Taft and his company, the Flume and Franconia Hotel Company, bought the Lafayette House at the north end of the Notch, construction began on the first Profile House and it opened in 1853, a simple three and a half story building. It was expanded several times, by the addition of first one wing and then another. A large dining room was added, outbuildings were added and starting in 1868, a number of “cottages” were constructed. There would eventually be about twenty of these cottages, which were connected to one another and the main building by covered walkways. Cottages were initially rented but were later owned by well-to-do guests who would spend the entire summer at the hotel but wanted more privacy than the hotel itself offered. A stable accommodated 350 horses and carriage sheds housed the wide variety of wagons and coaches needed.

From 1875 Snow's Travel Guide (Bryant Tolles Collection):

In 1872, the owners of the hotel built a narrow-gauge railroad from Bethlehem Junction to eliminate the stagecoach ride for guests arriving from the north. The nine and a half mile railroad had two engines; the Profile and the Echo, as well as freight houses and service facilities. (Rail service from the south never reached the hotel. In 1883, service was opened from Plymouth to North Woodstock and guests completed their journey by stage.) When the Boston and Maine Railroad bought the line in 1892, they converted the narrow gauge track to standard gauge. The line ran until 1921, when declining business forced its closing. The station survived for many years and it was home to the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen until it was demolished when Interstate 93 was constructed.

The hotel was practically a self-sufficient community. They operated a large farm with a herd of dairy cows and a large greenhouse. There was a power plant, a boathouse with a steam launch on Echo Lake, dormitories for the help, a bowling alley, post office, telegraph office, barbershop, billiard hall, music room, souvenir shops, a golf course, and more. There was a fish hatchery for raising trout to stock the small trout pond (which today is on the east side of Rt. 93, easily visible from the highway). The hotel owned thousands of acres in Franconia Notch, including the Old Man of the Mountain, The Basin, The Pool and The Flume. A mineral spring house provided water for the guests, and the spring still provides water for local residents and visitors. (It’s near Boise Rock.) Recreational facilities included hiking, tennis, badminton, croquet, fishing, boating, horseback riding, etc.

The Trout House Was One Mile North of the Hotel (Dick Hamilton Collection):

The hotel provided employment for hundreds of local residents and a market for fresh farm products. In 1896, the hotel printed a brochure, listing by name, all the employees and their job titles. It provides a fascinating insight into the management of a Grand Hotel. There were two stage drivers, a blacksmith, an attendant for the Spring House, two engineers, a fireman, a conductor and a baggage master for the railroad, eight hostlers, two carriage washers, eighteen women worked in the laundry, there were seven dish girls, sixty-five waitresses (no waiters), and a wide variety of kitchen help. You can read the entire brochure here, through the courtesy of Bryant Tolles.

Another interesting document, this one undated but on the letterhead of the New Profile House (1906-1923) is in the collections of the New Hampshire Historical Society. It’s a six page handwritten document, titled “Rules for Waitresses” and is signed by W.A. Parker, Head Waiter. It provides specific instructions for waitresses. For example, on pouring water: “”the glass should be held as near the bottom as possible and placed six inches to the right of the silver. Do not remove it from the table”. On where to stand: “Always stand on the left side when taking orders”. On removing food: “Butter, cream, fruit, olives, cakes, nuts, raisins, etc must be taken from the table as soon as possible”. On appearance: “Personal neatness should be your watchword., clean skin and well brushed fingernails should be the first consideration. Never run, hop, skip or jump, but have a lively gait.” On relations with guests: “Do not talk to guests other than when taking an order”. On dishes and glassware: “Be very careful of the glasses as they are charged to you and you will have to pay for any you break.” And a few don’ts: Don’t stay out later than 10:30pm; don’t chew gum; don’t go out on any joy rides; don’t sing in the waiting room; and there are more. There are also specific details on uniforms, hem lengths, pockets, aprons, etc. Menus from the Profile House (from the Bryant Tolles Collection) indicate the variety of foods available to guests. Compare these two menus with an 1859 “Bill of Fare” from the Douglas Philbrook Collection. An 1882 menu (Tolles Collection) includes a wine list that might be difficult to match in the White Mountains today.

The Profile House produced numerous pieces of promotional literature describing the facilities and the advantages that their geographical location provided. One (from the Dick Hamilton Collection) from the late 1870s includes a map of the area and the stage and rail connections to the hotel. An eight page brochure for the New Profile House has several photos of the interior of the hotel and describes the attractions of the area and the hotel itself.

The “New” Profile House opened in 1906. The owners of the Profile House decided, in 1905, that the fifty-year-old hotel was showing its age. It was decided to demolish the existing structure and replace it with a new, luxurious structure. It’s likely that the opening of the Mt. Washington Hotel a few years earlier contributed to the decision to build a new hotel. Demolition of the old hotel began on Oct. 1, 1905 and the new hotel was open for the 1906 season. Only a small portion of the old hotel was retained. A part of the old dining room was converted to a large ballroom. The new hotel had 200 guest rooms, many, but not all, with private baths. By 1921, a 200 car garage had been added.

The existing “cottages” were not disturbed with the re-building. A guest annex was built, bringing the total capacity of the hotel to 600. The dining room was able to serve 400. (Details concerning the new hotel are taken from the July, 1906 issue of “Among the Clouds”.

Fully Developed First Profile House Complex, 1901 (Library of Congress):

In 1921, Colonel Greenleaf, owner of the hotel, decided it was time retire and the hotel and the surrounding 11,000 acres were sold to a syndicate headed by the 32 year old Karl Abbot. At the time, Abbott and his father owned the Uplands Hotel in Bethlehem and the Forest Hills Hotel in Franconia. On August 2, 1923, at the height of the season, a fire broke out that destroyed the entire hotel complex-over 26 buildings burned to the ground in four hours. The cause of the fire was never determined. The Abbot’s briefly considered rebuilding, but quickly decided not to. Instead, they entered into negotiations with the State of New Hampshire and conservation groups to sell their 11,000 acres (with the Old Man, the Flume and all the other attractions) to the state. Today no trace of the hotel remains but Franconia State Park has hosted millions of visitors.

Suggested Reading: Much of the information used for this history has been taken from the essential reference work on White Mountain hotels, “The Grand Resort Hotels of the White Mountains” by Bryant Tolles.

Also see “Open for The Season” by Karl Abbot, in which he discusses the Profile House and other hotels he owned or operated.

Various issues of "Among The Clouds" also contain information about the hotel and the improvements made year by year. 

Image: c.1900, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection

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