Woods of the Past #3 – Ethan Allen Crawford

Image of The Rosebrook Farm courtesy of WhiteMountainHistory.org and Dartmouth College Library.

Ethan Allen Crawford, known as the “Mountain Giant”, is the stuff legends are made of. He is one of my favorite woodsman for many reasons. As a young boy, he and the rest of his family, were among the first homesteaders in Crawford Notch, located in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. His father, Abel Crawford, was the first settler and built a cabin where the AMC Highland Center now stands. Abel and his family lived there a time before he sold the land to his father-in-law, Eleazar Rosebrook, and moved twelve miles to the Southern end of the Notch, somewhere near where Notchland stands today. I’m guessing things got a little too crowded for the old Revolutionary War Vet and he needed some breathing room, and subsequently created one of the first in-law apartments in the White Mountains as well.

In 1817 Eleazar Rosebrook died and his grandson, Ethan Allen Crawford, begrudgingly inherited the estate. Rosebrook had turned the cabin into a large house and farm and Ethan was under tremendous financial pressure to keep it running. Aware of the natural beauty of his surroundings he got the idea to turn his home into an Inn for travelers passing through the notch, as well as for outdoor enthusiasts from the newly emerging outdoor recreation industry.

In 1819 he blazed the first trail up Mt. Washington and began guiding visitors to the top. He was also responsible for building and managing the first road in the Northern section of the Notch, present day route 302, as well as other paths and roads throughout the mountains. Even though he never made a profit he continued to do it as long as he was able, destroying his health in the process. Eventually, he became financially destitute and even spent some time in debtor’s prison before finally losing his home. It’s a sad story really and in my opinion, not how an American Hero should have been treated. Anyone who has some romantic notion of homesteaders and guides from the “good ol days” should read the History of the White Mountains. It is the account of Ethan Allen Crawford, compiled and written by his wife Lucy Crawford, where he tells the story about his short, hard life in Vermont and New Hampshire.

ethanallenbearMy favorite Ethan Allen Crawford story is the time he captured a black bear alive and thinking it might make a good “attraction” for his inn, attempted to carry it home. According to him, he managed to get it out of the trap, tied-up and hoisted onto his shoulders. The poor animal was obviously freaking out and was able to scratch and bite him some. In the process of trying to put the bear on the ground to adjust it’s bindings he accidentally put it down too hard and killed it. That’s right, he caught a bear, tied it up, carried it around on his shoulders before body-slamming it to death. Worn out from the struggle, he left the bear on the road and later sent one of his hired men back for it. The classic story of a frontiersman wrestling a bear!

I may revisit the story of Ethan Allen Crawford as well as other members of his family at a later time. For now, if you want to learn more check out the previously mentioned book. The Bartlett Historical Society and WhiteMountainHistory.org also have nice websites full of useful historical information. Finally, for those interested in experiencing what I consider to be, the most beautiful place on Earth, we offer guided tours and camping trips of the area ranging from two days to two weeks. Hope to see you out there and thanks for reading! 

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3 thoughts on “Woods of the Past #3 – Ethan Allen Crawford

  1. Thank you for this article, Ethan was my 3rd great grandfather, and I appreciate your commentary on the hardships he suffered to sustain his grandfather’s heritage, and recommending Lucy’s book (History of the White Mountains)!

  2. A wonderful article…thank you! I descend from Eleazer Rosebrooks, hence also from the Crawfords since they all inter-married for a number of years! In fact, I have been to the ruins of Crawford Castle in Kilburnie just a few years ago! Growing up I spent summers with my grandparents in Twin Mt,, just a few miles from Crawford Inn where we would go for special musical evenings. Lovely memories!

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