The White Mountains is a place of many stories. For hundreds of years, the mountains have drawn people to its immense peaks and peaceful valleys. Along the way, the region’s history has taken on mythic qualities, with tragic demises, forgotten towns, and haunted hotels shrouding those spookier of tales.
These are the tales told over campfires on starless nights, and during chilly chairlift rides on icy mornings. Some whisper them and pass them down through the generations. Others speak boisterously, proud to know their local, legendary lore.
Here is a short collection of some of the haunted stories and historic spots of the White Mountains, NH. We hope you will be frightfully entertained!
A HIDDEN WHITE MOUNTAINS GHOST TOWN (White Mountain National Forest)
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the White Mountains was known for its prolific logging industry. Along with that industry came small logging towns complete with everything from sawmills and schools to town halls and homesteads. Livermore, located approximately 16 miles northwest of North Conway, NH, was one such town.
Livermore was established in 1876 in the shadows of beautiful Crawford Notch and was named after Samuel Livermore (a NH senator and relation of the two Boston lawyers who founded the Livermore logging operation). At its height of prosperity, Livermore claimed between 160 to 200 lumberjacks and their family members within its boundaries.
Over the years, Livermore went the way of many logging towns in the White Mountains. The onslaught of deforestation and damaging floods and fires, as well as the closure of the town’s mills in 1928 and several other misfortunes in the intervening years, resulted in a town forgotten by the 1950s.
Today, the population of Livermore has dwindled to an occasional 2 people (per the 2020 census). Visitors wishing to stumble across this ghost town should head west on Route 302 from North Conway into the White Mountain National Forest. Turn onto Sawyer River Road, then look for signs for the Sawyer River Trail. It’s 1.5 miles of moderate walking along an old, dirt road through the woods (one way), but hikers will be well rewarded.
Tucked in between trees and under fallen leaves are the remains of a town once thriving with prosperity. Look for stones poking through the underbrush, skeletal foundations, and brick edifices. Will your town one day go ghost as well? It’s a spooky thought indeed.
Visitors to Livermore can choose to park their car at the lot at the start of Sawyer River Road on Route 302, or if the gate is open, you may opt to drive in a ways. Driving conditions vary and may not be for the faint of heart. We recommend parking at the beginning just to be safe!
NANCY BROOK & THE TRAGIC TALE OF NANCY BARTON (Crawford Notch, NH)
Imagine Crawford Notch late in the fall of 1788. The promise of snow-frosted nights whispers alongside the wind that whips through mountain passes….
On a Jefferson, NH property owned by Colonel Joseph Whipple, two young employees have fallen in love: Nancy Barton, a strong-minded servant, and Jim Swindell, a farmhand. With plans to marry in mind, Nancy entrusted Jim with her dowry and traveled to Portsmouth to secure housing for a new life with her beloved. During her absence, Colonel Whipple convinced Jim to forgo his plans of marriage and instead join with the colonists fighting for independence from the British.
Upon word of her fiancée’s betrayal, Nancy raced back to Crawford Notch in hopes of stopping him. By the time of arrival, Jim and the Colonel had already absconded with her dowry. A distraught Nancy refused the good advice of her neighbors to stay put, and instead set out on foot with few belongings, following a 30-mile stretch of wintery trail in pursuit of the two men. Twenty miles into her journey, Nancy found the remnants of their fire. This discovery spurred her onwards through the snow and cold until she came across an icy brook. Delirious with cold but determined, Nancy crossed the water, soaking her skirts.
Sadly, this mistake proved fatal for love-stricken Nancy. Concerned neighbors following the young woman’s footsteps found her sitting on a rock by the brook’s edge several hours later, frozen to death. When news of Nancy’s death reached Jim, he was consumed with guilt and madness. Shortly thereafter, he passed away in a psychiatric hospital.
Today, Nancy’s presumed grave rests high on a riverbank, just north of Nancy Brook. Her final resting place is a simple jumble cairn set amongst tall, quiet trees. Visit on a warm fall day, with leaves tumbling to the forest floor, small mushrooms pushing up through the underbrush, and the sounds of Nancy Brook burbling nearby; you’ll think it a peaceful place. Just don’t tread these woods alone; hikers have reported the sounds of laughter and heart wrenching crying echoing through the woods, not far from Nancy and her brook.
Nancy’s gravesite is located on the private grounds of the historic Notchland Inn, off Route 302 in Crawford Notch. Prior to your adventure, we recommend calling the Inn to request permission. The Innkeepers are well versed in the history of the region and can provide brief directions to Nancy’s grave, as well as a small on-property graveyard for other famed White Mountains figures.
The walk to Nancy’s gravesite is less than a quarter mile through mild to moderate forested terrain, making it suitable for most adventurers. Those looking for more mileage can choose to hike to Nancy Cascades, an approximately 4.9-mile out and back moderate hike ending in a scenic waterfall. Please note that this option does involve stream crossings and is blazed to a limited extent, and is not recommended for beginners.
THE UNATTENDED LANTERN AT THE RUSSELL-COLBATH HOUSE (Passaconway, NH)
As one of the most scenic byways in the White Mountains, the Kancamagus Highway sees its fair share of curious travelers. Those passing through the once thriving town of Passaconaway, NH will notice a bit of an outlier during their journey: the Russell-Colbath House.
This simple home, built in 1832, is the last original structure in Passaconaway. Visitors wondering why the house still stands alone, deep in the woods of the White Mountain National Forest, need look no further than the haunting story of Ruth Colbath.
One night in 1891, Ruth’s husband Thomas set out from the family farm to run errands. Although his journey was expected to be brief, Thomas did not return that evening, or the next. Days turned into weeks, then months, then years….
For 39 years, a lovesick, worried Ruth waited for her husband, placing a lit oil lamp in the window to guide Thomas home. In 1930, Ruth passed away at the age of eighty, faithful to the end.
Three years after her death, Thomas returned with little explanation of his absence. Over the passing years, some claim Thomas wandered away and became lost, and was too embarrassed to return home. Others think he fled west to seek his fortune in the Gold Rush, although he was already several decades too late. Whichever the reason, the story of Ruth remains a testament to steadfastness.
A small cemetery on the property holds Ruth’s final resting place; those who choose to visit are asked to tread respectfully and softly…and they would be wise to do so. Travelers passing by the Russell-Colbath house in the dark of night have claimed to see Ruth’s lantern in the window, lighting the way for her husband Thomas to return.
The Russell-Colbath House is located on the Kancamagus Highway, 12 miles west of Conway, NH. The interior of this property (which is part of the National Register of Historic Places) is open Memorial Day through Columbus Day. Visitors can explore the grounds, visit the cemetery, and walk the half mile ADA-friendly Rail ‘N River trail year-round. There is a $5.00 recreation fee to park that can be paid in cash on-site).
A HAUNTING IN THE OMNI MOUNT WASHINGTON HOTEL (Bretton Woods, NH)
The White Mountains has a history of grand resort hotels, including the iconic Omni Mount Washington Hotel. With its red roof and stunning views of Mount Washington, it captivates the eye as well as the imagination. Oh, the stories that could be told by the many guests who have walked those halls, enjoyed cocktails on the veranda, and who may have been visited by a spirit or two...
The Mount Washington Hotel was built in 1902 by Joseph Stickney and while he passed away shortly after the hotel was built, his wife Carolyn continued to spend her summers at the hotel. Carolyn eventually passed away at her home in Rhode Island, however since then, many guests and hotel employees have recounted spooky occurrences surrounding Carolyn’s suite. Brave guests who have opted to stay in Room #314, known as the Princess Room, have reported instances of lights turning on and off on their own, items disappearing and reappearing, and whiffs of a floral perfume have been detected in the middle of the night. Carolyn’s very own bed is still in the room for guest use, and several guests and employees have recounted seeing the ghost of a woman sitting at the edge of the bed.
While Carolyn may have never left her beloved hotel, she is a benevolent sprit who wants to ensure that other guests enjoy their time at the hotel as well.
Ask at the front desk about getting a guided tour of the property. The history of the Omni Mount Washington Hotel is fascinating, and you may learn about other friendly spirits that have made the hotel their forever home.
THE GHASTLY HISTORY OF THE WILLEY HOUSE (Crawford Notch State Park, NH)
Travel through Crawford Notch State Park, and chances are you’ve stopped at the Willey House historic site for some ice cream, a quick bathroom break, or a better view of the immense, sheer walls of rock on either side of the road.
The next time passing through, park for a different reason. A small memorial stone sits quietly by the stairs, marking the tragedy that befell the Willey House on August 28, 1826.
Ethan Crawford, one of the region’s most iconic figures, first acquired the Willey House (then known as the Old Notch House) in 1823, with the intentions of using it as an inn to accommodate guests partaking in his mountain guide services.
The house was situated at the base of rocky cliffs and jumbles, but that did not deter Samuel Willey, his wife Polly, and their five children from moving into the house in the fall of 1825. Set amidst the towering peaks, wild woods, and sheer beauty of the White Mountains, one can imagine the Willeys living an idyllic, rugged life. But life in the mountains is unpredictable, and the following June, a rockslide narrowly missed their home. Luck was with the Willeys…but only for a short time.
A torrential rainstorm on the night of August 28th, 1826, prompted the mountain to unleash another massive rockslide. The great cracks and rumblings woke the Willeys, as well as two hired hands. They fled in fear from the house and out into the night, and directly into the path of the slide. All nine souls were killed, crushed beneath the massive stones.
In a cruel twist of fate, the house itself was spared from the rockslide. The rocks had met a small ledge above the house and parted, only to merge back together below the house and continue on their destructive path.
Neighbors, including Ethan Crawford himself, visited the home the next day, finding it abandoned. The home was left in disarray, indicating all had left in a hurry. When the searched the area the following days, they recovered the bodies of six; three of the Willey children were never found. To this day, they rest beneath the rocks.
In an odd twist of fate, this tragedy prompted a wave of tourism to the region, with artists such as Thomas Cole and writers like Nathaniel Hawthorne documenting the site of devastation. Crawford’s homestead had suffered damage as well during the storm, but with the influx of new visitors, he was able to repair his home and build a new Notch House in the northern end of the notch which opened in 1829.
The Willey House came under new management with Horace Fabyan 1845. He converted it to a 50-bed hotel, but with time, the scene of devastation was reclaimed by a fire in 1899, and then by nature itself. Now, the marker and nearby Mount Willey (named in honor of the lost family) are all the remain.
The Willey House Visitor Center in Crawford Notch State Park is open during the peak summer season. All buildings are closed for winter as of October 15th. Visit the NH State Parks website for updates and more. The stone marker can be visited year-round.
Honorable Mentions for Spooky Spots in the White Mountains
Betty & Barney Hill Alien Abduction Site-Lincoln, NH
The evening of September 19, 1961 started as any other night for Portsmouth, NH couple, Betty and Barney Hill. They were returning home from a vacation to Montreal. As they were headed south on Route 3, they both noticed a light in the sky that was moving erratically and appeared to be following their vehicle. They eventually pulled the car over as the light got closer and an object began to take shape. The couple lost consciousness and could not account for several hours of their journey. Under hypnosis, details of being abducted by the creatures aboard the UFO came to light and thus began the fascination of aliens that holds to this day. We may never know if their story is true or a fabrication, but it lives on as one of the great, spooky tales of the White Mountains.
Visitors can view the historic marker at the Indian Head Resort on Route 3 in Lincoln
Pet Cemetery (Crawford Notch State Park, NH)
Take the half mile loop trail along the shores of Saco Lake, and you just might stumble on a small pet cemetery set prettily just off the path. We don’t know the origin story for this somber spot, but we image it could be spooky with just the right weather and a bit of an imagination. While in the area, take a quick hike up to the Elephant Head or Mt. Willard. Stop in to the AMC Highland Center for other recommendations on outdoor recreation in Crawford Notch.
If you do choose to explore any of these spooky spots, tread respectfully. Pay attention to which sites are on private property and ask for permission before traipsing down hallways or through backyard forests. Happy hunting for these haunted places! Planning a trip to the White Mountains during a less spooky time of year? Check out our Trip Ideas page for other fun things to do while spending some time here.
Take a haunted tour if you dare...