16. BRIDGES, GULF TRAIL, RANGERS POOL
Across the water in the Picnic Area the concrete abutment of the pre-1951 bridge still stands:
Looking east across
As we know camping had its early origins across the Peabody over in the Picnic Area, in the twenties spreading across this bridge to the west bank.
Looking back, the first road thru the Peabody River Valley arrived here from the south near 1830. But unlike today's Route 16 oriented due north towards Gorham, the destination back then was northwest to Randolph. this put the Copp Farm on the main road.
That northwest turn towards Randolph required hugging the foothills of Mount Madison. As a crossing point on the Peabody River was needed, from a topographic perspective just south of the Picnic Area was the logical location.
In later decades for any tourist trip circling the Presidential Range this crossing point and past the Copp Farm was part of the circuit with the least mileage.
George Cross in his 1927 history of the Copps notes that the first crossing here was built by Daniel Pinkham as a low bridge of logs. But these early log bridges were frequently washed away by floods.
One of Cross's early childhood memories was of a traumatic crossing here in a Concord wagon during one of the bridgeless periods.
Bridge carrying the
Pinkham B Road
Larger view of above
The bridge as it was in 1908 or earlier is shown on the old post card above. Its sides differ from those shown in photos of the bridge here in the mid-twenties.
The difference must have been from a strengthening
or rebuilding in 1924 that a news report of that era indicates
helped to facilitate the spread of activity into today's Campground.
Source: Scott McClory
Dolly Copp Collection
Looking easterly at
"post-1908 to pre-1928" bridge over
Historian George Cross records a “substantial iron bridge” here in 1927. But New Hampshire history indicates a severe storm and flood throughout the State on November 4, 1927. According to the 1951 "Geology of New Hampshire" runoff is increased if the ground is frozen tight forcing all the water to go directly into rivers without soaking in. This happened in the November, 1927 flood."
A late 1927 Forest Service memo reports on a result of that dramatic storm;
I found considerable
damage has been caused by the flood of November 4. On the east
side.... some of the trees bordering the river bank on the north
end below the fireplace were washed away....
View to west above
and view to north below
Evidently a replacement bridge was ready made, for we read in a September 1928 news article that:
Early in June a crew of U. S. Forest Service men began filling the gullies washed by the November freshet, cleaning the famous Dolly Copp Spring and digging new drainage ditches.
By late July the old Middle Bridge on the Glen Road had been transported and set up on the site of the Dolly Copp Bridge that was destroyed last fall. Thus the August campers were able to pitch their tents in the wide fields that extend a mile down the west bank of the river.
We can speculate that the severe damage of 11/1927 to the original east bank camping area demonstrated the power of flooding to endanger sleeping campers caught unaware there, this bolstering support for the removal of tent sites from this side of the Peabody.
Photos up to the late twenties show the bridges here without any overhead catenary structure. But thirties and later photos do show such overhead steel work.
Thus the bridge installed in July of 1928 had a distinctly different design from the previous more modest spans. These clues do much to help date old campground photos with these bridges in the background.
View to east of bridge
put in place
A mid-thirties photo from the bridge looking north shows the water level unbroken by river rocks, indicating a pool of some sort:
View to north from bridge in thirties.
George Brackett comments: “In regards to the swimming under the bridge, it was not known as the swimming pool, as Rangers Pool was the popular place to go.
I remember having a small raft and using it just below the bridge. I really don't recall any of the campers going there. But perhaps the local people used it when they had a picnic.”
In addition, Evelyn Ross of Gorham remembered that in the forties as there was no swimming in Randolph, her school class would come to swim in the Peabody at this location. “That pool went out when the bridge went out,” she remembers.
Point 14 of the camp rules of 1936 references the bridge;
Dancing and entertainment in the Administration Building will be confined to organized affairs carried out and attended by bona fide campers and their guests with the advice and assistance of the Forest Officer in charge.
There will be no dancing on the bridge over the Peabody River or on road or drive.
There were social forces in play here other than the enthusiasm of a lively dance spilling out from the Administration Building. George Brackett says the bridge was a central social point in its own right, dating back to the expansion of camping to the west bank in the twenties.
It was the natural meeting place for campers on both the east and west banks.
Campers on bridge in 1937.
Cheri Stepanian, from
a long time
According to Mr. Brackett “The bridge was a congregating point for the Campground. There were at times accordions, instruments and lanterns. My brothers and sisters took our lantern and violin on the nights they danced. Remember that in the twenties, the Administration Building and its hall had not yet been built.”
Evidently even with the new building available, starting in 1934 old habits died hard and on nice nights people continued to socialize on the nearby bridge.
Today the bridge over Culhane Brook sometimes serves as such a central spot in the Campground, where on occasion one views young teens gathering to talk and be seen.
An example of this social phenomenon is reflected in a seventies memory of Dorothy Shouldis writing for the 75th anniversary celebration: “When my daughter was a teenager she would take our Collie dog and walk through camp to meet other teen campers.
At night the teens would meet at Culhane Brook Bridge and play their music and talk and sing. Then they'd come back to camp for marshmallow toasts and Kool-aid.”
While as noted the east abutment wall of the old bridge is still standing today, a foundation of the west abutment is all that is visible on that side now.
This western wall was not deliberately demolished. Rather, heavy rains undermined it in the fifties such that it collapsed, the remnants having washed down stream since (CH), some still visible to the rear of the Play Field.
The old bridge was closed in favor of a new one to the north in 1951. Long time camper Elsie Ashworth indicates that it then washed away in a hurricane in early fifties.
But the habits of drivers on leaving camp took time to change. A few motorists, by force of habit upon leaving Dolly Copp, would proceed at a good clip towards the old south end bridge site, jamming on their brakes just in time to avoid a row of boulders placed to save them from the chasm below (CH).
GULF TRAIL. For many decades the Great Gulf Trail, built in 1885, had its point of origin inside Dolly Copp. It was noted on the 1915 map as the “Trail to Great Gulf.” You will find it at the south end of the main campground road.
In the old days this must have been a convenient location for a trailhead, as the bridge here until 1951 gave good access to Randolph, Gorham and Pinkham Notch.
The first segment proceeds south from the main campground road about four tenths of a mile to Rangers Pool. George Brackett cautions us not to assume that this trail was the main route for swimmers and hikers entering the area. Rather, recalling the thirties, it was the unnamed trail originating off of End Loop near Site 176 that was primarily utilized by campers to access Rangers.
The 1925 AMC guidebook describes the beginning of the Great Gulf Trail as “a few rods beyond the bridge, near the edge of Dolly Copp farm.” The Trail is then described as “following an old logging road.” Also, that “the logging road is plain except in midsummer when it is overgrown in places with grass and berry bushes.”
The 1925 description continues; “It soon passes the Gorham Fish and Game Club shelter, open to the public and accommodating eight.”
The 1925 AMC map places this shelter in the narrow strip between the Trail and the Peabody River and well before Rangers Pool. The 1936 AMC guide book also mentions this shelter, now long gone.
Into the eighties a Forest Service sign identifying Rangers Pool as a pedestrian destination was affixed to the same signpost as that holding trail identification. Perhaps this has been removed for insurance liability purposes.
The destinations noted on today's sign are Great Gulf Trail .6 miles, Wilderness 2.3 miles, and Mount Washington 8.0 miles.
The precise point of Trail origin off of the main campground road was relocated in the eighties, the older eroded and now reforesting trail bed still visible about thirty feet west of the current trail head.
In 1986 the Great Gulf Trail origin was relocated out of the Campground altogether, to a point south on Route 16.
That year a new 50 car parking lot and 160 foot long wood and cable suspension bridge was built to provide hikers with easy access across the Peabody River, just as the steel bridge had done for the original trailhead in Dolly Copp before 1951.
A USFS spokesman that year stated that one of the
purposes of the new lot and bridge was to reduce hiker traffic
through Dolly Copp Campground. The short segment of the Great
Gulf Trail from the Campground to the new access was then renamed
the Great Gulf Link Trail.
Dolly Copp campers can take this trail to easily enter the Great Gulf Wilderness. This highly scenic 5,552 acre reserve received its coveted federal wilderness designation in 1964.
RANGERS POOL. This natural amenity adjacent to the Great Gulf Link Trail, about four tenths of a mile south of the Campground.
According to long time camper Dorothy Brown, Rangers Pool obtained its name decades ago when Forest Service staff raised a dam of river rocks to keep the pool elevation high for themselves and other users.
George Brackett in
1930 as a small
This explanation fits well with the fact that this Pool was the nearest swimming area for the rangers themselves in early decades, when their headquarters at the Peabody River Ranger Station was located less than 1000 feet to the east, out across Route 16.
The 1915 map indicates that rather than the woods that separate Route 16 and Rangers Pool now, back then there was a pasture with an accessway from the Station to the riverbank.
Stuart and Emily Smith recall that in the forties, the Pool’s elevation was kept high by campers cooperatively maintaining the rock dam. I was told of this tradition upon my first visit to the Pool in 1962 and pitched in (don't strain your back).
We know that the name was in use on USFS signs in the early sixties, and that Mrs. Brown remembers it from earlier. It can also be documented that the name had some official status as far back as 1938, for a tourist brochure that year refers to Rangers Pool by name. Going a little further, there is an old photo in the USFS file labeled “Rangers Pool in 1930”, with the Brackett Family photo above offering similar confirmation.
Then a September 1928 news article describing the end of the camping season that year states that “The older folks, too, are sorry to leave for the last time the deep natural swimming pool a quarter mile above the bridge.”
The 1928 report had the distance wrong, as it is about four tenths, but as there is no closer or other deep pool above the bridge site it appears this is a 1928 reference to Rangers.
It is not unrealistic to speculate that the Copps may have used the pool themselves in some way.
Tourists of the 1850-1900 era must have been aware of it, in view then (as it is not now) down across an open meadow from the main road. It remains as always a cold, sparkling and emotionally refreshing scenic marvel.
Part of Shiebler Family reunion in July of 2009. See full photo.
The elevation of the Peabody at Rangers Pool is about 1275 feet. For topographic perspective, the east abutment of the old bridge just discussed downstream stands at a lesser 1242 feet.
Further downstream, Flat Rock Pool is at about the 1185 foot contour, some ninety feet lower than Rangers. Walking from one pool to the other you hardly notice the continual yet subtle change in elevation of the valley floor.
To the east of Rangers Pool proceeding out to Route 16 is the remnant of a dirt road. This may have provided access to the cement incinerator here that was for many years used by the Forest Service, abandoned by 1954, and now a ruin (CH).
Dam at Rangers Pool in 1942.
A 1932 news article indicates that this incinerator was constructed in 1931: “This year the USFS has supplied refuse cans for the campers. Refuse is burned in a huge incinerator located last fall by the government about a half mile from camp.”
On the west side of the Pool at its north end near the water line are two old cast iron hooks anchored into the rock, one with a link of chain still attached. These remnants are about 15 feet upstream from the informal dam of river rocks.
Old iron hook anchored on bedrock a Rangers Pool.
The Browns had heard a remark that these were once anchors for a pedestrian suspension bridge, indeed the logical location if a bridge was needed to facilitate rangers access walking from the Peabody River Ranger Station easterly to the Great Gulf Trail.
But on the other hand, such a crossing is not mentioned in early AMC guide books and likely would have been so recorded had it existed (CH).
Rather, these artifacts may be remnants of early logging operations (CH). The stub of another of these hooks is also found on the east side of Flat Rock Pool. Another is upstream on the West Branch of the Peabody, just above the confluence of the East and West Branches.