32. DANIEL WEBSTER TRAIL

 

 

Immediately upon entering this Trail one has the experience of well shaded forest. But that was not the case in pre-campground days.

In 1915 here a fenced pasture extended up slope a considerable distance, beyond the point where a power line now crosses the Trail. The route of the Trail follows this old pasture up hill, passing into original forest about thirty feet beyond the power line.

The 1915 map notes a White Pine as a landmark at the up slope edge of old pasture. A very large old White Pine stands at this location today. As it has a circumference of almost twelve feet and is much older than other trees in the vicinity, it seems reasonable to assume it is the tree cited as the landmark on the 1915 map.

In the woods to the north of the beginning of the Trail, the 1915 map includes the notation “Good Camp Site.” This was superimposed over a grove of trees standing in the pasture. This is but one of two such identical notations on the 1915 map. It appears that an offshoot of 1915 era unrestricted camping over at the “Old Dolly Copp” in the Picnic Area had already reached here, and by 1915 the spot had become known as a good tent site.

Relevant to this vicinity is an article in the Lewiston Journal of 9/12/1953, provided by the courtesy of Nancy Birch, commenting upon the early days of the Copp Farm. It states that “the size of the trees he had to cut must have been great. Now in the vicinity of what was the Copp farm there are few trees of large girth, but up the lower flank of Mt. Madison, presumably across the line of his property, are to be seen large trees that must have been good sized when Hayes first built a rude shelter.”

There has been recorded a hiking expedition through here by the Alpine Club of Williamstown, Massachusetts in August of 1865. The party of hikers came down from Mount Madison on what 68 years later would become the Daniel Webster Trail. They had a very rough time of it, their feet sinking into moss at some points and their clothes getting caught in scrub brush at other times.

According to the AMC's book Forest and Crag “Eventually they heard the barking of dogs at the Copp’s farm and made it safely down to Imp Cottage, only to arise at an early hour to catch the Gorham train and Portland boat back home.”

Ticknor's 1887 White Mountain guide book provides another early reference to this ridge which ascends from Copps. Describing ascents of Madison, it states that “the climbing route on the east flank has been used as a route up Mount Madison and is for the most part straight and steady. The lower part is covered with a heavy forest, in which the walking is good; but farther up the ridge has been burnt over, and is nearly bare.”

Thus on first appearance it seems that the Daniel Webster Trail dates from 1887 or earlier. But we have an expert opinion from Casey Hodgdon: “Most of the trails we know today did not exist in those days. The hikers of those days ‘bushwhacked’ up the peaks. The reference in {Ticknor's} does not say there is a trail. It only indicates it can be ascended from Copps. In fact the description of getting around the fire burn seems to indicate there was no actual trail. I think the Daniel Webster was made from scratch.”

Daniel Webster Trail on 1935 USGS Map, showing westward spur from
Trail to Culhane Brook. This spur is no longer shown on USGS maps.

The Daniel Webster Trail up Mount Madison was not in existence at the time of the 1915 map but was present on the map of 1935. The Berlin Reporter of 7/13/1933 informs us that “Eight boy scouts of high rank established a trail construction camp at the Dolly Copp Camp Ground the first of the week and will build a new trail up Mount Madison to join the Osgood Trail.

It is expected that the new route will be used considerably by the Dolly Copp campers in climbing over the northern peaks and by skiers in the winter... The U.S.F.S. has furnished the scouts with tents, blankets, cots and food in return for the volunteer labor.” For perspective, Scouts from throughout New England were active with forest trail building projects during that period.

The flat ground just to the south of the Trail entrance served as base camp for the hard working Scouts. This was a lively scene with a mess tent. The children of campers who went over to say hello would be given a donut or snack. One of these children was George Brackett, the contributor of invaluable information for this campground history.

Thirties view of what appears to be late thirties
rectangular gate over entrance to Webster Trail gate

Photo courtesy of Bob Rich

A thirties photo from the Bob Rich collection shows what I interpret as an ornamental rectangular entranceway built of timbers over the trail entrance, evidently to announce this new feature and its location.

This challenging hiking trail must have been considered a significant amenity when completed, as it provided a second direct connection from Dolly Copp into the popular Presidential Range. Its roadside vicinity is forest now but a circa 1940 photograph shows it just reforesting from pasture back then.

Ascending slope are stone steps into
Daniel Webster Trail in late thirties

In 1966 the first one half mile of the Daniel Webster Trail was upgraded with water bars and stone removal to the point of becoming an educational model of proper trail maintenance (CH). Most of these features have since disintegrated.

This Trail is one of the few in the area without adjacent parking. According to AMC literature, parking for users is available one tenth of a mile to the south, at the Visitor Center.