Thursday, October 28, 2010

Happy Halloween! The Story of the Willey Family of Crawford Notch

Crawford Notch State Park October 2010
The Site of the Willey House
Many writers, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, have told the sad story of the Willey Family of Crawford Notch. The tragedy was also included in songs, poems and paintings of the time period. This remote mountain pass was used by Native Americans, who told Timothy Nash its whereabouts. He is generally credited with its discovery in 1771. The first permanent settlers in the notch were the Abel Crawford family in 1792, on land originally granted to Nash.

In 1825 Samuel Willey, Jr. of Bartlett, New Hampshire built a small house in Crawford Notch at the foot of what is now called Mt. Willey. He brought his wife and five children to live there. On 28 August 1826 there was an extended drought, followed by heavy rain. The Saco River, which has its headwaters in Crawford Notch, rose 20 feet overnight. Two days later, friends came to the valley and were horrified to find the house unharmed, but the surrounding slopes littered with landslide and avalanche boulders. A large ledge above the house had divided the landslide, which passed around the house. The bodies of the Willey parents and two children were found, and three other children remained missing.

Poets and writers have dreamed up many versions of scary tales about what happened the day of the tragedy. Did the family flee the house when they heard the landslide? Were they escaping the flood when caught by an avalanche? Were they warned ahead of time? The house stood untouched, with a bible on the table and a dog still inside.

The Willey house stood as an inn to travelers until 1898 when it burned to the ground. Its site is marked by a large boulder with a bronze plaque. As a child we used to camp nearby, and my Dad would tell the story of the Willey family in his best Halloween voice. We would get the shivers standing there looking at the park and historical marker. We were there just two weeks ago to see the Fall foliage and visit the site. I still get the shivers even today!

1971, my sister and I at Crawford Notch
(the hills still bear the marks of the landslide 150 years before)
Willey Family Lineage (Thanks to Sue and Rick Willey, please see below)

Generation 1. Thomas Willey was born 1617 in Lincolnshire or Lancashire, England, died September 1681 in Oyster River (now Durham), New Hampshire; married Margaret Geaffit, born about 1615 in England.

Generation 2. John Willey, born between 1655 and 1656 in Oyster River, died 10 Sept 1770 in Oyster River; married Alice Dorcas about 1688.

Generation 3. Samuel Willey, born 1693 in Dover, New Hampshire; married about 1715 to Sarah Stevenson, daughter of Bartholomew Stevenson and Mary Clark.

Generation 4. Samuel Willey, born before 6 March 1719/20; married 16 June 1749 to Sarah Glazier.

Generation 5. Captain Samuel Willey, born 31 January 1753 in Lee, New Hampshire, died 14 June 1844; married on 23 October 1782 to Betsey Glazier, born 1 January 1761, and died 7 April 1844 in Conway, New Hampshire.

Generation 6. Samuel Willey, born 31 March 1788, died on 28 March 1826 in Crawford Notch Avalanche; married to Polly Lovejoy, born 1791, died on 28 March 1826, daughter of Jeremiah Lovejoy and Elizabeth Spring. (Polly had a royal ancestral lineage from King Edward III of England through her ancestor Edward Carleton of Rowley, Massachusetts, see Ancestral Roots of Sixty Colonists who came to New England between 1623 and 1650, by Frederick Lewis Weis, Genealogical Publishing Co., 1988 ).

For more information:

The story of the Willey Family from the NH State Park’s Website (scroll down under History)

The Ambitious Guest” a short story from Twice Told Tales, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1837

The Story of the Willey Family”, brochure by the New Hampshire State Parks (from Crawford Notch State Park, picked up in October 2010 at the gift shop, free)

This link has a beautiful painting by Thomas Cole of Crawford Notch “A View of the Mountain Pass Called the Notch of the White Mountains”, 1839, an excerpt from Hawthorne’s version of the tale, and also a passage from Cole’s journal, 1828, just two years after the incident.

The New Hampshire Willey Family Tree, by Sue and Rick Willey

Copyright 2010, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. What an interesting story...awww but now I the 3 kids they never found. Kinda spooky to think about camping nearby..especially during Halloween!

  2. Great post. I love this spot in Crawford Notch and I have done a lot of hiking around there. It is a great spot to stop for ice cream after a day in the mountains now.

  3. I agree with Lisa, definitely spooky if your camping near by. I'll have to visit next time I make a trip up north : )

  4. Thats so cool, but im really sad that happened. Im very surprised to find articles on my OWN family! thats so eciting that everyone is so interested and my ancestory wasnt forgotten.