Monday, October 12, 2015

Sandwich Notch Road, New Hampshire (1801 to 2015)

1981, Sandwich Notch Road

In 1981, when I was in college, four of us drove from Cambridge, Massachusetts up to New Hampshire on Columbus Day weekend.  None of the other students had ever been to New Hampshire, and so I was the tour guide.  I took them to the usual places to see foliage- Franconia Notch, the Basin and the Flume, Crawford Notch, the Kancamagus Trail, and then we went to somewhere I had never been either.  We saw "Sandwich Notch Road" on our AAA map, and decided to explore that route.  It was a dotted line on the map, indicating a dirt road.

We had a great time exploring Sandwich Notch Road.  The nine mile road was in very poor condition for automobile traffic.  The old Pinto station wagon we were driving bottomed out at every bump and hump in the road.  We had trouble getting up over the notches, but finally made it to the other side. We had so much fun that years later, after my husband and I graduated and married and had a daughter, we did the same trip a few more times as a family.

2015, Sandwich Notch Road
Yes, we are walking behind the car, so the low carriage of the convertible can clear the road bumps!

It had been at least a dozen years since we did the trip up over Sandwich Notch, and we decided, for old times sake, to do it again this Columbus Day weekend.  It was the 34th anniversary of our "discovery" of Sandwich Notch Road.

In the years in between 1981 and now I had read a lot of history about the Sandwich Notch road.  It was more than just a scenic byway through the White Mountains National Forest.  It was built in 1801 as the first major highway through the mountains.  It connected the White Mountains and Vermont with Southern New Hampshire and the seacoast area.  You can read more about the history at this link from the Sandwich, New Hampshire Historical Society: 

Another great place to learn more about the history and natural history of the Sandwich Notch Road is by reading Elizabeth Yates' 1973 book The Road Through Sandwich Notch. (You may know her best as the author of the Newbury Award winning book Amos Fortune, Free Man) Her book was instrumental in preserving the road as part of the National Forest system.

At one time 300 families lived along this road, with sawmills, farms, and businesses.  Then the land returned to wilderness in the 20th century, and left only one residence in the middle of the road.  This road passes through two notches and three different watersheds as it travels from Center Sandwich to Thornton, New Hampshire. You can see the ghostly remains of stone walls and cellar holes all along this road, deep in the forest. Today many popular hiking trails through the White Mountain National Forest cross the Sandwich Notch Road, and hikers experience miles of wilderness dotted by the occasion signs of pioneer life in the 19th century.

If your ancestors or family lived in Sandwich, Thornton or nearby they probably traveled this road in the early 19th century, mostly on foot or by oxcart. By the time of the Civil War, farmers were leaving New Hampshire in droves for better land west of New England in Ohio, the midwest and further west.  The population of New Hampshire dropped dramatically in those years, especially in the small farming communities.

When our daughter was attending Simmons College we met the then President, Susan Scrimshaw at a parents' cocktail party.  She told us that her family owned a farm on the Sandwich Notch Road, and I was surprised because there are very few homes on the road.  It is very remote, impassible in the winter, and probably off the grid.  Sure enough, near the end of the Sandwich Notch Road we came to a few farm houses and read the name "Scrimshaw" on one of the barns.  We found the homestead!

Fall Foliage seen on Sandwich Notch Road, October 11, 2015

An action shot!  Seen along Sandwich Notch Road

If you are going to travel Sandwich Notch Road, I would recommend a four wheel drive vehicle with a high carriage to clear the humps and bumps in the dirt road.  It was wonderful having a convertible to see the views and the foliage, but our little red convertible (2007 Toyota Solara Camry) was a too low slung to clear some of the road, and so the passengers had to get out and walk up the hills or over the bumps behind the car!  Some cars have been known to bottom out and sustain damage, so beware...

For more information:

The Road Through Sandwich Notch, by Elizabeth Yates, Brattleboro, VT: The Stephen Greene Press, 1973.

The Sandwich Historical Society, webpage on the history of the Sandwich Notch Road: 


Heather Wilkinson Rojo, "Sandwich Notch Road, New Hampshire (1801 to 2015)", Nutfield Genealogy, posted October 12, 2015, ( : accessed [access date]).

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting ! Although I no longer travel much, I love reading about other people's adventures. Thanks so much !