conservation

Preserving the beauty of the White Mountains

The Glessners' summer home, The Rocks, in New Hampshire

Exactly 125 years ago, during the summer of 1889, John J. Glessner penned a letter to the editor of a local newspaper near his summer home in New Hampshire.  Entitled “Good Advice to Mountain Folk – A Few Words of Truth and Importance by a Prominent Summer Resident,” the article shared Glessner’s thoughts on the importance of preserving the natural beauty of the White Mountains, which he felt was being compromised with signage and other manmade intrusions.  In addition to preserving the landscape in and of itself, Glessner was also careful to point out that it was the natural beauty that drew many visitors to the area every summer, bolstering the local economy.  Glessner would go on to write many more articles on this topic, and was among the earliest members of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests when it was organized in 1901.  In the late 1970s, nearly 1,300 acres of his summer estate “The Rocks” was donated to the Society by his grandchildren, a fitting tribute to this early conservationist.  The text of the 1889 article, in its entirety, follows.

A view from the Glessners' home at The Rocks

On an eminence a little to the south of the carriage-road between Bethlehem and Littleton, and about midway between those villages stands the “Rocks,” the summer abode of Mr. J. J. Glessner of Chicago.  During a few years residence amid its beautiful surroundings, that gentleman’s keen eye has detected many shortcomings of the resident population, and, in a letter published in a recent number of the LITTLETON JOURNAL, has, in a few kindly words, made some valuable suggestions to follow.  Here is what he says.

I wonder if the people of the White Mountain region appreciate the grand scenery in the midst of which they dwell.  Frequently the things which we come in contact with every day are not highly prized.  I imagine that here in Chicago, with its dead level surroundings, even though it has a considerable elevation above the sea level, we think more of the hills and rocks and forests and magnificent scenery of Grafton and Coos counties than do the people who see these beauties constantly.

Looking from the porch at The Rocks

Not only have you the bracing air and pure water and all things so grateful to the denizens of the cities, but the beautiful surroundings are greater attractions than you realize, and draw the summer visitors to your neighborhood.  With the advent of the summer visitor comes not only gaiety, but a handy and profitable market for your commodities and labor.  Under other circumstances the produce and labor must go to market, but here the market comes to the produce and labor, and it is because this influx of summer visitors is pleasant and profitable to you, that I ask whether you fully appreciate the beauty of the surroundings and their market value.

Personally I am not anxious to have many city people visit the mountains in summer, for it increases somewhat the cost of my living there, and I see enough city people in general at other seasons; but it has a money value to you, in that it enhances the selling price of butter and eggs and poultry and vegetables, and gives employment to hundreds of people and horses, etc. etc.

But the pure air and the pure water are not enough to fill your hotels.  City people, with their eyes full of city dust, and their ears deafened with city din, want something pleasant to look upon, and your people are not careful enough in preserving the natural scenery.  It is all right and desirable to have neat fences, well-cleared and cultivated fields, substantial barns, comfortable houses, etc., but do not mar the boulders or fences or barns with advertising signs, do not destroy the beautiful wild shrubbery that lines the roadsides; do not cut down the fine trees on the farm, or by any act reduce the natural attractions of your surroundings.  As it is now, many persons feel repaid for a journey half the world over to visit the White Mountains.  I have personally known Englishmen who came to the United States merely to see the White Mountain country while the forests were in their gorgeous autumn coloring.  But you may be sure a sign on a boulder advertising some one’s liver pills, or a board nailed to a barn advertising the tourists to take the Fall River Steamers, or a bridge lettered to show the virtues of somebody’s bitters, nor yet a dirty barnyard visible from the road, or a roadside devoid of shrubbery, or a field showing the deformities made by the woodman’s axe, help in any way to draw the visitor or induce him to lighten his pocketbook.  These things are not congruous with the landscape.

A view through a window at The Rocks

The wild flowers of Northern New England, the asters, goldenrod, ferns and maple bush, even the hazel-bush, are beautiful beyond your thoughts.  Make a good drive-way by all means, smooth it and drain it properly, but do not destroy the shrubbery at its sides.  Have good fences, walls or board fences, but do not deface them with signs, and never permit such an indignity as painting anything on the noble rocks.  Keep your barnyards and dooryards clean, it is both profitable and pleasant to you.  Keep your dwelling and other buildings in good repair; that is pleasant and profitable, too.  But as far as possible let Nature alone.  Do not try to improve upon her work.  In both extremes she surpasses all that you can do; hers are more delicate and graceful, and again greater and grander than any workman ever can do.

The summer traveler may be selfish and supercilious; he may be a cad and disagreeable; he may not be a model for imitation by your sons, but he spends money, he helps to make your farm and labor profitable.  Cultivate him, cherish him, even pamper him, do all in your power to induce him to come again and bring his family and friends, but do not kill the goose that lays the golden eggs; do not damage or deface or destroy the natural scenery about you.

My great admiration for your many attractions has induced the writing of this letter, and I shall be more than pleased if through your courtesy, Mr. Editor, my words have even a slight influence.