Mt. Agassiz Ski Area|
Bethlehem, New Hampshire
Proposed in the 1960s
Named after naturalist Louis Agassiz, 2,378 foot Mt. Agassiz stands above the town of Bethlehem in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
Separate from the two former rope tow operations, a major ski area was once proposed for Mt. Agassiz. The $1.5 million development would have included the monorail, a summit hotel and restaurant, and two T-Bar lifts. The Mt. Agassiz development was one of three unsuccessful attempts at having a monorail-served ski area in New Hampshire (Attitash and Willard Basin being the others).
Early Mt. Agassiz Summit House
Bethlehem's appeal as a vacation destination dates back to at least the 1870s, when Rhode Island Governor Henry Howard had acquired a significant amount of land in the town following an extended stay in the 1860s.
In 1875, Charles Young of Bethlehem and Milo Corliss of Franconia purchased Mt. Agassiz with plans to construct a carriage road. The road and a summit observatory were in place by the summer of 1877, with the views being described as "a most magnificent picture."
Circa 1893, there was a proposal to construct an electric railroad to the summit.
A steel observation tower was reportedly constructed on the summit circa the early 1900s and was purported to be operated as a fire tower by owner William S. Phillips into the 1920s. The first automobile ascent to the summit was reported in 1926, when a group mistook the carriage road as an auto road. An auto road was constructed circa 1932.
Formal skiing on Mt. Agassiz likely started during the winter of 1935-36, perhaps on lower mountain slopes. The Bethlehem Outing Club was formed for the 1936-37 season, led by Leslie Cummings. The 800 vertical foot Mt. Agassiz Trail was cut that year, designed for intermediates and experts.
A 1,500 foot rope tow was installed for the 1939-40 season, reportedly serving the Turner ski trail and the carriage road. Future Burke manager Richard Coney served as president of the Bethlehem Outing Club that winter. It is not known if the Mt. Agassiz tow operated during World War II, however it was in operation for the winter of 1945-46.
A new 2,000 foot open slope was advertised for the winter of 1946-47, while plans emerged for a larger development. Murray White of Boston announced plans to turn Mt. Agassiz into a Sun Valley type of resort, including a 1,500 foot long chairlift. Mt. Agassiz Aerial Tramway, Inc. was formed on September 26, 1946. Concrete was reportedly poured for the lift in 1946, which was also planned to operate for sightseeing in the warmer months. Trails were reportedly cut from the top of the mountain and White's son Harvey (who became interested in skiing while attending Dartmouth College) was lined up to manage the ski area, along with Abe Polakewich and Richard Coney. As part of a two- to three-year development, one hundred ski cottages were proposed. The company dissolved at some point after 1948. It is not known what happened to this development.
Magic Mountain Express on Mt. Agassiz
In 1954, a group of businessmen led by Gordon Miller started work on restoring the summit as a tourist attraction. The auto road was rebuilt and a new snack bar constructed at the base of the observation tower. On May 29, 1955, Governor Lane Dwinnell dedicated the Magic Mountain Express, a tractor rig designed to look like a train that transported guests to the summit of the mountain. Photos of the "locomotive type car" were published in newspapers across the country.
In 1959, the ownership of the Mt. Agassiz development licensed the character Smokey Bear from the United States Forest Service so that they could rebrand the summit facility the Smokey Bear's Trading Post, integrating bear shows. This attraction operated into at least the early 1960s.
1963 Mt. Agassiz Monorail Rendering in the Boston Globe
In 1962, the state announced it was studying Mt. Agassiz for its potential as a ski area. In early 1963, plans emerged for the construction of the first monorail-served ski area in the East. Head promoter F. Gordon Miller of Baker Brook Co. initially attached a $1 million price tag and a 1964 opening for the 4,000 foot lift. Ernest Herzog, involved in the construction of the monorail at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair, gave the project a "positive engineering feasibility" declaration on behalf of Alonzo B. Reed Inc. The State Department of Economic Development and the Grafton County Rural Area Development Committee endorsed the project.
The Agassiz proposal was unique, as it called for the summit to be the hub of operations for the ski area, with customers parking at the base and taking the monorail to the top to access a 43-room hotel, restaurant, convention center, and outdoor heated pool. Three novice to intermediate ski slopes would be constructed from the summit, served by a 700 vertical foot T-Bar. If successful, the monorail would be expanded to be over 13,000 feet long, looping into Bethlehem.
Mt. Agassiz Monorail Rendering
By mid-1964, the price tag for the project had grown to $1.5 million, with ski facilities expanded to two T-Bars (3,000 feet long and 1,000 feet long) and the opening date pushed back to 1965. In July, Governor John King announced a $716,800 Area Redevelopment Administration loan had been approved, stating, "the project is emphatically sound and will prove a boon to New Hampshire's economy, especially that of our north country." The business entity was named Mt. Agassiz Development Co., Inc.
Prospects of the project remained in the press in 1966, however the Mt. Agassiz monorail was never constructed and soon Mt. Agassiz Development Co., Inc. was accruing back taxes. The lower mountain rope tow remained in operating into the 1980s.
1938 USGS Topographic Map of Mt. Agassiz
Mt. Agassiz monorail rendering in the July 23, 1964 Petersborough Transcript
There are no known remains of the Mt. Agassiz Ski Area, other than remnants of the lost rope tow operations.
||The first mountain monorail in the Americas, and the only one except for those which services the New York World's Fair, Disneyland and the recent Seattle World's Fair, is to be erected on New Hampshire's Mt. Agassiz at Bethlehem.
A part of a $1.5 million project of the Mt. Agassiz Development Co. Inc., the monorail run of about one mile will require some 12 minutes. Besides being a boon to the summer business throughout the region, the project will provide the Granite State with its northernmost major ski area. Mountain-top lodge will initially have 40 rooms and dining facilities for 170 people. Up-ski devices will include a pair of T-bars. It is hoped that the monorail will get into operation by the summer of 1965 and that the entire project will be operative by the fall of that same year.
Peterborough Transcript, 1964
||Gov. John W. King and the state Executive Council have been asked to approve state backing for a loan to finance a monorail at the Mt. Agassiz ski area in Bethlehem.
The State Industrial Park Authority today recommended the state back the $474,440 mortgage loan. Chairman James P. Rogers said his agency recommended the state guarantee half of the loan contingent upon other financial arrangemetns for the service.
The federal Area Redevelopment Administration would first have to grant a $716,800 loan and there would have to be private investment of $381,500 in private capital before the state could assume its financial role.
Nashua Telegraph, 1964
||Several others are in the works but not scheduled for completion until the winter of '66. These include a $4.5 million development at Bolton, VT.; the first monorail ski area at Mt. Agassiz, Bethlehem, N.H., and a three mountain complex called Kilkenny at Lancaster, N.H.
Hartford Courant, 1966
||This 2,300-foot mountain overlooking Bethlehem's once hotel-laden Main Street would have been home to a mile-long monorail capable of transporting more than 400 people an hour to its summit. The northern slopes of the mountain would have been home to the ski slopes, which would have been served initially by two lifts and a number of novice and intermediate level trails. A base lodge and vacation home development were also part of the development plan put together by the Mt. Agassiz Development Corporation headed by F. Gordon Miller.
Mike Dickerman, 2005
Dickerman, Mike. "Abandoned ski plans would have altered area landscape." Littleton Courier. 19 Jan. 2005.
Mt. Agassiz Development - New England Lost Ski Areas Project
"No. Country Features Monorail" Petersborough Transcript. 23 July 1964. Courtesy Brian Hackert, Petersborough Town Library.
"Skiing...It's a New Ball Game" Hartford Courant. 23 Jan. 1966.
"State Asked to Back Loan for Ski Area" Nashua Telegraph. 2 Dec. 1964.
Last updated: November 9, 2021