National Geographic : 1951 Jan
The Merrimack: River of Industry and Romance BY ALBERT W. ATWOOD With Illustrations by National Geographic PhotographerB. Anthony Stewart T HOUGH born of scenic lakes amid majestic mountains, the Merrimack be comes, before it reaches the sea, one of the hardest worked rivers in the world, a veritable slave in the service of industry. True, it no longer makes its once proud boast of turning more spindles than any other river, or of being the "most noted water power stream in the world." But its banks, in city after city, are still lined with miles of monster mills, busy, if ancient and somewhat grim, and still a major factor in the sum total of America's productive effort. But it would be a mistake to think of the Merrimack, past or present, as only a work aday river. Not only does it present a kaleido scopic physical diversity, but it brings to mind many of the most romantic aspects of Colonial and early American history; of the struggles of the first settlers; of fierce, bloody Indian warfare; of the almost unbelievable wealth of its shad and salmon fisheries; and of ship ping and shipbuilding in its lower reaches. Moreover, the very industrialization of the Merrimack stems from the constant, unfailing supply of water which New Hampshire's mountains, forests, and lakes make possible. These at the same time constitute one of the country's foremost vacationlands.* River Born in Profile Lake In the heart of this land the Merrimack has its beginnings in the tiny Pemigewasset, which flows out of Profile Lake at the foot of the Old Man of the Mountains in Franconia Notch, New Hampshire (page 134). On one of my visits to Franconia Notch highway crews were clearing the road of boulders, uprooted trees, and earth. These were the remains of a huge landslide which, loosened by a cloudburst, roared down the steep slopes of Mount Lafayette and Eagle Cliff and buried Route No. 3, one of the most important in New England. The most famous previous slide was that which killed the Willey family-father, mother, five children-and two farm hands in the Crawford Notch in 1826. It was Nathaniel Hawthorne who gave fame both to the Willey Slide and the Old Man of the Mountains.t Thousands go to Profile Lake not to see the source of the Merrimack or the lovely little lake itself but, fascinated at finding a human face in an inanimate thing, to gaze 1,200 feet upward at the several layers of granite ledges which, especially in the late afternoon light, give the appearance of the profile of a great human face (pages 124-125). Daniel Webster is supposed to have said that a shoemaker hangs out a shoe, a jeweler a watch, and a dentist a gold tooth, "but in the mountains of New Hampshire God Almighty has hung out a sign to show there He makes men." Hawthorne wrote: "It seemed as if an enormous giant, or Titan, had sculptured his own likeness on the precipice." After leaving Profile Lake the Pemigewasset is a swift little stream, plunging down the steep mountain notch over falls and cascades. Thoreau's Description Still True More than a century ago Henry David Thoreau, author and naturalist, spoke of it as it first comes "murmuring to itself by the base of stately and retired mountains, through moist primitive woods whose juices it re ceives, where the bear still drinks it, and the cabins of settlers are far between and there are few to cross its stream." Except for an almost complete absence of wild animals and for the fact that at certain points there are many persons indeed to "cross its stream," Thoreau's description still holds good. South of the great mass of the White Mountains lies Lake Winnipesaukee, by far the largest of New Hampshire's 1,300 lakes and ponds (page 127). Its outlet, the Winni pesaukee River, joins the Pemigewasset at Franklin, 16 miles to the southwest, to form the Merrimack (map, page 109). Winnipesaukee has nearly 300 islands and many and deep indentations; the extreme irregularity of its shape is especially evident from an airplane or from the tops of sur rounding hills. It is so extensively used for recreation that it boasts a registration of nearly 2,500 motor boats. The first intercollegiate eight-oared boat races in the United States, between Har vard and Yale, took place here on August 3, 1852. When the water in Lake Winnipesaukee is low and quiet, and atmospheric conditions fa *See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "Skyline Trail from Maine to Georgia," by Andrew H. Brown, August, 1949; and "Skiing Over the New Hampshire Hills," by Fred H. Harris, February, 1920. t See "Literary Landmarks of Massachusetts," by William H. Nicholas, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGA ZINE, March, 1950.