The town of Jackson is located in the northeast corner of Carroll County and is the southeast entrance to the White Mountain National Forest. This national forest receives heavy recreational use, being within a day’s drive of well over 70 million people. This fact affects the growth and economic climate of both the town and the surrounding region. The township of Jackson consists of 42,533 acres, of which approximately 75 percent is national forest land. Jackson is bounded on the east by Chatham, on the south by Bartlett, on the west and north by Sargent’s Purchase, Pinkham’s Grant and Bean’s Purchase.
In the years 1771 through 1774 the land that is now Jackson was granted to several men for service in the French and Indian War by Governor John Wentworth in the name of King George III. None of these grantees wanted to settle in the area, so they sold their land to those who did. Around 1775, Benjamin Copp brought his family from southern New Hampshire to what was then known as Gilman’s Location. He found a wilderness of forests, streams and mountains, populated by wild animals, birds and fish. There may have been Indian trails through the area, but the nearest Indian settlement at the time was in Intervale or Glen.
The Copps built a log shelter near the junction of the Wildcat and Ellis Rivers and began to clear fields. By 1790 five other families had emigrated to the settlement from Madbury, New Hampshire. Joseph Pinkham settled across the Wildcat River from the Town Hall. His eldest son, Joseph D. Pinkham, built his home near the present day Eagle Mountain House. Jonathan and Clement Merserve, who were cousins, established farms on Route 16, north of the village, and on the Five Mile Circuit, south of Gill Bridge. The fifth settler was a man named John Young.
Through the 1790s additional families settled in Jackson. Petitions were sent to the New Hampshire legislature requesting incorporation as a town so that taxes could be collected for roads and schools. The third petition, signed by 36 men, probably all the male residents over the age of 18, was answered. On December 4, 1800 the town, which had been known as New Madbury, was incorporated as Adams, in honor of President John Adams. The area included the original four grants, totaling 16,000 acres plus almost 14,000 acres of state land. The first town meeting of record was held at the home of Jonathan Meserve on March 4, 1801. The inventory of families residing in Adams at that time included Copp, Pinkham, Meserve, Young, Perkins, Trickey, Chesley, Gray, Davis, Pitman, Jenkins, Sawyer,
Dearborn, Canney, Nute, Hall, and Rogers. In 1829 the name of the town was officially changed to Jackson. Records indicate the population was 515.
All the early settlers were farmers, and farming continued to be the primary occupation until after the middle of the 19th century. At first the farms were almost self-sufficient. Most of the food was grown on the farm, supplemented by fish and wild game. Meal ground from corn was a staple because wheat was more difficult to grow. Flax was grown and wool sheared from sheep to make the material for clothing. By the 1840s sheep were raised to produce surplus wool to sell. The land was cleared for crops and pasture, giving Jackson a very different look. The population grew to almost 600 by the mid 19th century. In addition to valley farms, there were farms high on the mountainsides, on both the eastern and western slopes of Black Mountain, on the ridge
between Spruce and Wildcat, and high on the side of Iron Mountain.
Other businesses were tried. Iron ore and tin ore were found in Jackson and mining companies were formed, but both were short-lived and produced very little of either metal. In the 1860s a starch factory was built and a little later a clothespin mill was started, but neither business lasted very long.
In 1847 an artist by the name of Boardman came from New York and boarded at the farmhouse of Joshua Trickey, which had been the Joseph Pinkham farm. Soon more artists came, and Jackson scenes were painted by many of the best-known artists of the 19th century White Mountain School of Art, including Benjamin Champney, John Joseph Enneking, Samuel Lancaster Gerry, Sylvester Phelps Hodgdon and Aaron Draper Shattuck, among others. Some made Jackson their base of operations. Frank Shapleigh built a home here and became active in the summer community. He was instrumental in founding the Jackson library. Thaddeus Defrees was a perennial summer resident, staying at Wilson Cottages. Artists continue to come to Jackson to paint, both as residents and transients.
Soon vacationers, many inspired by paintings of the White Mountains, came to enjoy the scenery. More farmhouses began to take in boarders. To accommodate the increasing number of transient visitors, J.B. Trickey built the Jackson Falls House in 1858. It was located at the base of the falls (where the Post Office is currently located). The first Iron Mountain House was built in 1861.It was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1877. Thorn Mountain House, the forerunner of Wentworth Hall, was built in 1869 by Joshua Trickey for his daughter, Georgianna, and her husband, Marshall Wentworth. It was rebuilt in the 1880s and more buildings were added. Gray’s Inn, Eagle Mountain House, and Hawthorne Inn were also established in the 1880s. Some of the old farmhouses were enlarged to
become inns and boarding houses, for example, Moody Farm, which became Whitneys’ Inn, Perkins Cottage which became Christmas Farm Inn, and Wilson Cottages. Farming continued as the hotels provided a new market for produce. Some hotels ran their own farms, growing vegetables and maintaining herds of cows to provide fresh dairy products.
By 1889, as noted in the “History of Carroll County,” the resort business was the mainstay of the village economy with ten inns and hotels, and several boarding houses. It was estimated in that year that over $100,000 was earned from tourism. In the late 19th century an era of second homes began as hotel guests decided that they preferred their own vacation places. Some families bought old farms, while others bought land and built large and impressive summer “cottages.”
The large hotels were dealt several blows in the 20th century. First the automobile began to change vacation habits. People could travel from place to place instead of spending their entire vacation at one spot. Then the depression of the 1930s, followed by World War II, cut down on the money and time that could be spent on vacations. Many grand hotels became vacant and subsequently were victims of fire.
Meanwhile skiing entered the picture. Although most of the hotel business was limited to the summer season, a few inns began opening to winter guests. In 1936, Carroll Reed established the Eastern Slope Ski School, the American branch of the Hannes Schneider Ski School. He also opened a ski shop in the village, which was a branch of Saks Fifth Avenue, and later became the Carroll Reed Ski Shop. In 1935 Ed Moody, with the help of Phil Robertson and George Morton, built a lift on the slope beside Moody Farm, which became the Black Mountain Ski Area. The lift was an overhead cable with rope handles hanging down, which unfortunately did not work very well. Bill and Betty Whitney bought the inn in 1936 and the next year Bill made improvements to the lift, including replacing the rope handles
with shovel handles purchased from Sears Roebuck.
In the late 1940s more people became interested in skiing. More tows were built and more inns were open in the winter. Dick May and his brother, Jake, had a rope tow on Black Mountain in 1947 and 1948. The tow went up 1000 feet and ran at 18 miles an hour. There were also rope tows at Spruce Mountain Lodge, White Mountain Inn (formerly Wilson Cottages), and at Omer Gile’s on Route 16.
The winter of 1948-1949 saw the building of the T-bar up to the first peak of Black Mountain by Bill Whitney and two partners. They used the old Hackett School, one of the six original schools in Jackson, as a base lodge. The same year two chair lifts were built on the other side of town up Middle Mountain. This area was unusual in that steep slopes were just above the base and the novice area was higher up in the fields of Thorn Mountain Park. Novices had to ski down the road to return to the base. The Thorn Mountain Ski Area went out of business after a few years. Another ski development, Tyrol, was later built on Thorn Mountain itself, but that also went out of business. Black Mountain, now owned by the Fichera Family, is still operating.
Although agriculture declined in economic importance in the village, the farmed land contributed to the preservation of the scenic values of the area.
Descendents of the Gray, Gale, Wentworth, Dinsmore, Trickey, Pitman, Guptill, Abbott, Meserve, Fernald, Hayes, and Hurlin families are still owners of property in Jackson. The Davis family, in an uninterrupted seven-generation line, continues the operation of their agricultural enterprises in the Black Mountain area.
Jackson is fortunate in having many buildings of historic interest. In 2003 the Jackson Falls Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places. This district includes 17 contiguous properties plus the stone bridge crossing the Wildcat River. There are 4 publicly owned buildings in the district: the Jackson Public Library, the Town Hall, the Jackson Grammar School and the Trickey Barn. Privately owned buildings include the Jackson Community Church, Wentworth Hall and its 7 cottages, Wentworth Castle, 3 homes abutting the Wildcat River between Wentworth Hall and Wentworth Castle, and the Frank Shapleigh house just above the Trickey Barn. There are many other buildings worthy of being included in the National Register of Historic Places, and the Historical Society will
assist private owners who wish to seek this designation. The 26 oldest homes in Jackson, built prior to 1860 and still occupied, have had their histories chronicled in a monograph published by the Jackson Historical Society. Perhaps the most beloved and best-known structure in Jackson is the covered bridge over the Ellis River, built in 1881.