A lot of tourists and a few locals commonly think that Lincoln, New Hampshire is named after President Abraham Lincoln, but the town dates back almost 100 years before he became the 16th President of the United States. The town dates back to 1764 when Benning Wentworth, the Royal Governor of The Province of New Hampshire, granted 32,456 acres to a group of 70 investors from Connecticut on behalf of King George III. The town was named after Henry Fiennes Pelham-Clinton, the 2nd Duke of Newcastle, 9th Earl of Lincoln, who was Wentworth’s cousin.
In 1782, Lincoln finally became a town when Nathan Kinsman and a few other people moved to the area to establish the town. It’s important to note that New Hampshire was home to indigenous people long before European settlers even landed on Plymouth Rock. The Abenaki populated much of New Hampshire, including the White Mountains.
During the 19th century, Lincoln was primarily a tourist destination for the wealthy city-dwellers who wanted to escape the hot city summers for some fresh mountain air. Stephen Russell opened the first hotel just below the Flume in 1808. The new railroad built in 1882 brought thousands of tourists and several hotels to the area, but it wasn’t until James E. Henry came to Lincoln in 1892 that the town would see real growth.
The Logging Empire of JE Henry
In 1892, JE Henry, who built the town of Zealand, purchase several thousand acres of virgin timber and moved his logging operations to Lincoln. At the beginning of the 20th century, Henry built and owned almost the whole town – the mill, school, company store, hospital, jail, boarding house, hotel, and most of the houses. He also built the East Branch and Lincoln Railroad, which became the largest logging railroad in New England spanning 72 miles. Construction of the railroad began in 1894 and was built over several years. The last train to run on the rails was in 1948, outliving all the other logging railroads in the region.
For several decades, JE Henry grew his small logging operation into a massive empire of lumbar and paper attracting more and more workers and their families every year and putting Lincoln on the map. JE Henry died in 1912 and his three sons who worked alongside him sold the company and most of the town in 1917 to the Parker Young Company for $3 million (or approximately $64 million in 2021 money).
The Rise of Modern Tourism
The paper mill ran until it was shut down in 1981. Today, much of the local economy is focused on tourism and outdoor recreation. Sharman Adams, who was born and raised in Lincoln, served as a Congressman, two-time New Hampshire governor, and chief of staff to President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s. Upon his return to his hometown in 1958, he realized the town was struggling and needed a new industry besides the ailing papermill.
A profile outdoorsman, Adams decided to snowshoe up Loon Mountain one day and discovered the mountain would make the perfect ski resort. Construction of Loon Mountain began in the spring of 1966 and opened for the first skiers on December 27, 1966. Five hundred people showed up on opening day to enjoy the 12 trails, two lifts, and one toilet. Over the decades, Loon Mountain has grown into the modern-day ski resort that you know and love. The popularity of Loon Mountain and the White Mountain National Forest has since attracted lots of hotels, vacation rentals, restaurants, and shops.
The Growth of Neighboring Woodstock
The small neighboring town of Woodstock, New Hampshire has a similar story to Lincoln. Royal Governor Benning Wentworth established the town in 1763 with the name of Fairfield. In the 1790s a group of people from Southern New Hampshire purchased the land rights from the original grantees and divided the land in 231 100-acre lots. The town became known as Peeling.
Farming was not super successful in the town due to its granite mountainous terrain. Logging and tannery became the primary industries in the town, along with maple syrup production. Similar to much of the region, tourism was also popular in the mid-19th century. The town officially became Woodstock in 1840.
At the time of the name change, there were four sawmills and logging began to grow fast. Logs cut in the region were floated down the Pemigewasset River into the Merrimack and finally to the sawmills in Lowell, Massachusetts. Hardwoods logged in the region were used to make bobbins for the textile mills in Southern New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
The government began purchasing large land tracts to form the White Mountain National Forest in 1911. Logging stopped in 1915 when the Woodstock Lumber Company went defunct after a huge mill fire in 1913.
For more information and an abundance of old photos about Lincoln and the surrounding area, visit the Upper Pemigewasset Historical Society website.