The History of the AMC Huts
The AMC huts are one of the more controversial features on the Appalachian Trail. On the one hand, they provide necessary shelter in the White Mountains, where the weather can turn bad in moments. On the other hand, they charge an arm and a leg for their services. And on the third hand, the AMC huts have been known to give leniency towards thru-hikers by offering work-for-stay, water, and leftover food.
Many of the AMC huts were built before the Appalachian Trail even existed. They started out as dingy cabins and shelters, later undergoing renovations to become the huts they are today. In 2013 the AMC celebrated 125 years of the hut system.
So whether you love ‘em, hate ‘em, or hold no particularly strong opinion either direction, let’s dive into the history of the AMC huts.
As the first hut a northbound thru-hiker encounters, Lonesome Lake Hut is the introduction to the Whites. It sits comfortably in a plateau between Kinsman Ridge and Franconia Notch, next to its eponymous lake.
The land was first owned by one William C. Prime, an author from New York City. He and his friend William F. Bridge purchased the lake, stocked it with trout, and constructed two cabins for their summer retreats. Prime would arrive to the Whites in May, spend the summer fishing and writing, and would return home in October. He did this for 28 years, until he passed away from a stroke in 1904.
After his death, the land passed on to Bridge’s wife, then to Charles Greenleaf, then to Frank P. Abbott & Son. The Abbotts, under pressure from conservationists, sold the land to the state of New Hampshire. The cabins were soon leased out to the AMC.
Lonesome Lake Hut opened in 1929, right at the start of the Great Depression. Business was slow in the beginning, though the hut did become a valuable rest station for crews working on construction for the Greenleaf Hut.
By the time World War II rolled in, Lonesome Lake was experimenting with hiring couples as caretakers, as opposed to groups of college-age boys. The result was such that young women visiting Lonesome Lake Hut “rarely concealed their disappointment in not finding strong, handsome young men.” The war stretched resources thin, and Lonesome Lake closed down for several seasons. In 1946, the hut opened its doors once again.
Between 1964 and 1965, the original building was demolished and a new facility was constructed to take its place.
By the 1970s, Lonesome Lake became the first hut to host an all female croo. In 1978 the hut hired its first autumn caretaker. Now Lonesome Lake Hut is open year-round, with self-service lodging in autumn, winter, and spring.
In 1979, the facility was finally turned over to the AMC by the state of New Hampshire.
In 1929, the Committee on Huts initiated a construction campaign for a chain of huts between Lonesome Lake by Franconia Notch and Lakes of the Clouds, the last hut before Mt. Washington. The committee had scoped out a location the year beforehand, a spot at treeline overlooking Eagle Lake on Mount Lafayette. They had even chosen a name for the hut, after one Colonel Charles Greenleaf, the man who had donated $10,000 to the AMC.
Construction of the hut began soon after, with additional work done to clear the Old Bridle Path. The trail had been first cut in 1852 for guests to visit the summit of Mount Lafayette on horseback. It had been sparsely maintained in the meantime, and the construction crews had to restore the trail to proper condition in order to haul supplies to the site. The AMC purchased a herd of 41 donkeys from New Mexico to assist with moving building material up and down the mountain.
Greenleaf Hut opened to visitors on July 5, 1930. The building was constructed mainly of wood, and was the first hut to have indoor toilets and running water. Such amenities made the hut quite popular, and it set the record for occupancy in 1947.
Throughout the decades, Greenleaf Hut underwent several renovations, including installing solar panels and a wind turbine.
Joe Dodge, the AMC Huts Manager from 1928 to 1959, one day came up with a plan: all the huts in the White Mountains should be a day’s hike apart from each other.
Thus began construction of the Galehead and Zealand Falls huts. 32 tons of materials were brought in on the backs of burros to construct Galehead, and crews endured a season of bad weather while they labored on the new hut.
The logs to build Galehead were chinked with oakum, a rope fiber and pine tar mixture that was usually seen used in ship construction. This made the wood building impervious to bad weather. A hurricane swept through the White Mountains on September 21, 1938, and Galehead Hut weathered the storm unscathed.
Between 1943 and 1946, Galehead was one of the huts that closed down due to World War II.
The wooden structure of the hut lasted till 1999, when it was decided the entire structure needed to be rebuilt. The American with Disabilities Act came into play during the new construction, and Galehead Hut was built with wider hallways, enlarged bathroom stalls, and a ramp. Three hikers in wheelchairs and two on crutches, who hiked up the Gale River Trail in 12 hours on August 15, 2000, tested out these new features.
Zealand Notch, the gateway to the Pemigewasset Wilderness, was once the site of a major lumbar company operation. James Everell Henry, the most infamous lumber baron in White Mountain History, built a rail line to transport logs down from the mountain. The sparks from the locomotives caused several forest fires, and in 1897 Henry was forced to give up the business.
Even after the lumbar operations ceased, the area was still highly combustible. A fire raged through the land in 1903, burning 84,250 acres of the White Mountains. The inferno continued from early May till June 8, when heavy rains finally put out the flames.
For years, the old railway beds were the only way to hike into the valley. The AMC built the Zealand Ridge Trail in 1923, finally providing access to the peaks. The following a year a log shelter was built in the notch on the edge of Zeacliff Pond.
When Joe Dodge implemented his hut construction plan, Zealand Falls was chosen as one of the locations for a hut. Construction was completed in a three-month building blitz over the summer of 1931.
Zealand Falls was one of the only huts to remain open during World War II. 1945 was the busiest summer for Zealand Hut since its construction.
National Geographic reviewed the hut in its August 1961 issue. Zealand Falls was described as a “restful, rustic cabin beside the falls of Whitewall Brook.” The article undoubtedly affected the popularity of Zealand Falls, and in 1972 it became the first hut to stay open through the winter.
After the National Geographic story was published, the White Mountains saw an uptick in tourist traffic. This necessitated constructing another hut to accommodate all the hikers.
Mizpah Spring was built in 1964 and is the youngest hut in the system. A major revolution in the construction was “the departure of burros and the arrival of the whirlybird.” Helicopters were used to fly in construction material for the first time, averaging six and a half minutes from Crawford Notch to the construction site. Those same helicopters were later used to fly in refrigerators for Mizpah Spring, Madison Spring and Lonesome Lake Huts.
On July 10, 1965, a dedication ceremony was held to celebrate the kickoff of Mizpah’s first season. An entry into the first logbook for the hut read, “Hard to believe now that what’s here now was only the beginnings of a foundation a year ago.”
Lakes of the Clouds
The history of the Lakes of the Clouds hut is tied closely to the history of Mt. Washington. In 1900, two hikers attempted to summit the mountain to reach the annual Field Meeting held in the Summit House that year. A storm blew in, and hikers Allan Ormsbee and William B. Curtis lost their lives attempting to reach safety.
In the days following the tragedy, the AMC voted to construct a shelter near the spot where the two men had perished. The “Refuge Hut” was a small frame cabin that could accommodate up to six people. The cabin was intended for emergency purposes only, but the AMC soon discovered that hikers would camp there for recreation. The club then decided to construct a hut at the location.
The site was chosen on May 2, 1915, and construction proceeded rapidly thanks to the aid of the Mount Washington Cog Railway. Local stone and building materials were transported up the mountain via train, and work on the hut was completed on July 29. Lakes of the Clouds officially opened its doors to visitors on August 7 and stayed open till October 1.
As luck would have it, Lakes of the Clouds proved its usefulness later that year. In September, six hikers got caught in a snowstorm and were stranded at the hut for four days. William F. Dawson, one of the snowbound hikers, later donated 50 books to the hut so that there would be something to read other than “some ancient copies of Good Housekeeping.”
The AMC showed their interest in the Presidential Range early on, calling for the construction of stone hut above treeline in 1888. Funds for the project were achieved through donations, and Brown’s Lumber Company donated an acre of land to the AMC for where the hut was to be built. The final project cost was $739.50 – an estimated $20,000 in today’s money.
The final result was a small stone cabin with room for four bunks, a stove, and a table. One of the first visitors to the hut, Rosewell B. Lawrence, described the structure as “one of the best things the Club has done.”
The AMC took these words to heart. Several log cabins sprang up across the Presidentials during the following decade, but the popularity of Madison Spring lead to overcrowding. In 1906, the hut was expanded and bunks were added to accommodate a total of 24 guests. A caretaker was hired to manage the crowds of hikers, and to collect 50 cents a person as lodging fee (about $15 in today’s money).
In 1922, yet another building was added to the Madison complex. A new oil-cooking stove was brought in, which turned out to be quite popular with guests and the croo.
On October 7, 1940, a croo member was transferring gasoline used to power the generator. The container caught on fire, destroying Madison Spring. Joe Dodge, the huts manager at the time, hiked out to survey the wreckage and lamented over “all the sweating and swearing that had gone into building the old hut.”
Reconstruction began the next year, once again using the donkeys to help haul supplies up the mountain. The building was completed on July 3, with hiking guests enjoying dinner alongside the construction crew.
At the end of the 2010 season, Madison Springs Hut was turned over to the construction crew once more for the largest hut renovation in decades. The building was completely revamped, preserving the old stone hut and a wooden swing from the 1940s.
Carter Notch Hut, the last hut on the Appalachian Trail in the White Mountains, is also the oldest hut in the AMC system. Shortly after the AMC was founded in 1876, the club began to focus on developing a shelter at Carter Notch. Mountain guide Jonathan G. “Jock” Davis helped accomplish this by maintaining a permanent camp in the notch.
In 1877, an old log and bark shelter was renovated and a new enclosed shelter was added. Both those buildings burned down in 1892. The AMC then built a log cabin on the site in 1904.
After a decade of use, the log cabin was deemed inadequate for guests. Construction began on a new stone hut, completing in the same year. The first caretaker, Milton MacGregor, was hired to provide hospitality to overnight guests. MacGregor would later go on to hire the famous hut manager Joe Dodge.
Carter Hut was the first building to receive a permit from the U.S. Forest Service for a permanent structure in the recently formed White Mountain National Forest. The hut underwent several extension projects, but has remained largely unchanged since the 1960s.
- Salvatore Pagliuca was one of the first croo members at Galehead Hut. He would go on to be the scientist at the Mt. Washington Observatory who recorded the fastest observed wind speed.
- All of the huts make use of alternative energy sources, such as solar and wind power.
- During the Madison Spring Hut reconstruction, a French-Canadian crew member hauled 224 pounds of supplies up the mountain in one trip.
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I’m budgeting time in the Huts. I will leave work stay for others!
As a dog I liked this
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