Pouring rain on Saturday, so no skiing, instead showed Jim Mt. Agassiz. (I hiked in my new GORE-TEX rainpants by Mountain Hardware, best I’ve ever owned and even though there was no snow at the bottom, you were better off with microspikes as there were solid sheets of ice near the top.) You have to see the access to believe it- unique-that’s all I can say.
This was my third trip up Mt. Agassiz, in the last 3 months. I remained curious about the site for many reasons, so I did some sleuthing on the history.
The trail is on private property, but hikers are welcome. The 130 acre property sold in Dec. 2021, almost a year ago to the local Presby brothers, who live down the road, for $550,000.
There is a cell tower on top and what looks like ham radio equipment on a stone house at the summit. For 75 years there were tourist attraction features, but they are all abandoned now, except for the hiking and mountain bike trails.
I wonder if the name of Agassiz will be abandoned as well. The mountain is named for the Swiss Harvard Professor who brought his students to the summit to study glacial geologic features. Agassiz is known for tracking the movement of the periodic ice sheets, bringing his observation skills from the Alps to the Whites. This is when glaciation replaced theories about flooding being the origin of deposits. Agassiz studied glacial moraines in the Bethlehem, NH area in particular and proposed alpine ice caps in the Whites – a theory replaced by continental ice sheets in the Northeast. Agassiz’s key fieldtrip took place in 1847, ~160 years before the fieldtrips I offered at Plymouth State University.
Unfortunately, Agassiz the creationist scientist is also known for his racism, espousing that nonwhites were inferior. Darwin’s theory prevailed however. An elementary school in Chicago underwent a name change in 2021 from the Agassiz School to the Harriet Tubman School- so, from recognizing someone who backed theories that were used to support slavery to someone who was once enslaved and then helped others escape through the Underground Railroad.
The mountain was once named Peaked Hill, but there is already a Peaked Hill Pond Trail, so reverting back to this name wouldn’t really work.
Harvard has buildings named after Agassiz, but some honor family members, like his wife who was the first President of Radcliffe and his son who served as director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, so how do you distance from one problematic name while continuing to honor initiatives of others bearing the same name?
What is hard to imagine, is that from this peak, that is only 2,378 feet, supposedly three hundred and seventeen peaks, in three states and Canada are visible. The views are spectacular, but who counted all of those?
Thom Davis, Emeritus geology professor from Bentley and co-author of The Geology of the White Mountains of New Hampshire who first alerted me to Agassiz’s racism commented, “Henry David Thoreau was way ahead of Agassiz in understanding glaciation: see Robert Thorson’s book based on HD’s unpublished journals.” Also, he offered, “The ridges that Agassiz studied are known as the Littleton-Bethlehem moraines, written about by Woody Thompson in two papers.?
5. Historical images from Bethlehem Heritage Society.