Finding Intervale

An inn-to-inn chocolate tour beckons

View of Intervale Valley and Mt. Washington from the 1785 Inn

Photo by Stillman Rogers

I knew exactly where I was, but I still had some trouble locating the boundaries of Intervale on a map. Depending on whose map I consulted, Intervale was either divided between Bartlett and Conway, or it was a bit of territory not part of either one. It has a post office of its own, and to confuse things further, the Bartlett Town Hall’s address is in Intervale.

For those not conversant in New England language, an interval is a relatively flat lowland that borders a river, which perfectly describes the scene from the Intervale Overlook on Route 16/302, where views from the modern visitor center reach Mt. Washington’s snow-capped summit. The vista was a favorite of 19th-century artist Benjamin Champney, originator of the White Mountain School of landscape painters.

It was that view, and the Boston & Maine Railroad, that gave Intervale its start. I learned this as I burrowed deeper into the cushy leather sofa in the expansive parlor of the Riverside Inn and continued reading a little book published by the Bartlett Public Library. Its author, Aileen Carroll, includes Intervale in “The Latchstring Was Always Out: A History of Lodging, Hospitality and Tourism in Bartlett, New Hampshire,” where I learned that Intervale began as an important stop for the Boston & Maine’s Flying Yankee train from Boston.

A two-minute walk from the train station stood Intervale House, then one of the White Mountains’ largest hotels, with 400 feet of covered veranda and incomparable views over the wide interval to Mt. Washington and the Presidential Range.

By the end of the 1800s, Intervale had grown to a cluster of hotels and inns, some with guest capacities as high as 300. A footbridge across the river, accessing a trail to the waterfall at Diana’s Baths, was built by the Intervale Improvement Association, a group of local innkeepers and cottage owners, for the amusement of their guests. Another trail led to Pitman’s Arch, a natural cave in the hillside that was large enough to hold 200 to 300 people. Intervale House is long gone, and we put off searching for Pitman’s Arch until a better season for hiking.

The motivation that set us out the next day to explore this storied nontown was not historical — it was something sweet (or, in this case, many sweet somethings). Our route was roughly parallel to Route 16/302, through the backyards of several inns that are connected by a 45-kilometer network of scenic trails maintained by the Mt. Washington Valley Ski Touring & Snowshoe Foundation, headquartered in Intervale. Each of the inns where we stopped was part of the Annual Chocolate Festival, and at all of them we were treated to something chocolate — usually very chocolate. As we visited the 1785 Inn, Adventure Suites, Eastern Inns, The Local Grocer, Stonehurst Manor and Old Field House, we were offered candies, brownie sundaes, steaming cups of hot cocoa, chocolate-dipped fruit and marshmallows, chocolate cookies and cakes, each one enough to fuel us onward to the next stop. This year’s Chocolate Festival takes place on February 26.

We took the festival’s shuttle bus back to Riverside Inn, where they had put out a tray of chocolate “leftovers” to tide guests over to dinnertime. The inn partners with The Valley Originals, a group of local independent restaurant owners whose high standards include using local ingredients to prepare food fresh daily on-premises. Member restaurants reach from Jackson and Hart’s Location in the north to as far south as Eaton Center and Madison. We had plenty to choose from but chose the closest, Red Parka Steakhouse & Pub, just up the road in Glen. It’s been a favorite for skiers for as long as we’ve been skiing in the White Mountains, and our hand-cut steaks were served exactly as we’d ordered.

Intervale is a good winter base for downhill skiers. Within a very short drive, we could ski at Cranmore Mountain, Black Mountain or Attitash. And we were less than 45 minutes from King Pine Ski Area or Bretton Woods. Years ago, Intervale had its own downhill ski area: Intervale Ski Slope and Tow, one of New Hampshire’s “lost ski areas,” which was just across the river behind the New England Inn.

Later in the evening, as I was browsing the Riverside Inn’s well-stocked shelves of current fiction and nonfiction, I got to talking about Intervale’s past with innkeeper Ken Lydecker. He reminded me that for many years it had been a summer encampment for descendants of the area’s original residents. A group of Abenakis spent summers here in the late 19th century, making and selling baskets to resort guests. The site of their encampment, the Abenaki Native American Historic Site on Intervale Cross Road, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and marked today by an interpretive sign.

Intervale has a rich history for a place with such an ambivalent geography.

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