The Great Stone Face as seen from the road C. 1920s

The Great Stone Face as seen from the road C. 1920s

Many of you may never have heard of The Great Stone Face of New Hampshire. Fewer still will know of its past ties to Kimball Union.

If you had traveled through the White Mountains before 2003, you probably would have stopped in Franconia Notch to visit, as the people in this photograph did, The Great Stone Face. Already inspired just by being in these magnificent mountains, it would be hard for you not to feel a sense of awe at nature’s creation as you looked up at this profile 1200 feet above you. In his 1850 short story, The Great Stone Face, Nathaniel Hawthorne called it “…a work of Nature in her mood of majestic playfulness.”

The Profile was simply an outcrop of five granite ledges 40 feet high and 25 feet across resting on each other on the summit of Cannon Mountain. Although the stone face looked out from its mountaintop home for thousands of years, it was known only to Native Americans until about 1806 when two surveyors who were working in the region, spotted it. From that time on, it grew into a popular tourist site visited by thousands of people each year. In 1945, the Old Man’s profile became the State emblem and soon it appeared on our license plates and road signs. In 2000, it was the symbol used for the New Hampshire State quarter–uniquely, the only quarter with a profile on both sides.

The Profile in 1958.

The Profile in 1958.

Over the centuries, natural damage occurred to the stone face as rain, wind, ice and snow worked their way into its natural crevices weakening the structure. Repairs were made to it in the 1920s using chains, and in 1957, steel rods and cement were added to stabilize it. But, on the night of May 3, 2003, while the valley slept, nature’s mighty sculpture quietly slid down the mountainside. It was an incredibly sad day for the people of New Hampshire; our Old Man of the Mountains who had seemed so magical and eternal, was gone.

In the years since it fell, people have searched for solutions that would restore the profile to its past glory, but, in the end, they found the whole ledge was just too unstable to recreate it from granite. In time, man-made images, known as “profilers,” created from the Old Man of the Mountain Legacy Fund, were placed in the Profile Plaza in Franconia Notch, to give people an impression of the Old Man as he once appeared from the top of Cannon Mountain.

The   faceless	   ledge	   with	   an	   artist’s	   impression	   of	   the	   Old	   Man's	   former	   profile.

The faceless ledge with an
 artist’s impression of the
 Old Man’s former profile.

The connection of The Old Man of the Mountains to Kimball Union comes from our earliest history. As unlikely as it seems today, the Academy once owned the land upon which the profile rested. We know this from an account of a trustees meeting in 1822. After the settlement of Daniel Kimball’s will in 1822, other matters came before the trustees. A KUA historian and 1940s faculty member Ernest Sherman tells us that they voted “to pay George Woodward a sum of eighty dollars the amount that he had paid in taxes on a parcel of property which he had given to the school. It was adjudged advisable to pay the taxes and maintain the lands. These very lands contained what at that time was a little known and unfamiliar rock formation which today is the symbol of the State of New Hampshire. The old man of the mountains.”

These   manmade	   sculptures,	    located	   in	   the	   Profile	   Plaza	   in	   Franconia	   Notch,	   pay	   homage	   to	   what	   once	   was	   our gift	from	   nature.

These manmade sculptures, located in the
Profile Plaza in Franconia Notch, pay homage
to what once was our gift from nature.

Further interest was shown in the 1927-28 Kimball Union Bulletin, under Lands of the Academy: “The campaign to raise funds for the purchase of the forest land in Franconia Notch reminds us of an interesting fact which may not be known to many of our readers. One of the first gifts to the Academy consisted of about 2,000 acres of land in Franconia Notch given by George Woodward of Haverhill, N.H. An investigation made in 1860 by Samuel B. Duncan, at that time Treasurer of the Academy, led him to report that the 2,000 acres included the region ‘where the view of the profile is obtained.’ Another lot containing 1,000 acres in Lincoln, N.H., was given the Academy in the same year by Constant Murdock.

“These two pieces of woodland were held by the Academy until 1891 when they were sold and the proceeds used in the construction of Baxter and Dexter Richards Halls [also known as The Bird Village Inn]. The price received was $2.30 per acre. Possibly if the trustees could have foreseen the developments the Henrys and the Parker-Young Company have made in Lincoln and the great summer holiday traffic in Franconia, they would have retained the title to the land even if they had felt the necessity of turning the standing timber into cash.”

Commemorative stamps, part of New Hampshire's Bicentennial Celebrations depict The Old Man of the Mountains.

Commemorative stamps, part of New Hampshire’s Bicentennial Celebrations depict The Old Man of the Mountains.

In our Archives there is an old, coverless book dated 1816 that consists of various religious articles. In one, the Rev. Bancroft Fowler (KUA trustee 1812-1821) pleads for much needed donations for the young academy: “It depends, therefore, entirely on the public liberality whether we shall be able to support these young men, and others who have applied for assistance, or whether they shall be left to the heartsickening task of endeavoring to get an education by their own exertions, or abandoning the object on which their hearts are so much set. This liberality, we trust, will be displayed….” Fowler included a list of previous donors, including Daniel Kimball, and with his last entry, confirmed the gift of land in Lincoln, NH. “A donation has been made of 1,000 acres of land in Lincoln, by Constant Murdock, Esq. and a right in Orange by the Rev. Mr. Waldo, for the use of the Academy.”

Neither Constant Murdock, Rev. Waldo or George Woodward appear in the lists of trustees, teachers or students in the General Catalogue 1815-1880, but there was one connection we know a little of; Woodward’s name appears in one of many various, handwritten treasury notes. The one for August 1, 1823. “Name: Geo. Woodward. Date: Aug. 16th 1819. Bal. of prin. Principal due: 219.28. Int. Aug. 1: 40.14. Amount 1823: 259.42”

Imagine if you were to drive through the White Mountains today and saw a sign emblazoned with a Wildcat profile and stating: “Kimball Union Academy Welcomes you to Franconia Notch”?


Photo credit: Cheryl Senter, New York Times, June 12, 2011
Profile Plaza.
Archival photo credit: The Great Stone Face as seen from the road.

Overlay photo credit: The faceless ledge.