The state of New Hampshire is known for its “Live Free or Die” mentality (it is, in fact, the state’s motto) and beautiful foliage, so tourists and newcomers may be confused to see the profile of a rather chiseled-looking man adorning the state’s highway signs, license plates, driver’s licenses, and even the state’s coin. Few are aware that this man was once one of the most-visited attractions in all of the northeastern United States—and that it’s not really a man at all.
In the early 1800s, a group of surveyors in the Franconia Notch region came across a weathered face emerging from the side of Cannon Mountain. Formed from the same granite the state was known for, the rock formation became known as the “Old Man of the Mountain.” It gained notoriety through writers like Daniel Webster and Nathaniel Hawthorne, who incorporated it in their works. In 1945, the Old Man of the Mountain became the state emblem of New Hampshire, causing its likeness to be reproduced extensively. But trouble was brewing.
Northern New Hampshire’s turbulent and often harsh climate, mixed with the Old Man’s high elevation, exposed the great face to nature’s wrath. In the mid-1920s, the state used chains to mend a large fissure in the Old Man’s forehead, and by 1957, the state had passed legislation to actively repair the granite face on a yearly basis.
On May 3, 2003, New Hampshirites awoke to see that, sometime during the early morning hours, the great stone face had collapsed, the rocks tumbling into the forest and lake below, unrecognizable amongst the other stones. State rangers and legislators initially wanted to replace it with a replica, but out of respect for the Old Man’s legacy, those plans were abandoned. Cannon Mountain became just another one of the Granite State’s many ski resorts.
Today a beautiful plaza sits at the base of the mountain, overlooking Profile Lake and the former location of the Old Man. Completed in 2011, the site includes a viewing area, one of the original turnbuckles used to help preserve the Old Man (recovered from the wreckage), and a series of steel beams. Though they may seem unremarkable, if you stand behind the metal pillars so at their correct height the beams create the illusion of the Old Man of the Mountain, sitting high above Franconia Notch once again.
The Granite State will always be proud of their fallen icon. A man who sits, watching all, bracing the snow, sleet, and harsh conditions of the New Hampshire climate and still keeping his composure. That’s the spirit of a New Hampshirite.
Know Before You Go
Take exit 34B off of US-3 (Styles Bridges Highway), and head towards Cannon Mountain. Follow the signage!