Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Ravine House – A closer look


I have published most of what I know about the Ravine House of Randolph, NH on this blog in a video entitled Laban Watson and the Ravine House. But, recently, I was lucky enough to receive from a reader some new information about the Ravine House covering the period between 1912 and 1915. For readers who aren’t familiar with the Ravine House background, I have included a brief timeline of its history below to give some context leading up to this period in which the story takes place:


1876 Abel and his son Laban Watson opened their newly converted farmhouse as a boarding house to 3 summer guests at $5.00 per week and called it the Mount Madison House.

1877 In the spring, father and son opened their house (which had 14 rooms to let) to guests and renamed it the Ravine House. The hotels name came from Kings Ravine in the Northern Presidentials, which was the majestic view seen right outside the hotel’s front door.



The Ravine House - 1882

1883-1884 In order to meet the demand to accommodate more summer guests on the premises, a dry house of the Starch mill on Carlton Brook, later named Durand Hall, was moved down Durand road during the winter of 1883-1884. In July of ’84, the Watsons added 12 new rooms to the building. The third floor of Durand Hall was used to hold town meetings and social activities until 1888, when the Town Hall was built. Laban then used the third floor to add even more guest rooms.



Durand Hall is the building on the far right; it stood about 30 feet from the old house and was connected to it by a platform. Photo by Guy Shorey

Note: According to an article in The Berlin Reporter dated August 16, 1962, Laban used the barns west of the hotel to add additional rooms for guests, along with including tennis courts, croquet grounds, and a bowling alley. No dates are available for when these activities occurred.

1891 The Railroad was built through the town of Randolph, bringing more tourists and hotel business. Laban Watson built Elliot Brook Cottage to accommodate any overflow guests at the hotel.



Two pages from an 1890s brochure

1909 Laban and Anna Watson retired to Coldbrook Lodge in Randolph. Laban sold the Ravine House property to William D. Bradstreet of Boston, because their children were not interested in taking over the ownership.

Note: Over the next few years, William Bradstreet made major renovations to the exterior structure, giving it a more unified appearance and modernized the interior, adding steam heat to all the rooms. Great attention was also paid to maintain the hotels lavish flower gardens.

1910 Charles B. Bridgman worked at the Ravine House as a clerk and was subsequently listed in a brochure as the current manager prior to the Davenports arrival.



The Ravine House in 1912/1913

Photo by Eleanor F. Watson (my grandmother)

That brings us up to 1912, when the Davenports arrived to work at the Ravine House for a period of three years. This story was brought to my attention by
Rick LaPierre and Joel Garofalo, who are first cousins. Joel’s mother, Edna Davenport, and Rick’s mother, Esther Davenport, were sisters. It was the sister’s parents, Louis Arnold and Ellen Abigail (née Warner) Davenport, who worked at the Ravine House beginning in 1912.



Louis and Ellen Davenport - 1913

Louis and Ellen Davenport arrived at the Ravine House with their first child, Edna, who was born in April of 1912. Louis and Ellen did not give their female children middle names, thinking that when they one day married, their last name would become their middle and that is just how it worked out.



Louis and Edna

Louis, who is seen in the photos always wearing a suit or gentleman’s attire, as was fitting for his position, managed a significant portion of the hotels day-to-day operations.

Ellen managed the dining room and the kitchen.



A view of the dining room



A view of the kitchen



The Ravine House waitresses with their large serving platters holding a Ravine House banner



Waitresses and hotel staff of nineteen



Hotel staff in front of the porch



A view of the office including the register



A parlor in the Ravine House



Ellen’s sister, Lucy Warner, reading a book in the parlor.



Parlor in the newly remodeled section of the hotel. Photo by Guy Shorey.



A bedroom in the hotel c.1913



Another view of the bed

On April 11, 1913, a small miracle occurred at the Ravine House. Ellen and Louis had their second child, Richard Louis, weighing just two pounds. Back in those days, when people had to be more self-reliant out of necessity, the Davenports had to improvise: they found a small bed for the child, a shoebox to be exact, which was a perfect fit for the new born that allowed the parents to perch the child safely on one of the Ravine House’s oven doors, which served handily as an incubator. Richard recounted later in life, when he was in his 90’s, that it must have worked and, as he put it, he “drove meals on wheels for the old folks.” Richard Davenport, in fact, lived to be 98.



Richard is on the right, with his sister on the far left



Richard on the left with his sister Edna on the far right. A guest sits atop the snow cat – 1915



The Ravine House coming and going in 1915

Louis and Ellen Davenport left the Ravine House when Louis’ parents could no longer manage their several hundred acre farm in Rowe, MA. Their third and final child, Esther, was born at the Rowe farm in December of 1917 and recently turned 94.

1915-1928 William and Helen Bradstreet took over the management of the hotel for the next 13 years.

This frontal view shows the results of Mr. Bradstreet’s expansion.




As for the remaining 31 years, the venerable hotel changed ownership and management several times and was even run as a Treadway Inn in the late 1940s. But, at the turn of the 20th Century, with the advent of automobiles and new roads, people became more mobile and transient. And with this new found mobility came a change in vacationer’s habits: guests who used to stay for weeks at a time or the entire summer, were now able to get around more easily to broaden their horizons. This change in behavior was not unique to the Ravine House and was not the only factor that contributed to its demise, as many other popular New England hotels succumbed to a similar fate during that period. In the end, the Ravine House had grown to some 80 rooms with the ability to accommodate around 100 guests.

1960 The Ravine House closes its doors for business.

The residents of Randolph, concerned about what would become of the property, proposed a plan to buy the Ravine House land for recreational purposes. At a public meeting held in the Town Hall on August 31, 1961, a committee of Selectman put forth a plan to buy and use the approximately 88 acre property.

An appeal made to both permanent and summer residents resulted in the town receiving a total of $20,577.64. The entire property was then purchased by the committee from the City Savings Bank of Berlin, NH for the sum of $18,352.23.

1962 On August 10th and 11th of 1962, the entire contents of the Ravine House were auctioned off to a crowd of hundreds who came to witness the end of an era. The contents netted $8,628.96.

Also announced at this meeting was the creation of a non-profit corporation called The Randolph Foundation, which would assist the town in the future development of the Ravine House area and other enterprises beneficial to the town and its inhabitants.

1963 The “Grand” hotel was razed.



Although the physical remains of the Ravine House are long gone, it continues to live on in the hearts and minds of those who hold fond memories of their connection with its glorious past and for those who wish to pass along their stories for future generations to appreciate.

The information cited above came from the following sources:

Randolph Old and New by George Cross

Randolph, N. H. 150 Years – Town of Randolph Sesquicentennial Committee

Annual Reports - Randolph, NH for the year ending December 31, 1962

Appalachia, Volume XXIX, December, 1963

The Berlin Reporter, August 16, 1962

Mountain Summers Tales of hiking and exploration in the White Mountains from 1878 to 1886 as seen through the eyes of women edited by Peter Rowan and June Hammond Rowan.

Photos of the Ravine House within the Davenport portion of the story above were courtesy of
Rick LaPierre.

1 comment:

Jim S said...

My favorite picture of the post is the one of the kid sitting on the snowdog. What a cute picture.

Regards, Jim