Omni Mount Washington Resort | 5 Favorite New Hampshire Historic Hotels
Photo Credit : Terry Hathaway
The golden age of New Hampshire resorts, which lasted for almost a century, was at its peak in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when entire families decamped from their sweltering city mansions to be fanned by mountain and sea breezes. They came by train with maids and nannies and trunks full of elaborate resort clothes. Most of the grand hotels they knew are gone now, but enough of them remain to give 21st-century travelers a taste of those luxurious days of leisure. Not all of New Hampshire’s historic hotels are mountain or sea resorts, but these, too, offer a glimpse into the past.
Approached at night, when its wraparound verandah glitters with lights in an otherwise dark valley, the Omni Mount Washington appears to be a great ocean liner sailing across a starlit sea. It’s no accident: The grand hotel’s wide porch was designed so that guests could promenade in their finery, as they did on transatlantic voyages.
Families may no longer spend whole summers there, and the dress is more casual, but guests still delight in the mountain air and sweeping views of the Presidential Range. They also rejuvenate in a 21st-century spa, and relax in intimate lounges that line a grand lobby lined with Axminster carpets reproduced from the 1902 originals. After dinner in the window-encircled dining room, where there’s a mountain view from every table, they can sip brandy in a real Prohibition-era speakeasy hidden under the entrance.
Guests at this National Historic Landmark have included presidents, royalty, and Thomas Edison, who helped install the original electric lighting. The most important assemblage was in 1944, when world leaders gathered for the historic Bretton Woods Monetary Conference, which established the gold standard.
The grand dame known as Wentworth by the Sea has stood overlooking Little Harbor and the parklike New Castle Island since 1874. Its size, grandeur, and location made it President Theodore Roosevelt’s choice in 1905 for hosting diplomats and signers of the Treaty of Portsmouth, ending the Russo-Japanese War. When, a century after its opening, the hotel was closed and deteriorating dangerously, a complete restoration saved it in the nick of time, thanks to the work of local preservationists. Once again, its white towers are a Seacoast landmark for luxury lodging and dining.
Now rebranded as the Wentworth by the Sea Marriott Hotel & Spa, the resort declares its history from the moment guests step into the restored cream-paneled lobby and check in beside a rare grandfather clock. The guest rooms and the full-service spa hit a more modern note, but a stroll in the garden recalls its Victorian legacy. It’s New Hampshire’s only grand hotel where guests can arrive by sea, at its 170-slip marina.
Defining which hotel is the state’s oldest is not easy. Although the Hanover Inn is the oldest continuous business in the state, beginning as a tavern in 1780 and replaced by a hotel in 1813, the current hotel was built in 1889. Completely renovated by the college in 1901 as the Dartmouth Hotel, it has grown steadily ever since, most recently undergoing a $43 million renovation that transformed it into a 108-room boutique hotel with conference facilities and a farm-to-table restaurant.
Its history is so intertwined with Dartmouth’s own (the original tavern was owned by the college steward, and the college owns the inn today) that alums treat it as part of their alma mater. Dartmouth alumni memorabilia decorates its walls, along with original art on loan from the school’s Hood Museum of Art. The museum and the Hopkins Center for the Arts join the hotel in overlooking one side of the Dartmouth Green.
Not as large as some of the White Mountain hotels of its era, the Wentworth Inn is perfectly scaled for its setting in the village center of Jackson, overlooking a green valley ringed by mountains. Built in 1869 as Wentworth Hall, it soon evolved into a central inn surrounded by sumptuous summer “cottages,” some done in the bungalow style of the Arts and Crafts era. These have been beautifully restored as guest rooms and suites, of which there are 61 total when you add the ones in the main building. The rooms respect the original architectural and finishing details, with period mantels and paneled walls, while adding private outdoor hot tubs overlooking the mountains and village.
During the golden age of these resort hotels, Wentworth Hall was among the most glamorous and intimate, with a casino housing smoking and billiard parlors and an elegant ballroom. This past is remembered in a room off the lobby dedicated to the hotel’s history, filled with memorabilia, letters, documents, books, and paintings by White Mountain artists.
At the same time the oldest and the newest of these historic lodgings, the Bedford Village Inn began as a farm. Guests dine beside the large original fireplace in the well-preserved keeping room of an 1810 farmhouse; spacious antiques-furnished guest rooms open off mezzanines of the farm’s soaring post-and-beam barn. Guests relax in a comfortable lounge that was once the milking room. Between these two original buildings, a courtyard ringed with old-fashioned perennials is a favorite spot for summer weddings.
But this is only one face of the Bedford Village Inn. Located on a hill above it is the 59-room Bedford Village Grand, which opened in 2016. Adding conference facilities and a range of resort amenities — a heated saltwater pool, a fitness room, and a terrace lounge area with a fire pit — the Grand sets an entirely different tone with its contemporary guest rooms and smart lobby bar. The vibe here is two centuries from the Federal-period paneling and antiques of the farmhouse dining rooms — and guests can easily enjoy both.
Which New Hampshire historic hotels and inns are your favorites?
This post was first published in 2017 and has been updated.