Lodging in New England’s ski country runs the gamut, from historic grand hotels and sprawling apartment-style condo complexes to secluded bed and breakfasts. In short, you can truly find whatever kind of accommodation you and your brood are looking for. If my travels take me to northern New Hampshire, on the western edge of the Granite State, I love checking in to Thayers Inn in Littleton.
Whether I’m with a couple of ski buddies, my wife, or I have the whole clan in tow, Thayers Inn can accommodate us. The hulking, historic Greek Revival structure with its grand columns is not a “party house” for a raucous boys weekend (consider a stand-along condo or cabin for those escapades). But for almost any other getaway, it nicely fits the bill. As a bonus, the inn offers discounted lift tickets to both Cannon and Bretton Woods with its room packages.
This stately inn boasts 35 total rooms and suites, with the ability to sleep a total of almost 100 visitors. The décor is somewhat dated, but that speaks to its rich history (more on that later). I enjoy the old lamps and furniture (owners have upgraded the mattresses, so all is good on that score), high ceilings, the period bathroom fixtures, antique wallpaper from before my grandparents’ time with an eclectic collection of artwork, the old spiraling staircase, and the wide-planked, warped hallways. The place, much like the town itself, bleeds character.
Several years ago, the owners of the Christmas Farm Inn in Jackson — Sandra and Gary Ploude — took over management of the inn, and last year purchased the property outright. That’s good news for fans of Thayers Inn, given the success of the couple’s Jackson property. Unlike the Christmas Farm Inn, which sits on the outskirts of Jackson, on the access road to Black Mountain, Thayers Inn is right in the middle of the action. And Littleton, despite its location above Franconia Notch, is a bustling community of roughly 6,000 residents.
In truth, you can’t talk about Thayers Inn without talking about Littleton. This funky little community is found northwest of Cannon and Mittersill, right on Interstate 93 as the highway lurches toward the Vermont border. Start with the Irving gas station at the bottom of the exit ramp. Yup, a gas station, with one of those cheesy-but-handy convenience stores. Most gas stations in the north country apply the “tourist penalty,” charging top dollar. This Irving, surprisingly, doesn’t, and that’s a welcome relief when we have to refuel after the long drive from Boston’s North Shore.
Downtown, Littleton features a classic main street which is called, predictably, Main Street, and a fascinating collection of cool shops, ethnic restaurants, and a thriving arts scene. Off the back of the property runs the mighty Ammonoosuc River, which was a driving force in Littleton’s early establishment as a mill town (named after Colonel Moses Little when it was incorporated in 1784).
Many of the town’s buildings, like Thayers Inn, date back hundreds of years, and I love that sense of shared history, as if the centuries melt away as you walk along. In the early 1840s, Henry L. Thayer was a successful local merchant who had a dream to build a hotel more modern in equipment and character than others of its kind. Despite naysayers, Thayer’s dream started taking shape in 1843 when he purchased the lot just east of his store. Although the exact year construction began is unknown, sources indicate Jan. 14, 1850 as opening day for “Thayer’s White Mountain Hotel.” When the railroads came to Littleton in 1852, the hotel flourished.
“Dad” Thayer, as Henry came to be known, built his success on the quality of service he offered salesmen and other travelers to the area. Lackeys would deliver firewood for the fireplace or Franklin stove in order to heat the room, a candle to provide light, a pitcher of water for washing as well as the guest’s own personal “thunder jug.” Bed sheets were turned down just before the guest retired for the evening, and heated stones were placed between the covers to warm the bed.
Fortunately, the hotel’s heating system has been brought into modern times, providing ample warmth combined with cozy comforters. That ensures guests a relaxing stay, and the hotel boasts an impressive list of guests. In part because of New Hampshire’s long-standing “first in the nation” primary, Thayers Inn has hosted presidents, leading politicians, celebrities and other notable dignitaries.
The guest list includes Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Franklin Pierce, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, and those who aspired to be president, such as General George B. McClellan, Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, Gov. Estes Ketauver, Gov. George Romney, Sen. Barry Goldwater, Sen. Harold Stassen, Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole, political commentator Patrick Buchanan, and Sen. Bill Bradley. New Hampshire Governors Sherman Adams (the charismatic founder of Loon Mountain) and Hugh Gallen (a native son) also frequented the inn, as did a number of celebrities like circus promoter P.T. Barnum (accompanied by “General” Tom Thumb), publisher Horace Greely, automotive pioneer Henry Ford, notorious millionaire playboy Harry K. Thaw, Arctic explorer Commander Robert E. Peary, movie star Bette Davis, and “Dances With Wolves” author Michael Blake. Many of these visits are memorialized with framed, sepia-toned newspaper accounts lining the inn’s walls.
Still, Thayers Inn doesn’t have a monopoly on the town’s rich history. The Littleton Area Historical Society maintains a list of historic sites in the town. In addition to the inn, local buildings considered important for protection include the Community House (1884), the Town Building (1895), the Methodist Church (1850), the Congregational Church (1832), Tilton’s Opera Block (1881), the Solomon Block (1912), the Harrington Block (1897), the Kilburn Block (1900), the Carnegie Library (1906), the Northern Lights or Brackett Block (1833), the Post Office (1932) and the Masonic Temple (1908), all located on Main Street.
Beyond Main Street, history buffs can have a field day visiting the Kilburn House on South Street (formerly owned by Sylvestor Marsh, inventor of the Cog Railway), the Lane House (1812), the railroad station (early 1900s) and the Brackett House Restaurant (1841) on Cottage Street, the Beal House (1833), the Bigelow House (1834), the brick Cyrus Young House (1820) and Arlene Strong’s House (1838-40) on West Main Street, the 1895 House on Pleasant Street, the Josiah Kilburn House (1825) on Mann’s Hill, the Episcopal Church (1875) and Thomas Pancoast House (1890s) on School Street, the Catholic Church (1913) on High Street, the Robert Campbell House (1778), and the Parker House (1790s) on Lisbon Road, and the Highland Croft (1837) and Lincoln Adam’s Farm on the Partridge Lake Road. Hardly leaves any time to hit the slopes (or a great option for family members who don’t share your ski addiction).
Need to chill after a day making turns? Check out one of several yoga studios — Iyengar Yoga North, “The Barn” Yoga Studio, Root to Bloom Studio, or Restorative Health Therapies. There’s also a robust dining scene in Littleton that offers great rewards for those famished after hours of skiing or riding. While Thayers Inn sits atop a restaurant, Smith Brothers Tavern (not affiliated with the inn), there are a wide selection of superior dining options all within walking distance.
Two favorites, given my preference for high-end brews, are Schilling Beer Company and Littleton Freehouse Taproom & Eatery. Asian foodies (yes, me included) have numerous choices, with Chang Thai Cafe, Taste the Thai, Asian Garden Restaurant and Jing Fong Chinese Restaurant, while Mexican enthusiasts can sample Alburrito’s Mexican Restaurant. How many northern outposts can claim that kind of variety?
Even though the inn offers a grab-and-go continental breakfast that’s included in the room rate, if you have extra time you owe it to yourself to stroll over to the Littleton Diner for breakfast. Trust me on this. In operation since the mid-1930s, the legendary diner is a favorite for both locals and visitors, and deservedly so. The portions are generous and the prices are fair, so you can fuel up for a day on the slopes without emptying your wallet. I can’t stop by without ordering the homemade corned beef hash and eggs. Ever.
Armed with the combination of a good night’s sleep at Thayers Inn, and a full breakfast at the Littleton Diner, I’m ready for anything that Cannon or nearby Bretton Woods can throw at me. Sounds like a perfect ski getaway to me.