Old Man of the Mountain Memorial
Early in the morning of May 3, 2003, the unthinkable happened to the beloved state symbol of the Granite State, the Old Man of the Mountain. It came crashing down.
The Old Man was created over 10,000 years ago by the last geologic ice age that retreated back toward the North Pole. Interesting geologic patterns, such as the Old Man, were created on the retreating side of the ice flow. Thus, the Old Man faced south into the Pemigewasset Valley in Franconia State Park. It was 45 feet high, 26 feet wide, and weighed 15,000 lbs.
The Old Man was appreciated by Native American Indians for centuries, then by the first surveyors who described the phenomenon in 1805. Written about by Nathaniel Hawthorne in 'The Great Stone Face', the outcropping became beloved in New Hampshire. It became our state seal, it appeared on the New Hampshire quarter, and countless commemoratives over the years. In a powerfully emotional sense, it was New Hampshire.
Initial public sentiment was strongly in favor of replacing the face with a man-made structure. Entrepreneurs and engineers testified in favor of their own concept. Metal, plastic, Plexiglas, stone and cement replicas were described and suggested.
Options for the Old Man project
I. The Old Man Restoration Task Force (in which I served as Chair) was created by Governor Craig Benson and comprised of interested state officials and the state's capable geologist, David Wunsch. After months of testimony and visits to the site, the Task Force recommended: a) no replica should be placed on the face of the mountain, b) creation of $5 million Old Man of the Mountain Legacy Fund museum near Profile Lake; c) construction of a tribute made of five large stones that would recreate the famous image from the viewer's vantage point at the memorial.
II. Architects Proposal - Francis Treves, a New Jersey architect believes the Task Force did not go far enough. He has proposed a 45 foot glass and steel structure for the face of the mountain. The Treves design, which won an award in 2009 from the New Hampshire chapter of the American Institute of Architects, would feature 250 suspended glass panels, an interior sky walk, and a waterfall created from diverted rainwater. Such a project would clearly attract attention and interest.
Organizers broke ground June 24, 2010 on the first phase of the memorial. It includes a lakeside pavilion and stainless steel "profilers" that will recreate the outline of the Old Man. The first phase was completed as scheduled in June 2011.
Phase 2 includes a series of huge granite stones that, when viewed from a raised platform, merge to create the Old Man's profile.
The project to create a memorial plaza to the Old Man hit a snag in April 2013, when donations effectively dried up. Board member Dick Hamilton told The Associated Press: "Fundraising has basically come nearly to a halt because of the economy, so there will be no phase two," he said. "Basically, what we have there now, we're going to finish up, polish up, add some benches and some signage and then go away."
- Tourism is critical to this area of the state and only a replica on the face of the mountain will bring visitors to the Old Man memorial. As time passes, the economic impact of the loss of the Old Man will only increase.
- Architect Francis Treves' award-winning glass and steel model will create significant publicity during the construction phase and will bring thousands of tourists to see the remarkable structure.
- Even the legislative proposals acknowledge that private funds will be needed, thus assuring that the Old Man re-creation will not become yet another government-sponsored program.
- Unlike Mt. Rushmore, the Old Man was made up of several overhanging blocks of granite, not one single solid piece. Few outside of those involved knew how precarious the Old Man's perch truly was, and it is impractical to try to reproduce it.
- Since 1954 state geologists and interested citizens did their best to keep the Old Man on its granite perch. Holes were drilled, hooks and cables attached. Epoxy resin and cement were used to block up particularly troublesome fissures. A stone replacement will undoubtedly require the same effort.
- The Task Force concluded after months of deliberation and testimony, that nature created the Old Man and that any man-made structure on the face of the mountain would not be in keeping with the New Hampshire tradition.