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1st Madison Spring Hut built in 1888; AMC marks 125 Years of Huts

The rocky cone of Mt. Madison lies behind Madison Spring Hut. This summer, the nonprofit AMC celebrated the 125 years — 1888 to 2013 — that it has welcomed hikers to the first of its high huts. Photo by Edith Tucker. (click for larger version)
October 09, 2013
LOW & BURBANK'S GRANT — Madison Spring Hut is closed for the season — the second after the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) essentially rebuilt it in the fall and spring months of 2010-2011. "It remains one of the AMC's more popular huts and a welcome refuge for the multitudes of hikers who have enjoyed its shelter from the region's harsh alpine weather," explains author Ty Wivell in his 2011 guide, "Passport AMC's High Huts in the White Mountains."

"Interest in the huts was very strong this season, due, in large part, to the 125th anniversary year," said Rob Burbank, AMC Director of Media and Public Affairs. "Given the historic location and the recent renovations, Madison Spring Hut was one of the most popular huts among guests."

Madison's major rebuilding project was designed to make it more comfortable for the 52 overnight hikers it can accommodate and to support AMC's 'Green Promise' of sustainable operations while maintaining the building's historical integrity, Wivell writes. The stone foundation was preserved, while the bunkrooms, 'croo' quarters, and kitchen were rebuilt, and a waterless toilet system added." Madison also features wind power and solar panels, compact fluorescent lighting and food waste composting.

This year, the AMC celebrated "125 years: 1888-2013" of its eight-hut system. It is patterned after the European model, points out Charles Bethea, a freelance writer who is a former AMC hut crew member, in a nostalgic article in the Travel section of "The New York Times" published on Sunday, Sept. 29. "The Swiss Alpine Club (SAC) operates 152 huts with 9,200 beds in the Alps," he writes.

The 24-mile-long Presidential Traverse, once merely called "crossing the Range" in the now nearly 800,000-acre White Mountain National Forest, takes hikers over at least seven peaks — Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington (the highest summit at 6,288 feet), Monroe, Eisenhower, and Pierce.

Bethea describes Madison, located at an elevation of 4,800 feet, as "hunkered" in the col between Mount Madison (5,367 feet) and Mount Adams (5,799 feet). It takes a six-person "croo" to run it in the summer, five in the fall.

Innkeeper Laban Watson of Randolph, who owned and operated the Ravine House in Randolph Valley, supervised the building of AMC's first stone hut in 1888 on an acre of land donated by the Brown Lumber Company. The hut's size was doubled in 1906 and a separate stone cookhouse was built in 1911. In 1922 a third stone building was added, and in 1929 that was enlarged to replace the original hut.

But in Oct. 7, 1940, a fire that started in its kitchen destroyed the main hut.

"With the aid of donkeys and shoulder pads borrowed from the Berlin High School football team, the crew hauled 50 tons of materials up the mountain in six weeks and went to work to build a new hut from the stone foundations that remained," Wivett writes.

The new Madison Hut welcomed its first guests in August 1941.

"The AMC's eight huts in the Whites are spaced along 56 miles of the Appalachian Trail (AT), a few hours by foot from the nearest road," Bethea explains. "Cell-phone reception is spotty up high, however. Stay on the trails and carry a map…. Good hearty food is served (at the high huts) by smiling young men and women."

AMC Senior Vice President Walter Graff of Randolph said that the commemorative T-shirt that carries a design styled to look like a 1920s travel poster, touting its 125-year history of operating high huts, has sold very well.

In his brief introduction to Wivell's guide, then-AMC president Andy Falender writes that in recent years the AMC high huts have become "models for environmental education and stewardship, showcasing sustainable practices such as use of alternative energy, waste reduction, and composting, and serving as focal points of our air quality and alpine ecosystem monitoring and research."

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