Franconia Notch has fascinated me since I started skiing Cannon in elementary school. As a winter visitor myself, I was unknowingly participating in a century’s old tradition of playing guest in the northern New Hampshire State Park which was so unlike my life on the coast of Portsmouth, two hours south-east. This project is my way of figuring out just what makes Franconia special and what it means to live in this place.
Interstate-93 blasts through Franconia, New Hampshire on its route north, the highway literally dynamited into the granite mountain notches by the Baby Boomers. Taking exit 38, the unobservant traveler could nearly miss the population-1,100 town with only one traffic stop and not even a convenience store at its only gas station. Certainly nothing is open twenty four hours here and one could drive through downtown so quickly as to scarcely see the half dozen or so establishments dotting Main Street.
But Franconia stands apart from the hundreds of American small towns across New England and the country. Franconia has Cannon Mountain, the oldest ski resort in the east and a once-upon-a-time tourist destination for hundreds of wealthy urbanites. Operated by the state government and founded in the 1930s, Cannon and other historic tourist traps like the Old Man (which has since fallen) caused Franconia’s population and economy to boom (at least as much as a small New Hampshire town will). The inns were full and the energy up.
But now with ski mountains peppering the state’s mountainous north, and the region’s winters becoming evermore mild, Franconia feels less like a resort town and more like a parent’s empty nest.
Skiers and tourists come through on holidays but rarely stay the night and for the locals who remember the good ol days the creeping vacancy is something best left alone.
This melancholy picture is not to say Franconia is a sad, by-gone highway stop though. Steve Heath, the owner of the town village store greets his dozens of customers by first name and the place has a four-season viewshed that dazzles even the most familiar eyes. Ella, one of Heath’s two employees, says of Franconia that nothing ever happens here, “but when it does, it’s a doozy.” And she’s right, too. Franconians know how to party and with everyone knowing everyone, it gets rowdy pretty quick.
While young people flee in droves after their graduations from Profile High School, many do find their way back. There’s something special about Franconia, notched in the White Mountains; a kind of perseverance, a willingness to trudge forward even when the snows don’t come or the tourists choose Waterville Valley instead.
See, because Franconia is two worlds in one place. Founded on hospitality and tourism Franconia has a public face: the ski resort, the cozy bar, the rustic hillside condos. But it also has a culture all its own for just the residents to feel: a kind of reward for taking a risk and living in relative isolation. Because, when one talks to the city selectman about development, for instance, it’s not the typical conversation about sustainable development or new-age community centers, but how to wire internet service for the majority of the town still without it. Spending time in Franconia is a bit like going down and rabbit hole, in that the world feels just that much further out of reach. Yet, for some, that’s all they need.
About this project
This project was completed during the winter of 2015-6 as partial fulfillment of my minor in Multimedia Arts at Tufts University.
VII Photo Agency founder, Gary Knight and Assistant Director of Photography, Alonso Nichols served as my advisors.
You can read about my process throughout the project on my blog.