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New Hampshire's Mount Washington Hotel Has Coal-mine Roots

By Jerry Lynott, Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Times LeaderMcClatchy-Tribune Business News

Nov. 12, 2006 With age, the memories of The Mount Washington Hotel have faded somewhat for Jack Conyngham.

But even at 81, he can still recall how the beard of one of the hotel's many famous guests felt scratchy against his skin as a young boy.

In the 1930s, the family trips to the New Hampshire resort took two days in an open top motor car.

The place seemed as big as the White Mountains looming in the distance.

"We used to go up there in the summer," he said.

The destination had a family connection. His uncle John M. "Jack" Conyngham ran the operations of the Bretton Woods Co., the real estate investment corporation formed with Joseph Stickney. The Mount Washington was one of several hotels the company owned.

The two men profited from the anthracite coal mined from deep within Northeastern Pennsylvania, shipped by boat and rail elsewhere and consumed as fuel for the nation's industrial revolution.

Stickney, a Concord, N.H. native, was superintendent of the Susquehanna Coal Co. in Nanticoke. The 27-year-old Stickney partnered with John M.'s father, William Lord Conyngham, a Wilkes-Barre coal broker, in 1867, according to, "The Mount Washington A Century of Grandeur," published by the hotel in 2002.

After taking over from his father, John M. Conyngham teamed with Stickney, who had moved to New York City. The Bretton Woods Co. first purchased the Mount Pleasant House located near where The Mount Washington would stand. Stickney then turned his attention to building a grand hotel. He hired architect Charles Alling Gifford to construct out of wood and steel and stone what existed only in his imagination. Gifford, by the way, was married to the niece of William Lord Conyngham, according to the hotel's book.

Designed and built at a cost of $1.25 million, The Mount Washington stood out in its Spanish Renaissance Revival style. Gifford brought in 250 Italian craftsmen for the masonry, plaster, stained glass work that adorned the structure.
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In response to the praise lavished upon him by guests who gathered for the opening luncheon of the hotel Stickney is reported to have said, "Look at me, gentlemen. Look at me, for I am the poor fool that has built all this."

Two months after the hotel opened, The Bugle of Bretton Woods catalogued the materials and labor that went into the construction. "It would have taken one mechanic 26,000 days, or 71 years and three months to do the work alone," the newspaper reported.

The structure had 200,000 square feet of wood flooring, 11 miles of plumbing pipe, 52,000 square feet of roofing tin, 2 million square feet of lumber and 100,000 square yards of plain plastering, the paper said in its Oct. 1, 1902 edition.

Forty two years later the hotel hosted The Bretton Woods International Monetary Conference that resulted in the creation of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The hotel received National Historic Landmark status in 1986.

"It was a very elegant place to go to," Jack Conyngham said.

Awed by the size and setting of the hotel, the young Conyngham experienced what Stickney intended for his guests. Among those guests were Thomas Edison, Babe Ruth, John D. Rockefeller, Alfred Hitchcock, Winston Churchill, Presidents William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding and George H.W. Bush and chief justice of the United States Charles Evans Hughes.

The judge was Conyngham's reference for his own visits. Hughes was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1930 by President Herbert Hoover.

"I remember sitting on the lap of Mr. Charles Evans Hughes," Conyngham recalled. They were on the expansive porch of the hotel and the older, larger Hughes had a white beard that scratched the tyke's tender skin.

By the time the youngster visited, Stickney had long passed away. He died in 1903. John M. Conyngham ran the affairs of the Bretton Woods Co. from Wilkes-Barre and remained in contact with Stickney's widow Carloyn. She married Prince Jean Baptiste Marie de Faucigny Lucinge, a French royal and divided her time between the United States and Paris. Princess Stickney, as she was known to the hotel staff and guests, died in 1936.

During the winter months when the hotel was closed, caretakers and managers of The Mount Washington said they saw split-second visages of the Princess descending the stairs for dinner, according to the hotel's book.

It was also during the winter that the hotel's horses were boarded at the Conyngham's Hillside Farms in Luzerne County.

Today the 200-guest room hotel is open year-round and the centerpiece of a resort complex that includes The Lodge at Bretton Woods, The Bretton Arms Country Inn, The Townhomes at Bretton Woods and Bretton Woods Mountain Resort ski area.

Jerry Lynott, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 829-7237.

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Copyright (c) 2006, Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Times Leader

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