Crawford Notch SP--Willey House

Crawford Notch SP--Willey House

US-302 Harts Location, New Hampshire 03812

Crawford Notch State Park Official Website
Crawford Notch State Park hiking map

About this Location

The Willey House at Crawford Notch is associated principally with the tragedy of August 28, 1826, in which seven members of the Willey family and two other people died. Out of that event came a boost to the nascent tourism industry of the area. 

The Willey House was originally known as Old Notch House and was built in 1793. Ethan Crawford acquired it in 1823 for use as an inn to accommodate his growing business as a mountain guide and in 1826, it was occupied by a family headed by Samuel J. Willey Jr.

Northern New England experienced a drought in the summer of 1826, which ended with the arrival of a terrific storm on the evening of August 28. Flooding followed, with the valley at Crawford Notch being one place that suffered the consequences. All but two of the bridges on the turnpike that ran through the notch were destroyed, trees suffered a similar fate and the high sides of the valley were gouged by swollen streams and landslides. The Willey House was a scene of desolation due to the effects of an avalanche on a mountain behind it. The house, however, had survived on an island of calm because the surging debris split either side on a low ridge and then unified again beyond it

Residents, including Ethan Crawford and the Reverend Benjamin G. Willey, Samuel's brother, visited the house after the storm. It was empty, with signs that there may have been a rapid departure from it, such as unmade beds, clothes strewn around, and ashes in the fireplace. There was an open Bible on the table. A search of the devastated area over the next few days revealed the bodies of the Willey parents, two of their daughters, and two hired hands; the remains of the other three Willey children were never found. Some livestock had also been killed, including those in a now-destroyed stable.

There followed various theories as to what had happened, the most likely of which is that the occupants abandoned the property as the avalanche approached but in doing so, in darkness, they unwittingly put themselves in its path around the point where the flow reunited.

News of the disaster spread, initially through many regional newspapers, and also through media such as Theodore Dwight's guidebook, The Northern Traveller. People began to visit the site, drawn to the scene of devastation, human tragedy, and the miraculous survival of the structure itself. As well as boosting a nascent tourist industry in the area, in which the Crawford family had already been playing a significant part, it became a source of inspiration for artists and writers. The 4,000-foot peak on the western wall of the notch became known as Mount Willey.

About Crawford Notch State Park

See all hotspots at Crawford Notch State Park

Crawford Notch State Park has 5,775 acres providing access to numerous hiking trails, waterfalls, fishing, wildlife viewing, and spectacular mountain views. Crawford Notch State Park is rich in history with the famous Willey House. The campground in the park is Dry River Campground and offers 36 wooded sites.

This park is always open for recreation unless closed or restricted by posting. During off-hours and the off-season, the park is typically not staffed, comfort stations are not available and gates may be closed. The off-season poses unique risks inherent when participating in outdoor recreational activities. Please be aware that many State Park areas and trails are not staffed during the off-season, and day-use fees are not collected. Recreationists should possess the necessary knowledge, skills, and equipment to ensure their safety. Users assume all risks while recreating in State Park lands.

Willey House Operating Schedule: The Willey House is open full-time only beginning in May and closes in October. Operating hours are Monday through Friday 9 am Saturday and Sunday from 8:30 am to sunset.


  • Restrooms on site

  • Wheelchair accessible trail

  • Entrance fee

  • Roadside viewing

Content from Crawford Notch State Park Official Website and Wikipedia

Last updated November 14, 2023