Building the Mt. Washington Auto Road – the Nation’s oldest man-made attraction!
Work on the road began in the summer of 1854. Building the Road was an enormous task. The nearest source of supplies was eight miles away in Gorham, NH and all transportation was by horse, oxen or on the backs of men. Dynamite was unknown. Black powder was the explosive, and blasting holes were all drilled by hand. There was no machinery to handle the countless tons of rock and gravel that had to be moved. Even in Mt. Washington’s bad weather, laborers, the majority of which were Irish immigrants, worked 10-12 hours a day and lived in primitive shanties or tents.
Work progressed until the fall of 1856, when the halfway point was reached. Then money ran out, and the effort was halted. But, a new company, the present Mt. Washington Summit Road Company, was formed in 1859. The next year, work resumed, and opening of the Road all the way to the summit took place on August 8, 1861.
The very first motorized ascent of Mt. Washington was completed by Freelan O. Stanley of Stanley Steamer fame, in 1899. There were more steam-powered ascents during the next three years, and then in 1902, the first two gasoline-powered cars reached the summit.
Since then, except when gasoline shortages intervened, the history has been one of steady growth: 3,100 private cars in 1935, 6,600 in 1955 and 12,800 cars passed over the bridge at the base of the Auto Road in the Road’s 100th anniversary year, 1961. In recent years though, more than 45,000 vehicles have driven the Auto Road each year.
Now, 150 years after the “Road to the Sky” first opened to the public in 1861, the Mt. Washington Auto Road remains one of the most popular attractions in the entire United States.
Climb to the Clouds – A legendary event is born!
Now billed as one of the oldest motorsports events in the United States, the Climb to the Clouds was first run in 1904, seven years before the first 500-mile race at the Brickyard in Indianapolis and 12 years prior to the inaugural Pikes Peak Hillclimb in Colorado. Run sporadically throughout the years, many famous racecar drivers and automobile manufacturers have competed in the event through its’ colorful history.
In 1904, the first year of the Mt. Washington Hillclimb, Freelan E. Stanley from Newton, Massachusetts, co-creator of the famous Stanley Steamer, drove his 6-horsepower, 800-pound steam-powered car to the summit of Mt. Washington only to be beaten by Harry Harkness from New York. Driving a 40-horsepower Mercedes that weighed 2,200 pounds, Harkness posted a winning time in 1904 of 24 minutes, 37 and 3/5 seconds.
Since that first year of competition, many well-known drivers have competed and won the Climb to the Clouds such as “Cannonball” Baker in 1928 & 1932 and the legendary Carroll Shelby in 1956. Driving a Franklin in 1928, Baker raced to an amazing time of 14:49.6 seconds. Carroll Shelby, driving a specially prepared Ferrari roadster in 1956, posted a record-setting run of 10:21.8 seconds on his way to victory.
In 1961 Bill Rutan from Connecticut drove his Porsche-powered Volkswagen to another new record time of 9:13.0 seconds that would stand for 29 years – until the return of the race in 1990 when a Rally driver named Tim O’Neil from Franconia, NH drove his 300+ horsepower all-wheel-drive Volkswagen Rally Golf to the summit in an amazing time of just 7 minutes and 45 seconds.
Following the return of the Mt. Washington Hillclimb in 1990 after a 29-year hiatus, the event was run annually as part of the Mt. Washington Auto Road’s summer event schedule until 2001. During that time, several new records were shared between 8-time Sports Car Club of America National Rally Champion Paul Choiniere from Shelburne, Vermont and multi-time Canadian Rally Champion Frank Sprongl from Mississauga, Ontario.
However, the overall record that stands today was set in 1998 by Sprongl. Driving his 500 horsepower all-wheel-drive Audi Quattro S2, Sprongl covered the 7.6 mile course to the summit of 6,288 foot Mt. Washington in a blistering time of 6 minutes, 41.99 seconds.
Now in 2011, 107 years after it was first run, the legendary Mt. Washington Hillclimb returns. Not only to help celebrate the Mt. Washington Auto Road’s 150th anniversary as the Nation’s oldest man-made attraction, but as a tribute to the many talented drivers from around the country and the world who have tested not only their skills, but their automobiles, at what can arguably be referred to as one of the toughest automobile hillclimb events in all the world!