History of Carter Notch Hut
Carter Notch Hut, the farthest east in AMC’s chain of eight high mountain huts, is the oldest structure in the system. Although the Madison Spring site has been occupied longer, its buildings have been replaced and reworked over the decades. However, just like Madison, camping in Carter Notch pre-dates construction there.
Carter Notch came to the attention of White Mountain explorers relatively late in the history of the region. An 1853 article in Putnam’s Monthly Magazine compares the well-traveled Crawford, Pinkham, and Franconia Notches to Carter, describing Carter Notch as “dimly mentioned in guide-books, hinted at by hunters, only distantly approached by trout-fishers.” Clearly visible from the town of Jackson, Carter Notch remained a roadless wilderness where few had bothered to go.
We know that by the 1870s there were two established (though not particularly trail-like) routes into the notch: one from Jackson and one following Nineteen Mile Brook out of Pinkham Notch. A hunting camp had also been developed at the Carter Lakes. One of the charms of camping here with firearms was the amazing echoes produced by rifle shots in the vicinity of the cliffs.
AMC began to focus attention on Carter Notch shortly after the founding of the club in 1876. The club utilized the skill and pioneering spirit of Jonathan G. “Jock” Davis, one of the best-known guides in Jackson, to maintain a permanent camp in the notch. By 1877 a log and bark shelter had been “renewed” and an enclosed structure with a stove was added. Davis was the primary guide for the notch, and the camp was often referred to as “Davis’s cabin.” A fire in 1892 leveled both the open and enclosed shelters. Undeterred, the club built a sturdy log cabin on the site in 1904.
The club used the cabin for ten years before it was deemed inadequate, and a new hut was built in 1914. The old cabin was occupied for many years by a fire warden on duty in the fire tower that once stood on Carter Dome. The new hut was made of stone, following the precedent set by Madison. A caretaker, Milton MacGregor, was hired to provide hospitality to overnight guests.
Milton Emery MacGregor (1884-1976) was born in Hyde Park, Mass. His father Archibald came from Canada, and worked as an upholsterer. Milton’s mother Julia died when he was only five years old. Milton attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and graduated with a BA in physics in 1907. For a time he taught high school mathematics and mechanical drawing. In 1915 he became caretaker of Carter Notch Hut, and spent the next two years moving between Carter and Lakes of the Clouds.
In 1921, with three huts and Pinkham Notch Camp in operation, AMC went in search of someone “of sufficient experience and ability to take charge of the Huts.” The main objective was to gain consistency by hiring capable croo, managing the delivery of supplies efficiently, and providing food and lodging to guests “in a manner befitting the Club.” MacGregor fit the bill and filled this post until 1927. However, he is best known as the man who hired Joe Dodge, who would surpass him in fame and longevity in managing AMC’s hut system. Nonetheless, Milton “Red Mac” MacGregor’s name will be forever attached to Carter. In fact it is said that he turns up now and again in the form of ghost–just checking in on the place.
Carter was originally an 18x40 foot stone building, modeled on Madison Spring Hut. It received the first permit granted by the U.S. Forest Service for a permanent structure in the recently formed White Mountain National Forest. C.E. Buzzell of Randolph was hired as the builder, and he quickly set to work reconstructing and building a road to have materials shipped to the site. When the walls were up and the roof put on the hut was closed up for winter. The following spring beds and other necessities were carried in and the hut was officially opened.
Improvements to Carter came at the end of a long stint of renovations to the other huts. In 1930 a wood extension was added to provide more kitchen and croo space. Departing from the single-building model, a free-standing bunk house and new outhouses were added just uphill from the hut in 1962. This also happened to be the busiest season the huts had yet seen. Another bunkhouse was built the following year.
Experimentation in keeping the huts open longer each year began in 1971, with self-service seasons at Carter and Zealand Falls running late into the fall. After fall self-service proved popular, both stayed open for the winter starting in 1972.
The hut has not changed much since the 1960s. A kitchen renovation in 1990 updated the equipment and workspace. In 1995 a new well was drilled uphill from the hut, fulfilling a wish dating back to the 1930s for a gravity-fed water system (springs below the hut had previously been used for water). Carter Notch Hut had initially been envisioned as one of only three cabins for hikers. Instead, it now serves as the start (or end) of an eight-hut chain over 52 miles of the Appalachian Trail.
Read more about Carter Notch Hut's history in Passport to AMC's High Huts in the White Mountains >>
Photos: AMC Archives