CONCORD, N.H. — A dozen years after forming the Appalachian Mountain Club in 1876, its members embarked on an ambitious mission to build a refuge for hikers of the rugged ridgeline of the Presidential Range in the White Mountains.
The Madison Spring hut — a stone shelter complete with a fireplace — was built in the summer of 1888, in a saddle between Mount Madison and Mount Adams. It was a time when tourists were flocking to the White Mountains by train, riding the world’s first mountain railroad — the Cog Railway — to the summit of Mount Washington. Many stayed in the Summit House Hotel atop Mount Washington.
Madison Spring was the summit house for hikers. AMC founding member Rosewell Lawrence and a companion spent several nights in the hut in February 1889. He wrote a diary entry hailing it as “a great institution. Its construction is one of the best things the club has done.”
Now, 125 years later, the AMC is celebrating the anniversary of the nation’s oldest mountain hut system with special hut hikes; educational programs; and commemorative items, including posters, patches, pint glasses and clothing. It’s also encouraging visitors to go to its website and post photos they’ve taken of their stays in the huts.
The system has grown to eight huts located along the Appalachian Trail, ranging in capacity from 36 at the smaller huts to 90 at the Lakes of the Clouds hut just below the summit of Mount Washington. About 39,000 hikers overnight in the huts annually, according to AMC officials.
Each hut is staffed with a crew that includes a naturalist. Stays include dinner and breakfast, at a cost averaging $98 for AMC members and $118 for nonmembers. Staff members discuss the ecosystem around the hut and talk about what they do to minimize the impact to the environment.
“We showcase how the hut runs and suggest what people might be able to do back home,” said Chris Thayer, a hut system worker and manager since 1989, who now oversees the outreach and education program.