The town of Jackson is located in the northeast corner of Carroll County and is the southeast entrance to the White Mountain National Forest. This national forest receives heavy recreational use, being within a day’s drive of well over 70 million people. This fact affects the growth and economic climate of both the town and the surrounding region. The township of Jackson consists of 42,533 acres, of which approximately 75 percent is national forest land. Jackson is bounded on the east by Chatham, on the south by Bartlett, on the west and north by Sargent’s Purchase, Pinkham’s Grant and Bean’s Purchase.
The Copps built a log shelter near the junction of the Wildcat and Ellis Rivers and began to clear fields. By 1790 five other families had emigrated to the settlement from Madbury, New Hampshire. Joseph Pinkham settled across the Wildcat River from the Town Hall. His eldest son, Joseph D. Pinkham, built his home near the present day Eagle Mountain House. Jonathan and Clement Merserve, who were cousins, established farms on Route 16, north of the village, and on the Five Mile Circuit, south of Gill Bridge. The fifth settler was a man named John Young.
In the years 1771 through 1774 the land that is now Jackson was granted to several men for service in the French and Indian War by Governor John Wentworth in the name of King George III. None of these grantees wanted to settle in the area, so they sold their land to those who did. Around 1775, Benjamin Copp brought his family from southern New Hampshire to what was then known as Gilman’s Location. He found a wilderness of forests, streams and mountains, populated by wild animals, birds and fish. There may have been Indian trails through the area, but the nearest Indian settlement at the time was in Intervale or Glen.
Through the 1790s additional families settled in Jackson. Petitions were sent to the New Hampshire legislature requesting incorporation as a town so that taxes could be collected for roads and schools. The third petition, signed by 36 men, probably all the male residents over the age of 18, was answered. On December 4, 1800 the town, which had been known as New Madbury, was incorporated as Adams, in honor of President John Adams. The area included the original four grants, totaling 16,000 acres plus almost 14,000 acres of state land. The first town meeting of record was held at the home of Jonathan Meserve on March 4, 1801. The inventory of families residing in Adams at that time included Copp, Pinkham, Meserve, Young, Perkins, Trickey, Chesley, Gray, Davis, Pitman, Jenkins, Sawyer, Dearborn, Canney, Nute, Hall, and Rogers. In 1829 the name of the town was officially changed to Jackson. Records indicate the population was 515.
Other businesses were tried. Iron ore and tin ore were found in Jackson and mining companies were formed, but both were short-lived and produced very little of either metal. In the 1860s a starch factory was built and a little later a clothespin mill was started, but neither business lasted very long.
All the early settlers were farmers, and farming continued to be the primary occupation until after the middle of the 19th century. At first the farms were almost self-sufficient. Most of the food was grown on the farm, supplemented by fish and wild game. Meal ground from corn was a staple because wheat was more difficult to grow. Flax was grown and wool sheared from sheep to make the material for clothing. By the 1840s sheep were raised to produce surplus wool to sell. The land was cleared for crops and pasture, giving Jackson a very different look. The population grew to almost 600 by the mid 19th century. In addition to valley farms, there were farms high on the mountainsides, on both the eastern and western slopes of Black Mountain, on the ridge between Spruce and Wildcat, and high on the side of Iron Mountain.
In 1847 an artist by the name of Boardman came from New York and boarded at the farmhouse of Joshua Trickey, which had been the Joseph Pinkham farm. Soon more artists came, and Jackson scenes were painted by many of the best-known artists of the 19th century White Mountain School of Art, including Benjamin Champney, John Joseph Enneking, Samuel Lancaster Gerry, Sylvester Phelps Hodgdon and Aaron Draper Shattuck, among others. Some made Jackson their base of operations. Frank Shapleigh built a home here and became active in the summer community. He was instrumental in founding the Jackson library. Thaddeus Defrees was a perennial summer resident, staying at Wilson Cottages. Artists continue to come to Jackson to paint, both as residents and transients.
Soon vacationers, many inspired by paintings of the White Mountains, came to enjoy the scenery. More farmhouses began to take in boarders. To accommodate the increasing number of transient visitors, J.B. Trickey built the Jackson Falls House in 1858. It was located at the base of the falls (where the Post Office is currently located). The first Iron Mountain House was built in 1861.It was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1877. Thorn Mountain House, the forerunner of Wentworth Hall, was built in 1869 by Joshua Trickey for his daughter, Georgianna, and her husband, Marshall Wentworth. It was rebuilt in the 1880s and more buildings were added. Gray’s Inn, Eagle Mountain House, and Hawthorne Inn were also established in the 1880s. Some of the old farmhouses were enlarged to become inns and boarding houses, for example, Moody Farm, which became Whitneys’ Inn, Perkins Cottage which became Christmas Farm Inn, and Wilson Cottages. Farming continued as the hotels provided a new market for produce. Some hotels ran their own farms, growing vegetables and maintaining herds of cows to provide fresh dairy products.
By 1889, as noted in the “History of Carroll County,” the resort business was the mainstay of the village economy with ten inns and hotels, and several boarding houses. It was estimated in that year that over $100,000 was earned from tourism. In the late 19th century an era of second homes began as hotel guests decided that they preferred their own vacation places. Some families bought old farms, while others bought land and built large and impressive summer “cottages.”
In the late 1940s more people became interested in skiing. More tows were built and more inns were open in the winter. Dick May and his brother, Jake, had a rope tow on Black Mountain in 1947 and 1948. The tow went up 1000 feet and ran at 18 miles an hour. There were also rope tows at Spruce Mountain Lodge, White Mountain Inn (formerly Wilson Cottages), and at Omer Gile’s on Route 16.
The large hotels were dealt several blows in the 20th century. First the automobile began to change vacation habits. People could travel from place to place instead of spending their entire vacation at one spot. Then the depression of the 1930s, followed by World War II, cut down on the money and time that could be spent on vacations. Many grand hotels became vacant and subsequently were victims of fire.
Meanwhile skiing entered the picture. Although most of the hotel business was limited to the summer season, a few inns began opening to winter guests. In 1936, Carroll Reed established the Eastern Slope Ski School, the American branch of the Hannes Schneider Ski School. He also opened a ski shop in the village, which was a branch of Saks Fifth Avenue, and later became the Carroll Reed Ski Shop. In 1935 Ed Moody, with the help of Phil Robertson and George Morton, built a lift on the slope beside Moody Farm, which became the Black Mountain Ski Area. The lift was an overhead cable with rope handles hanging down, which unfortunately did not work very well. Bill and Betty Whitney bought the inn in 1936 and the next year Bill made improvements to the lift, including replacing the rope handles with shovel handles purchased from Sears Roebuck.
The winter of 1948-1949 saw the building of the T-bar up to the first peak of Black Mountain by Bill Whitney and two partners. They used the old Hackett School, one of the six original schools in Jackson, as a base lodge. The same year two chair lifts were built on the other side of town up Middle Mountain. This area was unusual in that steep slopes were just above the base and the novice area was higher up in the fields of Thorn Mountain Park. Novices had to ski down the road to return to the base. The Thorn Mountain Ski Area went out of business after a few years. Another ski development, Tyrol, was later built on Thorn Mountain itself, but that also went out of business. Black Mountain, now owned by the Fichera Family, is still operating.
Jackson is fortunate in having many buildings of historic interest. In 2003 the Jackson Falls Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places. This district includes 17 contiguous properties plus the stone bridge crossing the Wildcat River. There are 4 publicly owned buildings in the district: the Jackson Public Library, the Town Hall, the Jackson Grammar School and the Trickey Barn. Privately owned buildings include the Jackson Community Church, Wentworth Hall and its 7 cottages, Wentworth Castle, 3 homes abutting the Wildcat River between Wentworth Hall and Wentworth Castle, and the Frank Shapleigh house just above the Trickey Barn. There are many other buildings worthy of being included in the National Register of Historic Places, and the Historical Society will assist private owners who wish to seek this designation. The 26 oldest homes in Jackson, built prior to 1860 and still occupied, have had their histories chronicled in a monograph published by the Jackson Historical Society. Perhaps the most beloved and best-known structure in Jackson is the covered bridge over the Ellis River, built in 1881.
Although agriculture declined in economic importance in the village, the farmed land contributed to the preservation of the scenic values of the area.
Descendents of the Gray, Gale, Wentworth, Dinsmore, Trickey, Pitman, Guptill, Abbott, Meserve, Fernald, Hayes, and Hurlin families are still owners of property in Jackson. The Davis family, in an uninterrupted seven-generation line, continues the operation of their agricultural enterprises in the Black Mountain area.
Jackson’s natural environment provides clean air and water and a beautiful landscape of mountains and streams. Environmental characteristics have always had a strong influence on the development in the town. For example, dense forests provided abundant resources for sawmills, mountains and snowy winters provided slopes and trails for a ski industry, and scenic beauty provided for tourism opportunities in all seasons.
These natural resources are important to Jackson today and will be into the future.
Although no official weather records have been kept for the Town of Jackson, records have been kept in nearby North Conway.
Winter temperatures (in degrees Fahrenheit) average 19.3, based on December through February readings. The number of days with temperatures 0 or lower has varied from 18 to 45 in a winter. Days with temperatures below -10 have varied from 4 to 20. Days with temperatures below -20 vary from 0 to 8. Days with temperatures below -30 occur only about one winter in five. The average winter’s lowest temperature mark is -26.
Seasonal snowfall is subject to wide variation, ranging from 51” to 163.5”. The ground is normally snow-covered from early December into the second week in April. The average maximum seasonal snow depth is 37” occurring near the end of February.
Figures kept by Black Mountain Ski Area of the number of days of skiing, 1937-1975, (before snow making) show an average of 90 days with adequate snow. Its shortest season was 1949, with 43 days, and the longest was 1969, with 118 days.
The growing season, or period free of any 32 or lower temperature, averages 108 days. The last spring freeze has occurred as early as April 10 and as late as May 30. The first hard freeze has occurred anywhere from Aug. 31 to Oct. 5, and usually occurs in the base of the valleys. (An interesting historical note: The early farms in the area were on the hillsides, perhaps due to the longer growing season mid-way up the slopes.)
Summer temperatures are generally quite comfortable, with afternoon maximums frequently in the upper 70s or low 80s. Days with readings of 90s or higher have varied from 3 to 18 in a summer. Days with 95 have varied from 0 to 7. The June through August average temperature is 65.4 degrees.
The average yearly precipitation is 47.5”, but has ranged from a low of 35.2” to a high of 62.6”.
The Town of Jackson consists mainly of four mountain ridges separated by three river valleys running in a north-south direction. These rivers are the Wildcat, Ellis and East Branch of the Saco Rivers. In addition, there is one section of the Rocky Branch entirely within the National Forest that cuts across the southwestern corner of the township. Adjacent to the valleys, the elevation rises rapidly to four mountain ridges. East to west, these ridges are:  the western slope of Sable Mountain and Chandler Mountain (3329’) separated by the East Branch of the Saco from  Black Mountain (3303’) ridge south to the Knoll (2000’), Doublehead Mountain (3056’) and Tin, Middle, and Thorn (2287’) Mountains. The Wildcat River separates these mountains from  the southwestern slopes of Wildcat Mountain (3850’ highest point within the Town), Hall’s Ledge (2600’), Spruce Mountain (2272’), and Eagle Mountain (1615’). The Ellis River flows between this ridge and  Rocky Branch Ridge (3400’), Maple Mountain (2626’), and parts of Iron Mountain (2120’ within the Town). In the southwestern corner of Jackson, west of the Rocky Branch River, the eastern slope of Mt. Resolution rises to about 3000’.
Elevations range from 720 feet in Jackson Village to about 3850 feet on Wildcat Ridge. The highest area in developed Jackson is the “Tyrol” area at about 1900 feet.
The slope of a parcel of land can be a major factor affecting its potential use. The steeper the slope, the more likely the soil is to erode when the land is disturbed or the vegetation is removed. Hillside development, without adequate measures to prevent harm, can also result in additional public expenditure either for repairs or for protective measures to prevent further damage. A slope of twenty-five percent is generally accepted as the appropriate upper limit for residential development and other construction activities.
Slopes in Jackson range from level to extremely steep rocky cliffs. A majority of the town has moderate to steep slopes, with 68% of the non-USFS land (mapped in the Carroll County Soil Survey) having a slope 25% or greater, and only 10% of the non-USFS land with a gradient less than 8%.
Additionally, hillsides are an aesthetic resource. In Jackson this is particularly true. Hillsides provide an attractive setting and form the basis for scenic vistas. Therefore, care must be taken to preserve this valuable community resource.
The United States Department of Agriculture Soil Conservation Service conducted and published the “Soil Survey of Carroll County” (on file at the Town Office) in the 1970s to learn what kinds of soil are in Carroll County and to provide information for farm and forest management and town-wide land-use planning. The soil types found were classified and named according to a nationwide, uniform system of soil series. The soil types occurring in Carroll County are described in the text of the “Soil Survey”.
In the “Soil Survey” the soils on the USFS and other undeveloped lands were mapped at Order 3 (or low intensity) in which the smallest soil delineation is 25 to 100 acres in size. The more developed portions of the town were mapped at Order 2 (medium intensity) with the smallest soil delineation at 3 to 5 acres.
To obtain soils information detailed enough to make site-specific decisions on individual subdivisions, an Order 1 map or high intensity soil map is required. This would be done on a survey map with a scale of at least 1 inch to 100 feet, and contours of 2 feet or less, which allows a mapping unit of less than a quarter acre. The state of New Hampshire has adopted the Site-Specific Soil Mapping Standards, which are a combination of the criteria from both the Order 1 Mapping Standards and the High Intensity Soil Mapping Standards.
The “Soi1 Survey” maps show about sixty different types of mapping units within the town of Jackson of which close to half are soil associations. The major types of soil found in Jackson are Marlow, Lyman, Berkshire, Peru, and Becket soils. For all of these, surface stones are common. Marrow, Peru and Becket soils have a firm pan layer beginning at 12 to 36 inches below the surface. The pan layer causes a “perched water table” and restricts the downward movement of water through the soil, which causes problems for the performance of sub-surface septic disposal systems. Lyman soils are very shallow to bedrock, which makes them ill suited for land uses such as agriculture or residential development.
Because of the variety of limitations to development presented by the soils of Jackson, prudent planning dictates the need to consider the capabilities of the soils on land for which a development is proposed. Recognizing this need, Jackson in 1987, amended the zoning ordinance so that minimum lot sizes for new subdivisions would be based on soil types.
The soil types identified and described in the “Soil Survey of Carroll County” are ranked as to their limitations for various land uses. Almost all the soil types found in Jackson were listed as having moderate to severe limitations for activities associated with residential development such as construction of roads, parking lots, lawns and dwellings with basements and septic tank effluent disposal. The most common limitations listed were steep slopes, stoniness, and the presence of a pan layer. Certain soils have particular limitations such as excessive permeability in sandy deposits along streams, flooding on flood plain soils, and poor drainage in wetland soils. None of the soils in Jackson were listed as being well suited for agricultural use.
Two watercourses converge in the village, the Ellis and Wildcat Rivers. The Wildcat flows south from its source in Carter Notch through an intervale to form a natural cataract, Jackson Falls, below the Valley Cross Road and converges with the Ellis just north of the Jackson covered bridge. Additional watercourses include a small length of the Rocky Branch River, west of Maple Mountain, and Great Brook, from its origins one in East Pasture and one on Doublehead Mtn., to its junction with the Wildcat below Eagle Mountain House. The East Branch of the Saco flows through Jackson east of the Doublehead area.
Of these rivers, the Ellis is of major significance as it is the water source for the Jackson Water Precinct. Therefore, it is particularly important to control the amount and type of development within this watershed in order to preserve the quality of water.
Jackson contains numerous brooks that feed into its rivers. The six largest are Great Brook, Marsh Brook, Miles Brook, Meserve Brook, Bog Brook and Wildcat Brook.
Most of the bodies of water within Jackson were originally man-made by the damming of streams and/or excavation. They include Mirror Lake and the following ponds: Whitney, Elkins, Thorn Hill Lodge, Burgess, Memorial Park, Foster’s Globe, three ponds on the Rockwell property on Tin Mine Road and the pond at Hemlock Hill Acres. There are man-made fire ponds on the Valley Cross Road, Carter Notch Road, Cameron Drive, as well as man-made ponds on Dundee Road and the Five Mile Circuit Road.
The streams and ponds of Jackson are fed by numerous springs that are also a major source of local water. It is very important to protect the water quality through setbacks, erosion control and other land use regulations.
Floods are normal occurrences in nature. During regular stream flow, water runs in the channel, but when run-off is high, water level increases and rises over the stream’s banks. This water will flow onto the floodplain. Floodwaters frequently damage buildings that are located on floodplains. Flood damage can be prevented by keeping flood-damageable property away from flood hazard areas.
The Federal Insurance Administration in its “Flood Insurance Study for the Town of Jackson, NH” with the associated Flood Insurance Rate Map, 4330014 00258 and Sheets 1 through 4 of Flood Boundary and Floodway Map of the Town of Jackson, NH, dated July 2, 1979 designated lands as flood hazard areas (the Study and maps are on file at the Town Office). Jackson participates in the National Flood Insurance Program that requires towns to regulate construction in these areas of flood hazard. With these regulations in place, property owners in Jackson are eligible to purchase flood insurance.
Federal Wild and Scenic River
In October 1988 the Wildcat River was designated as a federal Wild and Scenic River. As part of the eligibility study, a River Conservation Plan for the Wildcat River was created. Because of the need for specific protections for the floodplains and other riparian lands in the town, Jackson adopted the River Conservation District amendment to the zoning ordinance in 1987.
Ground Water Aquifers
A ground water aquifer is a geologic formation that transmits water and contains sufficient amounts to be extracted by wells. An aquifer recharge area is an area on the surface of the land through which rainfall and runoff infiltrate to replenish an aquifer. A recharge area does not necessarily lie directly above the aquifer it supplies; it may be close by or at a distance. Geology, slope, soil, vegetation and land use affect the ability of surface areas to recharge aquifers.
According to the USGS publication “Availability of Ground Water in the Saco River Basin, East-central New Hampshire” by John E. Cotton (on file in the Jackson Town Office) there are no aquifer areas of high potential yield located in Jackson. Four aquifers of medium potential yield (which may provide sufficient amounts of water for small districts) exist in Jackson. These aquifers are located in the East Pasture, Wildcat River Valley north of Jackson Falls, the village area and Ellis River valley from the Dana Place to the village. In addition to producing a source of water for private and community use, aquifers also aid in maintaining water levels. They absorb water during periods of high flow and release it gradually during dry times.
Aquifers, as valuable water supplies, do face potential problems. Septic system failure can result in untreated effluent being carried via ground water into nearby aquifers, thus polluting them. High bacterial counts in water from deep wells may indicate this problem. Contamination can also occur from road salting, improper solid waste disposal, leaking underground fuel storage tanks, agricultural practices, improper storage of chemicals, and pesticide use.
A wetland is an area characterized by little or no slope, poor drainage and standing water at least part of the year, with water tolerant vegetation and characteristic wetland soils present. General functions performed by wetlands include ground water recharge; provision of food, shelter, breeding and nesting sites for wildlife, including unique wetland species; settling area for sediments; biological and chemical filtering; floodwater storage and peak flow reduction; and as a recreational and educational resource.
There is a need to locate and identify the wetland areas within the town of Jackson. Because of their value as unique wildlife habitat and their important role in the natural hydrological cycle, wetland areas should be specifically protected in the town’s land use ordinances.
Jackson’s early land development was guided by agriculture and road construction. By the mid 1800s, the scenic attractions of the area became more widely known and thus the number of transient visitors increased. Developments occurred to accommodate these visitors, creating new types of land use. Today, the recreation and tourism industry is the major factor controlling land use in Jackson.