In Episode 191, Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger explore the woods around the Notchland Inn in Hart’s Location, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, searching for the ghost of Nancy Barton. In the winter of 1788, Nancy left her boarding house in Jefferson, New Hampshire, to trek 30 miles through the snow to chase down her faithless lover who had stolen all of her money the previous morning. Not only are the nearby brook, pond, falls, and mountain named after her, but her ghost is still said to roam the area.
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[CAR DOOR SHUTS]
RAY: This place is charming!
JEFF: It is. The scenery is amazing here at the Notchland Inn nestled in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
RAY: The Saco River runs right by the property across the street from Rt. 302, there are hiking trails that take you up into the woods. This Inn is quaint New England right in the middle of iconic Crawford Notch.
JEFF: I agree. Though the scenery and setting are beautiful, we’re here looking for a ghost.
RAY: A ghost? Inside the inn?
JEFF: Inside the inn, and on the grounds, and in the woods around us. We’ve come to the Notchland Inn to search for the spirit of Nancy Barton.
JEFF: I’m Jeff Belanger and welcome to episode 191 of the New England Legends podcast. If you give us about ten minutes, we’ll give you something strange to talk about today.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger, the Notchland Inn in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, is the next stop on our mission to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time. Thanks for riding along with us. Please be sure to subscribe to our podcast, because it’s free, and we don’t want you to miss a thing. We also love it when you post a review and tell a friend or two about our show and community.
JEFF: Before we head into the Notchland Inn searching for a ghost, we want to take just a minute to tell you about our sponsor, Nuwati Herbals.
RAY: We do. As the weather warms up, I find myself sipping more Nuwati Herbals fruit teas. Like their Strawberry Moon…
JEFF: That’s my daughter’s favorite.
RAY: And really enjoying their Lemon Sun. I add just a touch of honey or sugar, and it’s a sweet treat. On really hot days, I’ll be making it into iced tea.
JEFF: The trick to good iced tea—our friends in the south will tell you this—is you need to make it hot first because the sugar melts differently in hot water. So grab some Nuwati Herbals Lemon Sun, make it hot, add your sugar, let it steep, and then you ice it down to cold perfection.
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RAY: Okay, Jeff, so we’re looking for the ghost of Nancy Barton.
JEFF: We are. And I brought this to get us started.
RAY: A map?!
JEFF: Yup, a map of the region.
RAY: I’ve never seen a ghost on a map before.
JEFF: I understand. This map won’t necessarily show us where the ghost is, but definitely where she’s been. Look at the name of this brook just a tiny bit south of the inn.
RAY: Okay, it’s called Nancy Brook.
JEFF: And if you follow the stream up the hill from where it empties into the Saco River…
RAY: Nancy’s falls. So some waterfalls are named after her.
JEFF: And keep following that stream uphill to the west…
RAY: Nancy Pond.
JEFF: Which is just south of the summit of…
RAY: Mount Nancy.
JEFF: And near the brook is also Nancy’s Rock. It’s safe to say that Nancy Barton left a mark with more than just her ghost. To figure out why she may still be around, let’s head back to 1788.
JEFF: It’s the winter of 1788, and life here in the White Mountains is rugged. The going isn’t easy, especially in the winter.
RAY: You gotta be tough to make it in the White Mountains, tough like Colonel Whipple of nearby Jefferson, New Hampshire. Colonel Whipple owns a boarding house for the men who work for him.
JEFF: To run a boarding house in a place like this you also have to be tough, and this is where we meet Nancy Barton.
RAY: Nancy was born and raised in Portsmouth, New Hampshure, but came to Jefferson at age 16 to work for Colonel Whipple. She’s only the second white woman to pass through the Notch. Nancy does the cooking and cleaning at the boarding house. She works hard, she’s smart, and considering room and board is part of her payment, she’s saved almost every penny she earns. Over the years, it’s adding up.
JEFF: Plus, Nancy is resourceful. A few summers ago, Colonel Whipple was captured by Indians. They had the Colonel tied up, and that’s when Nancy approached with rum for his captors. They drank themselves into a stupor which gave Nancy the opportunity to cut Colonel Whipple free from his ropes.
RAY: She’s tough. No question. But also kind. And considering she’s the only eligible bachelorette in the building, the men in the boarding house can’t help but be smitten with her. Different men have tried to win her affection, but most of them receive nothing more than a polite smile.
JEFF: But there is one man who came here recently… Jim Swindell. Jim is just charming enough… he’s attractive enough… and pretty soon, Nancy Barton finds herself smitten too. The two talk about life in the White Mountains, about where they’re from, and very quickly the talk turns to marriage.
RAY: The only problem is, this Jim says he doesn’t have much money saved up to start their lives together.
JEFF: But that’s okay! Nancy explains how she’s saved every penny for years, she’s built up her own dowry! It’s enough to give them a good start. As a token of her faith in this wonderful man, she hands over all of her money so Jim can keep it safe until they get to Portsmouth.
RAY: It’s agreed, the two will make their way to Portsmouth to get married and start a new life together. They’ll leave with the next party heading that way in a few days.
JEFF: Meanwhile, Colonel Whipple is fretting over losing Nancy. She’s a great cook, he figures no one will ever work as hard as she does. How can he replace her? So when Jim Swindell whispers in the Colonel’s ear… he nods. And that’s when the Colonel sends Nancy Barton on an errand to Lancaster, the next town north of Jefferson.
RAY: Nancy hears enough whispering going on at the boarding house to suspect something is up. There’s an unsettled feeling when she leaves for Lancaster. One of those feelings that just keep gnawing away at you. So she quickens her pace. Besides, it’s winter. The brisk walk warms her up, plus she’s eager to get back as soon as possible.
[QUICK FOOTSTEPS ON A ROAD]
RAY: When Nancy returns to the boarding house that night, she learns that her love ran off this morning… with all of her money. And to make the situation even worse, Colonel Whipple was in on it! He figured if she’s broke and alone, she’ll have to say. Nancy is beyond furious. She ties up some of her clothing into a bundle.
RAY: And takes off into the night to track down this thief.
JEFF: It’s cold. A light snow is starting to fall, but Nancy’s blind rage keeps her warm enough. She knows the mountains, and the Notch. She has no doubt Jim will follow the Saco River south… and pretty soon she picks up his trail in the snow.
Nancy Barton walks all night until she reaches a camp by a stream that spills into the Saco. There’s a campfire that’s been recently extinguished. Nancy is exhausted, but now she has another problem.
JEFF: Winter snow is starting to fall heavy. It’s sticking to her layers of clothes and turning to ice, weighing her down. Now desperate, she looks around for any signs of twigs and branches she can use to start a fire, but it would seem the man she loved, and who she thought loved her, and who stole all of her money, also took any nearby burnable fuel. With only her anger to push her forward, she follows the snowy footprints southward stumbling only a few feet until she reaches the banks of the brook where she collapses to the ground. The snow continues to fall as the life fades out from young Nancy Barton.
[WIND FADES OUT]
RAY: A few hours later, a search party locates Nancy’s frozen corpse. Broken-hearted, they bury her body by the brook. And that brings us back to today.
RAY: They say after he found out what happened to Nancy, Jim Swindell lost his sanity, and died some horrible death. Though her life ended in 1778, her afterlife was just getting started. The brook, the mountain, the falls, the pond, and the nearby hilltop were all named in Nancy’s honor. A reminder of the horrible and unnecessary event that took place here.
JEFF: An event that occurred a literal stone’s throw from the Notchland Inn. The Mt. Crawford House was built here not long after Nancy Barton perished. The Crawford House was a tavern for over a century, and then the Notchland Inn was built off of the Crawford House in the 1920s. In fact, the old tavern is the current inn’s dining room. And given the most prominent story in this immediate area is that of Nancy Barton, this place may have been haunted from the day it was built.
RAY: Strange happenings have been reported in several of the rooms at the inn. Sometimes it’s just the feeling like you’re not alone. Some have claimed flowers mysteriously appeared in the room. Then there are reports of the apparition of a woman gliding through. Of course people immediately think of the betrayed woman who died right nearby.
JEFF: And if the names of the brook, and mountains, and rock, and falls, weren’t enough to remind us of what happened, a sign was placed by the trail in 1931. A sign that eventually made its way into the lobby of the Notchland Inn. Go ahead and give this a read, Ray.
RAY: It says: Nancy of Jefferson, New Hampshire perished here in 1778. Following the wild path of the Notch for thirty miles in a vain attempt to overtake her faithless lover, she perished in a snow storm by the stream and is buried here. Nancy was the second woman to go thru the Notch pass.
JEFF: In one version of the story it was implied that Colonel Whipple encouraged Jim Swindell to take the money and use it to join the Continental Army and fight the British for independence. And if that leaves Nancy broke and forced to continue working for the Colonel, then all the better. Either way, it leaves Nancy betrayed and broke at the hands of two men whom she trusted.
RAY: And it leaves her scorned. Break her heart, that’s one thing. Steal from her and she’ll hunt you down. Nancy was never given anything in her life. She had to work for every penny. She died trying to get back what was hers.
JEFF: Kind of gives you the willeys, doesn’t it?
RAY: Ahhh I see what you did there. The tragic story of the Willey family and the landslide that took their lives happened just six miles up Route 302. We covered that story back in episode number 40 if you want to check it out.
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JEFF: Also be sure to check out my new book, The Call of Kilimanjaro: Finding Hope Above the Clouds, you can get it wherever books are sold. We’d like to thank our sponsor Nuwati Herbals, and our theme music is by John Judd.
RAY: Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think.