Mount Roberts, a small peak with big views, is “such stuff as dreams are made on”: one man’s dream, for building castles in the air.
Although he can’t claim credit for creating the mountain itself, shoe magnate Thomas Gustave Plant paved the way for conservation of this land in the early 1900s when he began buying up old farms and lots in New Hampshire’s Ossipee Range for his Lucknow Estate, where he built his Arts & Crafts-style Castle in the Clouds in 1913-14.
But by the time Plant died at age 82 in 1941, he was bankrupt and broke, thanks to bad investments in Russian bonds and Cuban sugar, followed by the 1929 stock market crash. During the Depression, he tried to sell his mountain estate but found no one willing to buy the estate as one parcel. Plant lived with his wife Olive at the Castle until he died, just before creditors auctioned off everything he owned.
After Plant’s death, the property passed through the hands of several stewards, until its 2002 purchase by the Lakes Region Conservation Trust.
Born in Bath, Maine, to a working-class family of French Canadian immigrants, Plant played baseball, cut ice, and worked in a shoe factory before starting his own shoe company, reportedly with money garnished in a baseball wager. An “enlightened capitalist,” Plant sought both to make money and to enrich the lives of his workers. He claimed his Thomas G. Plant Shoe Factory in Roxbury, Massachusetts as the largest in the world. There, workers enjoyed a park and other amenities. In 1917, he built The Plant Home, an assisted living home still operating today in Bath.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, as we began our hike to Mount Roberts, we passed the old stables, which continue to house horses and carriages today (available for riding in season). Plant probably rode in his carriage on the old road that winds up the side of the mountain.
The 2.5 mile trail to the Mount Roberts summit soon reaches ledges with great views of Lake Winnipesaukee. The terrain looks rough for carriage rides, but then again, bumpy rides on carriage paths once were common in these parts.
On my visit to Castle in the Clouds Conservation Area, the small parking lot was full, and families with young children were cavorting in the meadow around the small pond.
But as we hiked to Mount Roberts, we mostly had the trail to ourselves. At the summit, with its view of Mount Washington, we were the only hikers present.
I’m sure that from July through Columbus Day, Castle in the Clouds is a bustling place on weekends, filling up with weddings, bus tours, and people out enjoying the day. But 5,300+ acres offers lots of room to roam. My guess is that most visitors stick pretty close to the Castle.
Thomas G. Plant died broke and bankrupt, but he left a rich legacy, (albeit indirectly): an outdoor inheritance will never be exhausted, thanks to the stewardship of the Lakes Region Conservation Trust.
Sources and resources
Find more information about Thomas Gustave Plant at a family genealogical page.
The Jamaica Plan Historical Society offers more information about the Thomas G. Plante Shoe Factory fire, Boston, Massachusetts 1976.
Find links to a trail map and additional information at Lakes Region Conservation Trust Castle in the Clouds Conservation Area (but please support LRCT by buying one or better yet, join the trust). The Conservation Area includes several great hikes; I look forward to a return visit to hike Mount Shaw. Parking available at trailheads on Route 171 and at the end of Ossipee Park Road in Moultonborough, New Hampshire.
Castle in the Clouds, along with the on-site restaurant, is open for touring from mid-May (usually for Mother’s Day) through mid-October.