top of page
  • by Chris Stewart

The Copps of Pinkham Notch

A decade ago, sociologists stumbled upon a new explanation for the problems Americans faced. They coined a new word. Calling it "mid-life crisis," they applied this term as a reason for difficulties ranging from divorce and depression, to insomnia and boredom. Suddenly, they pointed out, people who had achieved everything they set out to accomplish felt somehow dissatisfied with their lot, and mid-life crisis in all its shapes and forms was responsible. If Dolly and Hayes Copp were alive today they'd probably shake their heads and smile as their mid-life crisis took place 100 years ago and they had no sociology textbooks to help them through it.

Hayes and Dolly Copp were two pioneers who first settled in the wilderness of Pinkham Notch, literally building a home where no human had lived before. For 50 years they struggled together to raise crops and children in the middle of one of the most isolated and harsh areas of New Hampshire, miles from the nearest village where civilization ended. Then, after half a century of mutual labor and toil, they reached what can only be described as New Hampshire's first recorded mid-life crisis. The way they resolved it caused a sensation as talked about as the latter day publication of Peyton Place.

No one knows why Doavaha Hayes Copp struck out on his own when he was 24, though amateur psychologists might suggest his name had something to do with this decision. The moniker "Doavaha Hayes," which he later changed to "Hayes Dodifer," may have made him the butt of his playmates' jokes, causing him - at a young age - to grow weary of the company of other people. Another historian has suggested that Hayes chose to leave his parents farm in Stow, Maine, simply because it was his best option. By staying there, he could only look forward to the life of a "meagerly paid hireling" of his father.

What Hayes lacked in cash, he more than compensated for in grit and spunk. Since he couldn't afford to buy the land he wanted, he traveled to Concord and petitioned the legislature for a grant of his own, far to the north on the banks of the Peabody River. In exchange, he promised to deliver wheat, barley, and oats as soon as the land became productive. the legislature willingly agreed to Copp's proposal, not so much because he was a good lobbyist, but because Pinkham Notch was untamed. Crawford Notch, settled 20 years earlier, had opened up travel and trade between the North Country and the coast, and homesteads in Pinkham Notch - they reasoned - could lead to the same result.

After returning to Stow, Hayes collected a pack full of gear, took his axe and flint-lock rifle, and bid farewell to his family. On foot, following wagon roads, he hiked to Jackson, and from there continued up the Notch along a crudely blazed path on the banks of the Ellis River, past the Notch to his land. One writer described Hayes as having a strong body and a patient disposition -- he had to be that way to survive in Pinkham Notch.

Work occupied Hayes from the time he arrived. With his axe he cleared fields, built a three-sided lean-to, and cut fire wood. Trout in the Peabody River, and deer, bear and other game in the dense forest provided him with plenty of food. After three years of ceaseless toil, he had constructed a log cabin, build a shed for his animals and managed to cultivate enough grain to repay his debt to the legislature. Twice of three times a year, Hayes left his cabin and walked 16 miles south to Jackson where he traded furs for salt pork, corn meal and salt, and where he also acquired stock for his farm. Beginning with a horse, Hayes added cattle, pigs, sheep and chicken, but something more important was missing. Despite his meteoric success, Hayes felt unfulfilled.

Living alone in the wilds has its advantages, but Hayes found that total isolation was not to his liking. Perhaps he was bored, or perhaps he was lonely, or perhaps he just needed more help around the farm. In any event, Hayes Copp was a man who took action when action was called for. He was a young man in the prime of his life who had no wife, and he didn't want to remain that way.

Far to the south, in the tin hamlet of Bartlett, lived Dorothy "Dolly" Emery, a fair and charming maiden by most accounts. According to Eva Speare, Dolly was petite, fair shinned, bright, and the owner of a "glib tongue". She was also a woman of the world, having traveled to Portland and other large cities, and she was skilled in all the necessary frontier crafts from spinning wool to making candles. What Hayes saw in Dolly, and what Dolly saw in Hayes, however, is open to debate.

Writer Anne Miller Downes, whose book, The Pilgrim Soul, tells of Dolly's and Hayes' life together, believed it was love at first sight. Having twice seen her from afar on two of his trips to Jackson, Hayes longed to see her again. "Only once had they spoken to each other," Downes wrote, "but he felt there was some awareness in her shy smile and in the brightness of her blue eyes." Too shy to talk with Dolly when others were present, Hayes persuaded his cousin to arrange a private rendezvous, where he could confess his heart's longing. Finally, when he was at last along with Dolly, Hayes mustered up his courage and said: "My heart is given to you, Dolly. My eyes are blind to all others. I have long prayed that you, would say the same to me."

Having laid his cards on the table, Hayes waited nervously while Dolly weighed the impact of his words. Slowly, turning her eyes to his face, she smiled. "Many a man has asked me, Hayes Copp," she said, barely in a whisper. "I have kept myself for you." Promising to send him word of her choice of a wedding day, Dolly bid Hayes adieu and returned to her parents' house.

Like all tales of true love, Dolly's parents were not at first overjoyed with the thought of their daughter married to this rugged mountain man. Her father traveled to visit Hayes and tried to talk him out of the match, but Hayes pledged his determination and unbroken love for Dolly. Confessing that his daughter had cried herself to sleep for several months, Mr. Emery relented and the wedding took place.

Others have described the affair in a less romantic light. Eleanor Early noted that Hayes needed a wife and Dolly needed a husband. "Dolly was twenty-three and men were scarce," Early wrote. "It was high time she was settled." Whether love or necessity forced the match, it is clear that the marriage took place in November 1831, and the couple left Bartlett together to begin a life of their own. Aside from a horse, Dolly's wedding trousseau included a China tea set decorated with bands of gold, a gift which would prove quite practical in the years ahead.

If endless labor is one of the causes of mid-life crisis, then Dolly and Hayes were clearly headed for problems later in their marriage. Nothing was easy and every gain had to be wrenched from the unforgiving land. A short growing season demanded long hours of field work in the summer, and prowling foxes, bears, wolves, coon and skunks were a year-round threat to the Copp's expanding collection of livestock. Luckily Dolly knew what she was in for when she pledged herself to Hayes.

She was, according to Eva Speare, "an ideal helpmate." She could sheer wool, spin yarn, and weave cloth for the family's clothing. She could make soft soap and candles, cure flax, and spin it into linen. Besides her talents in the kitchen and on the farm, Dolly knew how to dry fruits and preserve them in maple sugar. During her few moments of repose, Dolly took comfort in an occasional smoke from a short-stemmed clay pipe, with tobacco raised on the farm.

On her own, Dolly also cultivated an apple orchard from the wild Johnny Appleseed trees growing along the banks of the Peabody River. Selecting the healthiest of these saplings, she transplanted them and nurtured them until they bore "fine sweet apples," which she turned into her renown apple butter.

Although the Copps intended to live as farmers, they soon discovered that their homestead could serve other needs as well. By 1840, Daniel Pinkham had constructed a graded wagon road from Jackson to Randolph, a road which not only linked Jackson with the North Country, but brought a steady stream of travelers as well. The Copps quickly realized that their farm was ideally suited to be an inn. While never officially licensed by the state, the Copps operated their own tavern for the next 40 years, and the income they received helped them to expand and improve their farm. A frame house, a larger barn, and more expansive fields soon followed.

By 1850, the Copps homestead had become a regular stop-over for many travelers and Dolly's apple butter, homemade honey, and fruit preserves helped to lure even more guests. One overnight visitor remembers his experience as a pleasant one. "He told how Dolly drew her table before the fireplace, laid a homespun linen cloth, set out her wedding silver and China with gold bands, and served slices of home cured ham, fresh honey from her hives, hot corn bread and apple butter preserves. " For this fare, a traveler paid 25 cents, and 25 cents more to sleep on a feather bed with linen sheets and wool blankets (woven by Dolly). A stall and hay for a horse cost another quarter.

Time passed and business improved. The construction of the Glen House in 1852 increased the demand for Dolly's products and made the Copp's farm somewhat of a tourist attraction. In the same year, the inauguration of a daily mail coach between Conway and Gorham, and the later building of the Mount Washington Carriage Road - begun in 1857 and completed in 1861 - brought more and more people into the Notch.

Despite their obligations to farm and inn, the Copps managed to raise a family during their busy 50 years in the Notch. Their oldest, Nathaniel, born at the end of their first year together, later married and moved to Littleton. Their next child, Daniel, lived on the farm until he fell in love with a guest, married her, and moved to Ohio. Sylvia, the third in line, grew up, married, and settled with her husband in Auburn, Maine. Finally their youngest child Jeremiah, became a wanderer after leaving home. Growing up, the Copp's children found their share of playmates from visitors at the farm and from the children of the Cluhane, Spaulding, and Barnes families who moved into the Notch after 1850.

When the 50th anniversary of the Copp's marriage approached, Dolly began to show signs of anxiousness. According to Eva Speare, Dolly felt restless and weary of her narrow environment, while George N. Cross, author of Dolly Copp and the Pioneers of The Glen pointed out that the Copp's personalities were ill-suited from the start, "like sunlight and darkness." Energetic and full of life, Dolly was the exact opposite of sour, dour Hayes. Eleanor Early agreed. "Hayes Dodiford Copp . . . was one of those strong, silent men who drive women crazy," she reported. "Never a word out of him. Work, work, work from morning 'till night." Another acquaintance described him in more harsh terms: "Hayes Copp is the meanest man I ever met."

Gathering the children together to celebrate their 50th anniversary, Dolly delivered a short, concise pronouncement. "Hayes is well enough," she remarked, "but 50 years is long enough to live with any man." Dolly explained that she and Hayes would go their own ways, she to live with her daughter Sylvia in Auburn and Hayes to return to the more rural setting of Stow. Apparently there was little acrimony in the separation, for Dolly and Hayes equally split their possessions and never filed for divorce.

When a concerned neighbor asked for an explanation, Dolly simply repeated that "50 years, my dear, is a very long time."

For the sake of drama, some historians end the story here, leaving Dolly and Hayes saying their farewells never to see each other again. However, in the years before they died, each made occasional visits to the other, Hayes reluctantly traveling to the big city of Auburn and Dolly journeying to Stow. Hayes died in 1889 and was buried in Fryeburg Harbor, while Dolly passed away two years later and found her final resting place in Lewiston. In the end, they were apart.

Those who seek to lean more about Dolly and Hayes might read The Pilgrim Soul, Anne Miller Downes' novelization of their life together (and apart) in Pinkham Notch. Still, like other records of the Copps' life, this book may present some contradictions to readers depending on which edition they find. When it first appeared, the popularity of the book caused a stir and prompted Sears and Roebuck company - who ran their own book of the month club - to purchase the publishing rights. Unfortunately, they decided that the book's ending was too harsh and sad a tale to tell, so they reprinted the story except for the final section where Dolly strikes out on her own. Readers of this edition will find the sun setting in Pinkham Notch as the Copps retire together into their home. Don't believe everything you read.

Special thanks to Margaret Marschner and the staff at the Conway Library, to Persis Berry and to Doris Farrer from the Gorham Public Library.


bottom of page