Raphael Pumpelly, Father of the Pumpelly Trail

Dublin, NH has been a center for intellectual and artistic endeavor for almost 150 years. This is one in a series of articles exploring this heritage.

Raphael Pumpelly was an intrepid explorer and traveler who summered in Dublin from 1884 until his death in 1923. Born in 1837 in Owego, New York. Pumpelly attended common schools and graduated from Owego Academy in Owego, New York. Against his parent's objections, he decided against attending Yale University and chose to study and travel in Europe. A 1859 graduate of the Royal School of Mines in Freiburg, Germany,  he traveled extensively through the mining districts of Europe to study geology and metallurgy by direct observation. 

A young Raphael Pumpelly

A young Raphael Pumpelly

He began his career directing the development of Arizona silver mines and working as a consulting geologist to the government of Japan. During 1864 and 1865 he was the first person to conduct a thorough survey of the Gobi Desert. Other scientific explorations he undertook during his career included in China, Russia, Siberia, Mongolia and countless other locations around the world. Many of these areas were remote and dangerous at the time, and he had many adventures and misadventures.  

His description of his early years in Arizona is somewhat typical, " We needed fuel, fireproof furnace materials, machinery and power, and the supply of these furnished by Nature in Arizona was of a kind to necessitate a great deal of trouble and experimenting when taken in connection with the peculiar character of our ore. The season was promising to pass without our hacienda being troubled..., when one morning our whole herd of forty or fifty fine horses and mules was missing. Several times during the remainder of the winter and spring we were attacked by Apaches and our mines were the scene of more fighting than any other part of the Territory."

From 1866 to 1875 he served as the first Professor of Mining at Harvard. He later worked for the U.S. Geological Survey, heading up the New England office from 1884 to 1889. His many contributions to the field of geologic knowledge include books and articles, the discovery and excavation of the village of Anau in Turkmenistan which he dated to around 4500 B.C., his secular rock disintegration theory and his studies of iron ore. 

In 1883, Pumpelly visited his sister-in-law in Dublin. As he describes it, " we walked through long-abandoned roads to a hilltop and looked out over a tree-bordered lake to the far-away Green mountains. We had found what we craved....   My wife called our place "On-the-Heights, Auf der Hohe," for it covered two big hills with a broad valley between and stood 1800 feet above sea-level....  The wild and rugged mass of Monadnock towered on the left. Several hundred feet below us lay Monadnock [Dublin] Lake, often aflame with all the colors of sunset..."

Pumpelly with his famous white beard

Pumpelly with his famous white beard

Pumpelly became a central figure in the growing summer colony of Dublin. He is often remembered for an incident that occurred on his famous trail. An Irish maid who worked for a local summer household went wild blueberry picking on her day off along Pumpelly's trail. She did not return by nightfall, and a search party was established to find her. After a flashlight search, she was found off the trail, hidden beneath a big pine tree, too frightened to move or speak coherently. She had witnessed a ghastly white ghost with a long flowing beard coming toward her, which terrified her. Of course, it was not a ghost, but an exuberant and naked Raphael Pumpelly who often hiked Monadnock without the benefit or encumbrance of clothes. 

The famous publisher Henry Holt, a fast Dublin friend, described Pumpelly after his death, " He was incomparably the most influential person in the place—ruled it without knowing that he did—unconsciously attracted there all forms of excellence and unconsciously repelled any form of pettiness. The circle he drew around him blended the highest aristocracy with the simplest democracy. A visitor once described it to a stranger: 'One night you'll go to as lovely a ball as you ever saw, and the next night you'll dine with people you met there who do their own work.' That realization of Utopia those who shared and marveled at it knew was the involuntary work of Pumpelly. He loved all people worth loving and had no other standards, and all people worth loving loved him."

Sources: Village on a Hill by Tom Hyman 2002, Biographical Memoir of Raphael Pumpelly 1837— 1923 by Bailey Willis 1931, Wikipedia

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