Mount Washington, home to some of the world’s worst weather, is the setting for a brewing storm between its summit weather observatory and a tourist railway over passenger fees and 19th-century property rights.
The Mount Washington Observatory atop the Northeast’s highest peak sued the Mount Washington Cog Railway in a New Hampshire court Monday. It said since 2017, the railway hasn’t honored an agreement to pay the observatory $1 per ticketed passenger. The observatory estimated that more than 100,000 passengers traveled the cog that year in 2018.
The arrangement would help fund renovations at the observatory’s museum at the 6,288-foot summit and avoid a separate admission charge for museum visitors from the cog. The observatory has a similar arrangement with travelers on the auto road that goes up the mountain.
Railway owner Wayne Presby said Wednesday he hadn’t seen the lawsuit yet, but said he tried to end the agreement. He said the observatory wasn’t honoring the agreement because it allowed all visitors to enter the museum for free.
In its lawsuit, the observatory, citing an opinion of the attorney general’s office of an 1894 property rights agreement between the railway, the summit road and a property owner’s heirs, said the railway has made false claims of land ownership. It asks that a judge declare the opinion accurate.
But Presby said the 1894 agreement gives exclusive easements and rights to the railway, including the right to house and feed overnight guests, which the observatory has done. Presby presented the idea of a mountainside hotel in 2016, but never submitted an application based on concerns from environmentalists and others.
The road to the summit, originally a carriage road, opened in 1861. The railway opened in 1869 and is celebrating its 150th anniversary. The observatory opened much later, in 1932.
“The observatory is operating on property which is covered by those easements,” Presby said. “Whether they existed at the time or not is immaterial; easements run with the land.”