By Stanley Turkel, CMHS
- Hotel History: Balsams Grand Resort Hotel (203 rooms)
The Balsams first opened just after the Civil War as the Dix House, a rustic 25-room summer inn established by local innkeeper, George Parsons. The original inn honored the name of the town's founding father and first landowner, Colonel Timothy Dix. A patriot of the American Revolution, Dix lost his life in battle in 1812, at which point his attorney and business partner, Daniel Webster, took over. Webster sponsored the town's first settlers, the Whittemore family. These pioneers shared their hearth and home with wayfarers on the old Coös Trail through Dixville Notch. Weary travelers were refreshed by the Whittemore's home-style hospitality and the generous family-style accommodation of overnight guests which evolved into a more sophisticated destination resort.
In 1895, a wealthy Philadelphia inventor and industrialist by the name of Henry S. Hale purchased the Dix House (where he had been a long-time summer guest because he suffered from hay fever) and renamed it The Balsams after the abundant local fir tree. Hale steadily expanded and enhanced the resort's facilities and accommodations. By 1918, Hale realized his final vision for The Balsams with the completion of the Hampshire House—still known today as "the new wing." Hale chose Chase R. Whitcher, an MIT-trained native of Lisbon, New Hampshire as architect of the Hampshire House. This elegant addition doubled the resort's space to the current capacity of 400 guests. Quite noteworthy is that Hale was also the inventor of the reversible Pullman seat for railroad cars, and with his great wealth was able to add a great deal to the hotel by purchasing adjacent land, even opening up a 6-holf golf course, which has evolved into the 18-hole Donald Ross Panorama Course. Hale clearly realized his master plan for the hotel and its 2,000 acre tract in the Notch to became the "Switzerland of America".
One of the motivating factors for the extensive expansion of the resort during the early part of the last century was the popularity of mountain resorts among affluent city dwellers.
Hale was very forward-looking and operated horseless carriages in 1907 to transport guests to and from the Colebrook rail station. Unfortunately, the First World War and subsequent years had taken its toll, and due to his declining health he was forced to sell the hotel. After Hale's ownership, the hotel had passed through many hands, eventually yielding to bankruptcy in 1954.
In 1952, New Hampshire first provided its residents with the opportunity to vote in Presidential primaries. In these early elections, many small towns around the state competed to get their votes in first. But ever since Dixville Notch was granted the privilege of being a voting community in 1960, it has continuously maintained the honor of being "First in the Nation" to report its results of the Presidential election.
In order to maintain this honorary status, every single registered voter in Dixville Notch must turn out and vote. Just before midnight the day before the election, these voters come to The Balsams and take a headcount to ensure everyone is present. When the polls officially open at the stroke of midnight, each voter heads to a booth in the Ballot Room and casts his or her vote. Guests are welcome to visit the celebrated room in Dixville Notch where the town's first in the nation voters cast their ballots. The walls of this historic room bear testimony with captioned photographs and other displays of all the dignitaries and candidates who have visited since 1960.
Luckily, the Balsams Grand Resort Hotel sprung to life once again in 1966 when a ski area was built adjacent to the hotel and in 1971 a new management team assumed its operations. Renowned for its diverse choice of activities, the resort states that there are more things for guests to do than time to do them. Summer at the Balsams provides sports fanciers with 27 holes of golf, tennis, heated swimming pool and a private lake with boating and fishing. It also provides annotated trail systems for nature lovers with ample walking, hiking, climbing and mountain biking, a natural history program with guided tours, entertainment, lectures, parlour games, concerts, movies and night-club shows.
Surrounded by the natural beauty of its 15,000 private acres, the resort captures the essence of the beauty of New Hampshire, with its magnificent White Mountains, particularly during the summer and winter seasons when most guests choose to visit. As of January 14, 2013, The Balsams was closed for renovations by its new owner, Ocean Properties after an auction of 2,400 hotel artifacts. The Balsams has been recognized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of America's treasured historic hotels. Since 1866, the resort has had only six owners. It is a member of Historic Hotels of America.
*excerpted from my book “Built to Last: 100+Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi” (AuthorHouse 2013)
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