History The Balsams Grand Resort Hotel, Dixville Notch New Hampshire

The origin of The Balsams stems from the construction of George Parsons' inn in 1874. Like others before him, Parsons, a Colebrook native, was attracted to the wild scenic splendor of Dixville Notch. Since the early nineteenth century, the Notch had offered a hostelry for travelers, but between 1846 and 1870, the area reverted to wilderness. During that period, the railroad reached North Stratford, some twenty-three miles to the southwest, making the area relatively accessible to visitors. In 1870, rail transport was extended further north to Colebrook, only ten miles from Dixville Notch. That same year, Frank Walker built a small inn in the Notch that was destroyed by fire only two years later. In 1874, with the arrival of George Parsons, the first phase of what became The Balsams began.

Parsons' hostelry, known as Dix House (Dix House was named for General John A. Dix, the first local landholder), consisted of a 2-1/2 story building with a side ell and a connected barn. The inn housed fifty guests. Though substantially renovated and enlarged in subsequent years, the U-shaped form of Parsons' inn remains visible today. Fishing, walks, waterfalls, forests, scenic vistas, and pristine, pollen-free air lured visitors to the spot in the summer months. From the railroad depot in Colebrook, a hotel stage brought guests the remaining miles to the inn. After Parsons' death in 1890, his wife continued to operate the inn, enlarging and remodeling it in 1892 to bring its capacity to seventy people.

It was the inn's next owners, Mr. and Mrs. Henry S. Hale, who developed The Balsams into a full-blown grand resort hotel. The Hales had been guests at Dix House for sixteen years, seeking relief from hay fever, before they purchased the property in 1895. A resident of Philadelphia, Henry S. Hale was the wealthy inventor and manufacturer of the reversible Pullman seat. The couple renamed the hotel "The Balsams" and began a building campaign that continued over twenty years and created the bulk of the existing complex.

That first year, Hale enlarged the hotel, added a porch that wrapped around the front and sides of the building, and appended towers to the two front gable ends, increasing its capacity to 150 guests. Inside, steam heat, hardwood floors, electric lights, private baths and roomy closets offered guests extremely comfortable accommodations in a magnificent wilderness setting. Hale proceeded to construct a series of outbuildings behind the hotel, including a stable, carriage barn, laundry and staff quarters.

Over the following years, he improved the grounds with a system of hiking trails accompanied by a published guide, an extensive road network, deer park (for venison), fish hatcheries (guests could choose their own fish for dinner), and a large man-made lake, Lake Gloriette, in front of the hotel that offered recreational and aesthetic opportunities. He later created two additional lakes, Abenaki and Coashaukee, to the west of Lake Gloriette. He brought in famed designer Donald F. Ross to lay out the 18-hole Panorama Golf Course on Keyser Mountain, some three miles from the hotel, and erected a handsome stone clubhouse. To provide fresh produce, dairy products, poultry, and meat for his guests, as well as protect the surrounding acreage, Hale gradually purchased sixteen farms in the vicinity, thereby increasing the overall property to several thousand acres. Circa 1900, Hale oversaw the construction of a reservoir on the mountain behind the hotel, from which water was piped down to the hotel under sufficient pressure to provide the hotel's water needs, as well as to power an electric generating plant and a sawmill.

Between 1906 and 1912, Hale added four major additions to the hotel, including the north and west wings and a lobby/dining room expansion. An even more massive building campaign was initiated in 1916 that further expanded the number of guest rooms and added The Balsams Inn, staff canteen, a large staff dormitory, and an enormous fireproof garage for guest automobiles, chauffeurs and additional staff housing.

In 1912, Hale erected a cottage, Beaver Lodge, for his family, close by the shore of the lake, and converted the previous family cottage, Hale Cottage (now known as "Wind Whistle"), into quarters for children of guests. Two additional cottages were soon added to the hotel property: Stone Cottage in 1915 and Captain's Cottage in 1916, both used by special guests. With the exception of Beaver Lodge, which is somewhat removed, they are ranged around the hotel building.

Hale's building campaign culminated, both in terms of chronology and sheer physical expression, in Hampshire House, a five-plus story wing at the east end of the main hotel that opened in 1918. Designed by Manchester architect Chase R. Whitcher, Hampshire House was heralded as the first steel-frame, reinforced-concrete structure in the state. Motivation for its fireproof construction stemmed from concern for guest safety, as so many of the state's traditional woodframe resort hotel buildings had been destroyed by fire. Its distinctive Rhenish appearance evoked European mountain resorts and brought national attention to The Balsams for its "pace-setting architectural and engineering excellence." Its rooms offered splendid views of the lake and mountains, generous closet space, private bathrooms, and interconnected rooms that enabled guests to create family suites. With the addition of Hampshire House, guest capacity at The Balsams stood at approximately 400.

Guests had options beyond staying in the main hotel. In 1901 Hale purchased Camp Millsfield, a cluster of rustic cottages ten miles away that offered city visitors a true "wilderness" experience. Guests could also choose Dixville Farm, a thirty-guest annex a mile from the hotel proper.

With the completion of Hampshire House, Henry Hale's association with The Balsams was nearly over. Unsound pre-war investments forced him to auction the property in 1922 to J.J. Lannin, owner of the Boston Red Sox and a businessman from New York City. Lannin kept Hale's son, Warren, on as resident manager, but held the property for only five years. During that time, Lannin added an innovative and greatly touted service: early-morning delivery of New York newspapers, mail and packages via daily airplane shuttle.

Even before this service emerged, The Balsams was fully aware of how to market new transportation modes. In the early days of automobiles, The Balsams maintained a fleet of heavily advertised hotel vehicles to pick up guests at the Colebrook railroad station. When not making depot runs, the hotel used the automobiles for motor excursions on the improved local roads. In 1916, recognizing that its isolated location made convenient private transportation all the more important, the hotel planned and began to construct a large, fireproof, fully appointed automobile garage that held 200 guest automobiles and most likely was the largest garage structure north of Boston. Thus, through constant attention to the most modern technology, the hotel managed to overcome any disadvantages of its isolated, northern New Hampshire location.

Lannin passed the enterprise on through a hotel trade to Frank Doudera, a successful interior designer, former police officer, and avid outdoorsman from New York City. During his ownership, from 1927 until 1941, Doudera expanded the recreational facilities, adding more tennis courts, riding trails, and a wooden platform within Lake Gloriette so that swimmers did not have to touch the muddy bottom. In 1929, the hotel suffered perhaps its worst natural catastrophe. Heavy spring rains broke the dam at the foot of Lake Gloriette. The flood waters washed out the main road and seventy-two buildings in downtown Colebrook ten miles away. They also eliminated Lakes Abenaki and Coashaukee, as well as the hotel's primary farm. Doudera later converted the lake beds into polo grounds.

After 1941, the property passed through two owners, who unsuccessfully endeavored to keep it afloat during a period of major decline for destination resorts. In 1954, Neil Tillotson purchased The Balsams.

A successful manufacturer of latex rubber products, Tillotson relocated elements of his company to The Balsams property during the period 1955 to 1960. These moves resulted in critical revenue to the area through jobs. This innovative mix of industry and recreation continued into the 2000s, as The Balsams managed its thousands of acres of forestland (it was a certified New Hampshire Tree Farm); generated all of its heat and electricity in an on-site, custom-designed, wood-waste energy plant; leased rights to its spring water; and hosted the manufacture of rubber products.

In the years since 1954, Neil Tillotson has left an indelible mark on The Balsams. Tillotson (1898-2001) was a self-made man who grew up in Beecher Falls in northern Vermont. He left high school and eventually found employment as a laboratory technician with the Hood Rubber Company. An enterprising young man with superb problem-solving skills, he was assigned the job of assessing the potential of latex, only recently introduced into the Boston area. Hood Rubber Company stipulated that any applications he derived should use the capital equipment the company had on hand. Tillotson experimented with latex and discovered that when a form was dipped into the liquid and allowed to dry, it could quickly be fabricated to any shape. Hence, the birth of the modern, stretchable balloon. Through inventive means, Tillotson promoted his balloons, a simple, inexpensive toy especially suited to Depression times, and soon established Tillotson Rubber Company in Watertown, Massachusetts, in 1932. Five years later, the company moved to Needham where it produced a variety of latex products. The company is perhaps best known for its latex gloves, of which it was the largest producer in the world in the late 1980s. Over the years, Tillotson's corporation established varied companies that related to the production or distribution of latex products.

Tillotson purchased The Balsams, knowing he could convert it to an industrial site if the hotel failed. He moved the balloon production portion of his business to Dixville Notch and established it in the former guest garage. He ultimately brought part of the glove manufacturing business there as well and operated a 24-hour-per-day, 7-days-per-week manufacturing facility that, by 1978, employed 350 and produced the major portion of the country's gloves and balloons.

To improve profits at the hotel, Tillotson first extended its season into the winter in 1965 through a phased period of winterizing the rooms, creating an alpine ski area across the street, and adapting the hiking trails for cross-country skiing.

Under Tillotson's direction, The Balsams has become known for innovative solutions. He created an unusual management structure, selecting four employees who lacked professional managerial experience, but in whom he recognized the ability to run the diverse operations of the property. Each man assumed direct responsibility for a key area of operations food, marketing, daily operations and maintenance - and each remained in his position for thirty years or more. The Balsams built the wood-waste energy plant to meet the energy needs of both the hotel and the factory. It opened an on-site culinary school to ensure high-quality food and build a competent kitchen staff. It professionally managed its thousands of acres of forestland. It leased rights to its spring water. It maintained its American rate plan, where there are no extra charges for meals or any amenities, in an era when the industry has turned nearly exclusively to a la carte charges.

Perhaps the most noteworthy of Tillotson's initiatives, however, is The Balsams' headline-making stature as the site of the nation's first votes to be cast in the presidential primary. Since 1920, New Hampshire has hosted the country's first primary elections, and since 1960, the handful of permanent residents of Dixville Notch, incorporated solely to hold elections, has gathered at midnight in The Balsams' ballot room to mark their ballots.