Historic Structures

The Balsams Grand Resort Hotel, Dixville Notch New Hampshire

Date added: August 9, 2016 Categories: New Hampshire Hotel

The Balsams is an excellent and rare representative of a grand resort hotel, a type of hostelry defined by elegance, affluence, and insularity, in a setting with splendid natural scenery. Though at their heyday at the turn of the 20th century, there were thirty such hotels throughout the White Mountains, today only five survive. (The Balsams in Dixville Notch, Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, Mountain View House in Whitefield, and Eagle Mountain House and Wentworth Hall in Jackson) The Balsams ranks among the finest representatives not only in the region, but in New England. Like most New England examples, it achieved aesthetic impact not through architecturally stunning buildings, but through its immense size and spectacular setting. The hotel offered its guests comfortable accommodations, plentiful and wholesome cuisine, and a wide range of recreational opportunities.

The grand resort hotel phenomenon in the White Mountains began shortly before the Civil War. Prior to that period, hotels in the area were rustic taverns that catered to tradesmen as much as to the few visitors who braved the rugged region. It was not until transportation routes improved, initially roads and steamboats, and later the railroad, that visitors from urban centers throughout New England, as well as New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago, attracted by the splendid scenery, clear mountain air and social conviviality, poured into the region to spend between one and three months of the summer in residence. As tourism grew, the hotel facilities adapted to cater to the growing expectation for conveniences and luxuries familiar to an urban clientele. The first substantial hotels staffed with professional managers were constructed in the 1830s and 1840s; these were the forerunners of the "grand hotels" which emerged during the 1850s. For the next seventy-five years, the White Mountains were a favored summer spot for the wealthy and middle classes. The peak years were the 1870s through the early 1920s; virtually all of the main hotel at The Balsams and its detached buildings were constructed during that period.

By 1930, the automobile, once welcomed by the hotels, threatened their very survival. Faster, more convenient transportation enabled visitors to cover more ground, with subsequently shorter stays. The area was no longer a haven for the upper classes, as it became more accessible to those of lesser means with shorter vacations. Few of the grand resort hotels survived the transition; they were abandoned, lost to fire or torn down. The Balsams, more successfully than most, adapted to changing times by capitalizing on both automobile and air transit.

In 1960 The Balsams began the much publicized tradition of hosting the first in the nation to vote in the primary elections. The residents of Dixvelle Notch gathered at midnight in The Balsams ballot room to cast their votes. In 2011 the hotel, now significantly outdated, closed it's doors and was sold to two businessmen who hoped to revive it. In 2014 it was sold again to the former head of the American Skiing Company. Efforts are underway to refurbish the hotel as a ski resort, however, as of 2016, financing still had not been secured to start the project.

NHPR Article Series about the Hotel
Official Website