Arts and Leisure

How the Balsams Resort Was Built on a Railroad Seat

The story of the Balsams Resort – one of New Hampshire’s great old resort hotels north of the notches – begins with a conversation between Henry Hale and George Pullman.

Pullman was the engineer who designed the Pullman railway cars, which were dominant in the railroad industry from the 1860s onward.

Balsams Resort

Postcard of the Balsams Resort

Henry Hale was an officer of Philadelphia’s Hale & Kilburn Manufacturing. Hale showed Pullman an odd design his company had patented. It was a railroad car seat made of steel that was reversible – the seat’s back could be flipped forward and back so that passengers could always face forward.

Pullman instantly hired Hale & Kilburn to begin turning out the reversible seats as fast as possible to fill up Pullman rail cars. The result was a vast fortune for Henry Hale and his brother J. Warren Hale.

By 1895, Henry Hale had been visiting a small hotel in Colebrook – called the Dix House – for 17 summers. Hale was a hay fever sufferer. In Colebrook, tucked among the evergreen trees, he found relief for his condition. George and Clara Parsons owned the Dix House and when George died, Clara sold the inn to the Hale brothers. Henry had big plans for his new hotel and the land – more than 1,000 acres – that went with it.

Hale attacked the project with gusto, renaming the hotel to the Balsams Resort. He established farms and stocked them with cattle, horses, goats and pigs. He constructed a slaughter house, a reservoir and an electric power plant. Dormitories were built for the staff. Ski trails were built for winter recreation and a golf course and swimming pools for summer.

By 1912 Hale had expanded the small 70-room Dix House, which dated to 1874, to the 400-rooms Balsams Resort, complete with opulent ballroom. By then J.P. Morgan had bought Hale & Kilburn for $9 million, and its founders would largely leave the business as it continued pumping out seats for all manner of vehicles.

In World War I, Hale & Kilburn’s futures took a huge leap forward as the company was tapped by the government to begin making munitions, including stamping out metal helmets for soldiers heading off to war.

The Hale brothers fortunes, however, were moving in the opposite direction. Ralph Nading Hill in his book Yankee Kingdoms says it was Henry Hale’s son-in-law, Carl Gerhard Rasmus, of the New York firm Rasmus & Co., who enticed Hale into investing heavily in German war bonds.

When the war ended, much of the Hale fortune was wiped out. The Hales began selling pieces of their estate and auctioning their prizewinning cattle.

The Hale brothers both died in the fall of 1921. The pioneering real estate auction house of Joseph P. Day was hired to sell off the Balsams Resort to settle the estates. One-time Boston Red Sox owner Joseph Lanin picked up the Balsams Resort for a virtual song.

The Hales had poured $3 million into building the Balsams Resort. It has passed through several hands since, most recently selling for $2.3 million in 2011. It is now being revitalized.

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