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 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. They dominated the railroad industry from the 1860s onward.

Balsams Resort

Postcard of the Balsams Resort

Henry Hale served as an officer of Philadelphia’s Hale & Kilburn Manufacturing. Hale showed Pullman an odd design his company had patented. It was a reversible railroad car seat made of steel. The seat’s back 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.

Pair of reversible seats inside Gomaco-built replica 1903 Brill streetcar

By 1895, Henry Hale had been visiting a small hotel in Colebrook – called the Dix House – for 17 summers. Hale suffered from hay fever. 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.

The Balsams Resort

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 government tapped the company to make munitions, including 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 Henry Hale’s son-in-law, Carl Gerhard Rasmus, of the New York firm Rasmus & Co., enticed Hale into investing heavily in German war bonds. The bonds lost all their value after World War I.

The Balsams Resort

The War Ends

When the war ended, the Hales had lost most of their fortune. They 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 then sold 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. In 2019, New Hampshire’s General Court passed a law allowing the Coos County commissioners to create a tax-increment financing district around the resort. Les Otten, former head of the American Skiing Company, joined the redevelopment effort in 2014. He had plans to turn the resort into one of the largest ski areas in the Northeast.  For the latest on Balsams redevelopment, click here.

This story last updated in 2022.

Images: Reversible seats By Steve Morgan – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44309077. The Balsams By P199 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18091165.

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