North Country
11:27 am
Sun May 13, 2012

The Balsams Auction: The End of An Era

The walls and the hallways are largely empty today in one of New Hampshire’s oldest and grandest hotels.  As part of the plan to rebuild and renovate the Balsams Grand Resort in Dixville Notch, the hotel’s new owners auctioned off many items this past Saturday.  The goal was to sell everything but photos and items of historical significance. 

When the auctioneer got going…

If Richard Ellis had followed the plan he might have avoided a tiny bit of friction with his wife.

 “My wife is killing me.”

The original plan was to buy a few bedrooms to help furnish a bed and breakfast the couple plans to open in Wakefield.

Now – standing with his family on the second floor of the Balsams – he was the kind-of-proud-but-a-little-awestruck owner of the contents of 14 rooms.

In what some might consider a bold move that included seven he bought sight unseen.

What happened is the auctioneer – eager to get rid of individual rooms nobody wanted-- offered them as a package.

When that frantic, triple-paced auction talk ended, Ellis had purchased 14 rooms for about 31-hundred-dollars.

This was, of course, the source of the spousal irritation.

One of the mystery rooms turned out to be a supply office.  And Ellis was pretty happy with what he was finding.

“I think it is all good. I mean there are boxes of brand new hair dryers, and irons and everything in here.”

But he did have one problem.

Sound of walking and searching…”805, 806 is down there…”

“I’ve got three rooms I don’t know where they are yet.”

About 1,300 people registered to bid and for most of the day two auctioneers were working simultaneously.

One was set up in the dining room, surrounded by bargain hunters and curiosity seekers who wondered what it would be like to see a North-Country legend dismantled.

Auction background sound

The other was outdoors, selling everything from paddle boats to an old fire truck that went for a little more than two-thousand-dollars.

Then he, too, moved inside.

Sound of bids for a room of cleaning material selling for $85.

Later he moved to the kitchen where a Vulcan gas stove – in working order – sold for 25-dollars.

In all there were about 2,400 lots.  A lot could be one item – or an entire bedroom.

There was no minimum price and sometimes several lots were combined to move things, selling for prices that – to the casual observer – were surprising.

“You are buying 15 air conditioners. All good conditioners. Here we go. On those three lots give me $500…”

But the crowd wasn’t interested in $500 for all fifteen air conditioners.

“Two and a quarter, to bid $250. Last chance. Two fifty? Two seventy-five? Still cheap. $275? Last chance. Sold ‘em for $250 to buyer 1617”

Meanwhile people were free to roam the building and hundreds did in what amounted to a kind of gigantic, once-in-a-lifetime open house and farewell.

There were plenty of comments about how unreal it all seemed. The end of the Balsams – at least as it has been known.

But there was also some optimism about a new Balsams that would – once again – be an economic power in the North Country.

John Corriveau sat in a deserted corner of one lounge. 

The Beecher Falls native was thinking about the late 60’s.  He was just out of his teens, working in the dining room.  First as a waiter. Then as a captain.

 “I’d like to get a few things, buy a few things as memories and stuff like that.”

And then he looked away a little, his eyes tearing up.

There was also some electoral history on the block.

Dixville Notch is nationally known for having the first voters in the primary and general elections – even though the price of such glory means the dozen or so voters cast ballots just after midnight.

One item being sold was the board that showed the votes for the 2008 primary.

Jennifer Kalled, of Wolfesboro, bought it for $575.

“I did not come up here to look for this. But when I saw it was on the block I got pretty excited about it so I bid and I got it.”

Under the auction rules buyers are responsible for getting their purchases out.

By early afternoon that was posing some challenges.

There was only one elevator to the main lobby resulting in a kind of elevator roulette in which the winners got to ride.

Sound of elevator and stuff being loaded.

The alternative – used by most – was to suck it up and lug mattresses and furniture and rugs down the stairs and through the lobby.

The bidding ended about 8:45, almost 13 hours after it started.

Everything was sold.

At 10:15 Saturday night people were still loading up their purchases.

A spokesman for the owners said the sales total would not be disclosed.

For video go here.