North Country
4:25 pm
Wed May 2, 2012

The Balsams: A Grand House Cleaning By Auction

The new owners of the Balsams Grand Resort in Dixville Notch are planning a huge renovation.

But before that can happen there is a lot of stuff they need to get rid of from a ski lift to pots and pans and that means an auction.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.

Sound of dishes clinking and men talking…

Sorting through the furnishings and equipment to prepare the Balsams resort for an auction is a combination of a sentimental journey and a gigantic, take-no-prisoners house cleaning.

The hotel was sold in December to two North Country businessmen, Dan Hebert and Dan Dagesse.

Then it was closed.

Once the funding is arranged – they are still working on that - the goal is a massive renovation and some new construction with a re-opening around the middle of 2013.

That means getting rid of stuff.  A stunning amount of stuff.

North Country Auctions is handling the sale and its owner, Lawrence Spellman, figures there will be at least 1,000 lots on the auction block.

A lot could be a chairlift from the nearby ski slope or an entire bedroom of furniture.

Or it could be a single bit of electoral history.

Dixville Notch prides itself on being the first place in the nation to vote in the primary and general elections.

Leaning up against some chairs is the 2008 tally board showing Barack Obama beating John McCain 15 to 6.

But there’s lots more.

Charlie Ames is with North Country Auctions.

 “There’s a total of bedrooms, including help quarters, of over 400.”

Then there are all the other rooms from the sun porch to the main dining room and the kitchen.

The kitchen is huge. It looks like a pot, pan and stove factory.

Shelves are labeled.

Dinner plates.

Breakfast plates

Oval platters.

There are also signs of admonition and encouragement including a 1621 quote attributed to Robert Burton: “Cookery Is Become An Art. A Noble Science. Cooks Are Gentlemen.”

Ames speaking. “This is basically all underground here…” fades.

And there are tunnels. Employees used them to reach different parts of the complex.

“When we first came here we had no electricity. We had a flashlight or something like that but it was so easy to get mixed up because the tunnels go off in different directions. But it is a pretty neat place.”

There have been a few surprises like a copper washing machine.

But mostly what is for sale is the furnishings, the bits and pieces and the mechanisms that kept the Balsams running.

Ames predicts some buyers may be purchasing memories.

 “It could be a room that they stayed here or they might have gotten married here.”

What won’t be sold are the pictures and some furnishings needed to carry the Balsams history along.

That includes a portrait of former owner Neil Tillotson still overlooking one, lonely darkened room.

As preparations are made for the auction there maybe a dozen people in the whole place.

 There is an odd feeling wandering around and finding it so empty.

In one room a Bible still sits on a shelf.

A sign in a stairwell reminds: “Gentlemen, Jackets, Please After 6 p.m.”

And all the Balsams innards, its normally private parts – from linens to those huge cooking pots - are indiscreetly laid out on display.

The main areas are decorated for Christmas, a Christmas that wasn’t celebrated.

Employees decorated last fall, hoping that the hotel would be open for the holidays – which it wasn’t.

About 300 full or part-time workers lost their jobs.

In what used to be the dining room Sarah Dole is helping the auction company prepare. She worked at the Balsams for 19 years.

So, does she find this dismantling sad?

“Surprisingly not. In my case I think I said goodbye to the way it was when we closed. It is good to be moving forward with something because there were times when we didn’t know what the future of the hotel would be. There was a time when we were worried we would close without a sale taking place and that was really scary.”

The auction takes place on Saturday May 12th. 

The company figures it could take at least seven or eight hours with two auctioneers working simultaneously.

On May 10th and 11th there will be preview days when the site is open to the public and there is no admission fee.

For NHPR News this is Chris Jensen

For video go here.