The resort where the first-in-the-nation presidential primary ballots have been cast for 50 years was sold Thursday to a company that owns more than 100 hotels across North America.
The 150-year-old Balsams Grand Resort Hotel in Dixville Notch, about 20 miles from Canada, was put up for sale in July. The Tillotson family, which has owned the northern New Hampshire resort since 1954, said it was selling the property to Ocean Properties Ltd. Hotels and Resorts of Portsmouth.
The price was not immediately disclosed on the 7,700-acre property, which has four private lakes, two golf courses a ski area and hiking trails.
Its tradition of hosting the first votes began in 1960 by Neil Tillotson, who also operated a rubber factory and is credited with inventing the latex balloon. Before he died in 2001 at age 102, he specified that the resort, as with other assets, be sold or given away and the proceeds go to charities.
The sale, which is expected to be completed before the summer, followed an exhaustive search in which more than 90 potential bidders expressed an interest. The Tillotsons said Ocean Properties has an impressive record in the preservation and management of historic hotels such as the Wentworth by the Sea Hotel and Spa in New Castle, which had been placed on the National Trust list of Most Endangered Sites in the 1990s.
Tom Varley, senior vice president of Ocean Properties, said the company plans some expansions and renovations. One priority is putting in an improved heating and air conditioning system. He also said the company hopes to hire more staff; the hotel has about 300 full and part-time employees, depending on the season.
Ocean also has restored The Sagamore Resort on Lake George, N.Y.; the Harborside Hotel & Marina in Bar Harbor, Maine; the Sunset Key Resort in Key West, Fla.; and The Latham Hotel in Philadelphia.
"Ocean Properties brings an impressive track record, with a portfolio of hotels, commitment to new Hampshire, and management team to the table," said Tom Deans of North Conway, managing trustee of the Neil Tillotson Trust. "They have the same passion for The Balsams that the Tillotsons had."
Criteria for a new owner included the continued employment of North Country residents at the resort, the capability to develop The Balsams' reputation as a premier destination resort and a continued commitment to environmental preservation.
"We are committed to burnishing the Balsams' reputation as an international treasure whose rich history is intertwined with the prosperity of the Great North Woods and the great political tradition of the nation," said Varley said.
Neil Tillotson had arranged for the early elections by having Dixville incorporated solely for voting purposes. In doing so, he stole some of the spotlight from another tiny northern New Hampshire community, Hart's Location, which began midnight voting in 1948 because most residents were railroad workers who couldn't make it to the polls during normal hours. Hart's Location stopped the early voting after the 1964 election but revived the tradition in 1996.
Tillotson, who also was the moderator at the annual Town Meeting, was a lifelong Republican. During the 2008 presidential primary, there were three registered Republicans, two Democrats and 12 undeclared voters in Dixville Notch.
The ballot room was recently renovated. Photos of visiting presidential candidates through the years grace its walls.
"That's a great tradition at that property and something we'll never want to change," Varley said of the first votes.
The resort started as an inn in 1861 named for the town's first landowner, Col. Timothy Dix, who died in the War of 1812. In 1895, industrialist Henry Hale bought the Dix House and renamed it The Balsams. He completed a major renovation in 1918, doubling the resort's capacity to 400 guests.