Northern New Hampshire
North of Mount Washington is more beautiful, dramatic scenery, but fewer tourists.
The sun peeks over the mountain and floods through Dixville Notch on a February morning.
Most of the tourist traffic doesn't make it past Berlin NH, however.
This leaves the mountains and lakes of the north country to those who love the region for its relative solitude and quiet.
Dixville Notch, on NH Route 26 east of Colebrook in extreme northern New Hampshire (map), is a dramatic mountain pass at an elevation of 1871 feet (570 meters)
In New England's north country, mountain gaps or passes are called "notches." The name is apt, as geology has made them dramatic steep-walled defiles.
Besides its dramatic beauty, Dixville Notch had the distinction of being the location for one of America's oldest, grandest and most satisfying resort hotels: The Balsams Grand Resort Hotel.
If you wanted to explore this dramatically beautiful area, The Balsams was the place to stay until it was closed for economic reasons in 2011.
In summer, it had miles and miles of well-maintained hiking trails. In winter, its 95 km (59 miles) of Nordic/ cross-country ski trails were double-tracked and patrolled.
The Balsams was also the site of the polling place for Dixville Notch's famous "First in the Nation" elections.
"First in the Nation"
Dixville Notch is among New Hampshire's smallest unincorporated settlements, with only a handful registered voters, virtually all of whom once lived and worked at The Balsams Grand Resort Hotel.
This grand 19th-century style resort controlled most of the land around Dixville Notch and was the reason anyone lived in Dixville Notch at all.
When the resort was still thriving, each election day (or, rather, on the Monday night before the Tuesday election day) since 1952 all of Dixville Notch's registered voters would assemble in the wood-panelled Ballot Room of the hotel.
The Ballot Room.
At precisely 12 am (midnight), the polls would open, the voters would cast their secret ballots, the election officials would quickly tabulate the tally, and at 12:05 am the results were announced to the voters, the state and the nation.
How is this allowable? Why was Dixville Notch always first to announce its election results?
It's not just because the polls open as early as legally possible on election day (12 midnight), it's because the polls are allowed to close so early.
By law, polling places must remain open until all registered voters have had the opportunity to cast their ballots. This usually means that polls remain open all day and even well into the evening, just to assure that no voter is denied the chance to vote.
But in Dixville Notch, by mutual accord, 100% of the registered voters come to the Ballot Room in The Balsams at midnight. No registered voter is absent or unaccounted for, so the election officials can be certain that all have their opportunity to vote.
With fewer than several dozen voters, Dixville Notch's election results are unlikely to influence the voting behavior of others, and in fact a review of Dixville's election results reveals that its results were usually not the same as those of the state or the nation.
In other words, more often than not, the favorite candidate in Dixville Notch does not win the election!
In recent years, there are so few registered voters in Dixville Notch that they may not be able to fill all of the required town election officer positions. If a full compliment of officers is not in place, an election cannot be held.
Redevelopment of The Balsams is under way, and efforts are being made to appoint officials and to make a space available for coming presidential elections. The voters of Dixville Notch may again come togther, cast their ballots, immediately announce the results to the world, then head off to the bar to await the electoral latecomers in the rest of the USA.
In 1866, innkeeper George Parsons established the Dix House, a travelers' guesthouse on the west side of picturesque Dixville Notch. Three decades later, charmed by the site, the wealthy inventor and industrialist Henry S. Hale bought the property and renamed it The Balsams.
Hale improved the resort over the years, and by 1918 had finished Hampshire House, the red-roofed, green-shuttered and turreted hotel that stands today. Later the tall European-looking "fireproof" towers were added, expanding the resort to 184 guest rooms, 13 parlor and family suites, and five specialty suites.
Here are some amazing facts: in its heyday, few of the guest rooms at The Balsams had television sets. Guests preferred to spend their time outdoors, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, golfing, swimming, rowing, canoeing, fly fishing, sightseeing or playing tennis; skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating. There was plenty of space for these on the resort's 15,000 acres (6070 hectares).
The resort's many indoor facilities included a movie theater, dinner theater (with dancing), game room, billiards room, tavern, dining room and lounges and parlors for chatting.
Service and cuisine were extraordinary. Good service was the result of careful staff selection and training. Good cuisine followed in the resort's long tradition of outstanding taste. The menu changed daily, not just by the week, month or season, as at many resorts.
Perhaps the most telling fact about The Balsams is this: 80% of the guests were repeat visitors.
As of late 2023, efforts to re-open The Balsams as a condominium and ski resort continue. Its dramatic location and storied history deserve to be available for future generations.