September 05, 2012LITTLETON — A group at the Opera House on Wednesday evening spent 90 minutes with Steve Barba, an expert on the Balsams. Barba began working at the Dixville Notch grand hotel at age 13. His warm memories and encyclopedic knowledge made for an excellent evening.
When Barba left the Balsams in 2006, he was serving as Innkeeper Emeritus. He currently works at Plymouth State University as Executive Director of University Relations.
His presentation was entitled, "Saints May Perform Miracles, But Few Could Run a Motel." There were many humorous moments that made listeners laugh.
One purpose for his Littleton visit was to provide information about the new Museum of the White Mountains. Barba noted how happy he was to give some Balsams artifacts to the museum.
The museum is slated to open in February 2013 on the Plymouth State campus. Dr. Catherine Amidon, director of the museum, was on hand to offer additional background about the museum.
Barba's life at the Balsams began in 1959, when he served as a caddy. He told the Opera House attendees that he did not know that much about golf, but he quickly became fascinated. Over the following winter, Barba said, "all I could think about was returning to the Balsams."
The wide range of information a caddy must know taught Barba a great deal. The following summer, he was a teacher of first-year caddies. He noted, "I loved the art of caddying."
After three summers of caddying, Barba started to work at other jobs across the resort. Although he said his summers were "an exciting period in my life," he noticed that there were fewer guests each year, and the hotel ended up in worse and worse shape.
Barba said that working in the resort's bowling alley was quite memorable, as well as dangerous. He said that young staff was charged with manually returning balls and setting up knocked over pins. Players didn't seem too concerned about the safety of the alley workers, Barba said. Sometimes he wondered if someone rolling the ball down the lane was intentionally targeting him.
There were additional employment opportunities at the resort when it became a winter destination with 1967. Barba said that the expansion of the ski area led to the hiring of more local people, because the traditional summer workers from the southern states did not wish to go through winter at the Balsams.
Barba's work years at the Balsams were only part of his presentation. His immense knowledge of the hotel's history was of great interest to the audience.
Barba had a very intriguing slideshow, which included pictures dating back to the mid-19th Century. The photos documented the history of the area, as well as changes that took place at the hotel over many decades.
An important aspect of the hotel has been Lake Gloriette, which was made in 1898. The owner at the time decided to make a canal and dams to create electricity for use by the resort.
Interestingly, the hotel ran as many as 15 farms. This was another way for the Balsams to provide local employment opportunities.
Barba said that he now serves as special trustee for the Tillotson Trust. The trust serves to implement the estate of Neil Tillotson, who owned the Balsams from 1954 until his death in 2001. Tillotson was 102 years old.
Because of his service to the Tillotson Trust, Barba said that he has recused himself from the current developments at the Balsams. He did mention the ongoing plans to bring the grand hotel back to life.
Balsams View, LLC, a partnership between Dan Hebert and Dan Dagesse purchased the Balsams late last year. Barba praised the duo, who are North Country natives. "I know both to be sincere people, and I wish them well," he said
Barba's great knowledge of the Balsams made an impression on the Opera House. One person suggested that Barba write a book about his experience and the hotel. Barba said that he hopes to do so, "as soon as I get a day off."
With that conclusion, the crowd laughed again.