Dixville Notch, NH — I finally visited Dixville Notch, population — 40 people with around 28 voters.
You may remember that every four years, the voters of Dixville Notch cast their ballots for the Presidential Primary by 12:01 a.m. on election day. By 12:05 a.m. they are counted, the voting is complete and the nation receives the results from this first precinct to report the results in the nation’s first primary. The balloting takes place in The Ballot Room in the historic, sprawling Balsams Grand Resort Hotel set on 15,000 acres of wondrous trails and surrounded by rugged cliffs looming some 600 to 1000 feet above Lake Gloriette.
Most Presidential candidates make the trek to Dixville Notch to discuss their policies with the voters standing around informally in The Ballot Room. It is more than a quaint tradition; the candidates want the first news report of the first precinct to come out favorably for them.
A few days ago, I met with some of Dixville Notch’s voters, including Stephen Barba, the hotel president, his wife Gail and the son of the legendary, still very active, 93 year old Neil Tillotson, inventor, industrialist and savior of the Balsams when it was in decline thirty eight years ago. Following our discussion of citizen agendas and primary politics, Mr. Barba invited us to tour the Hotel’s self-sufficent, cogeneration plant underneath the hotel.
The boilers are about four stories high and burn wood-waste (sawdust and bark) from the Balsams own saw mill. Fully 100% of its heat and 80% of its electricity comes from this steam plant. In the winter, more than 35,000 gallons of fuel oil are saved every week.
The 232 guest rooms accommodate over 400 guests. There are about that number of employees serving these guests who pay one room rate that covers three meals a day and all amenities covering two gold courses, tennis courts, natural history programs (conducted by the Hotel’s full time naturalist), ice skating rink, and downhill and cross-country ski areas. There probably is not another resort hotel in the country that strictly adheres to this one room rate “American” plan with no additional surcharges.
The self-sufficiency of The Balsams harkens back to old New England. It used to have eighteen farms producing most of its produce, dairy and meat products. The farms are no longer operating. But the resort still maintains its own telephone company and conducts a well known, accredited culinary education program for young leading chefs-to-be. The food is meticulously prepared with nutrition and health in mind, including a separate cuisine for vegetarians.
Stephen Barba is full of new plans for this community within a community. They embrace new ecological practices (e.g., dealing with waste water) and ways to encourage eco-tourism through the diverse flora and rock structures of the hotel acres that are larger than New York City’s Manhattan Island.
There is a refreshing quality to Dixville Notch and its Balsams Hotel. The residents run the town government, work and vote there. Mr. Barba is a selectman. Presumably a community of such small, human scale, that provides employment for nearly twenty times its population (there is the world’s largest latex glove factory locally owned next to the hotel) has some lessons for the country other than voting early in Presidential primaries — lessons that spell self-reliance, home-grown government and economies.