Behind the Scenes
Balsams Hotel employee photo album, circa 1913-1917. Museum of the White Mountains, Barba collection
In order to keep the daily operations of these self-contained resort communities running smoothly, an enormous staff of several hundred employees was required. Employees came from all over to work as cooks, bellmen, chamber girls, waitresses, laundresses, hostlers, nurses, drivers, carpenters, and more during the summer hotel season.
Employees who interacted with guests, such as waitresses, had to follow strict instructions regarding their behavior, appearance, and how they spoke to guests during mealtimes.
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Maplewood Club Dining Room Rules, 1940. Courtesy of Bethlehem Heritage Society.
The Profile House in Franconia Notch provided employment for hundreds of men and women who came from across Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire to work at the hotel during the summer season. In 1896, the hotel published a list of all its 179 employees, their names, job titles, and hometowns. The list included 65 waitresses, 2 stage drivers, 18 laundresses, and 7 bellmen. See the entire brochure here, courtesy of WhiteMountainHistory.org and Bryant Tolles.
Like many of the grand hotels, much of the food at The Balsams in Dixville Notch was supplied by the hotel’s own farm, including fresh fruits, vegetables, and eggs. Their herd of Jersey cows furnished milk, cream, and butter; freshly caught trout from Lake Gloriette was served daily at breakfast and other meals.
The grand hotels were owned and managed by a variety of “grand personalities.” Some were wealthy tycoons of industry – others were farmers who stumbled by accident into the hotel business. All were celebrated for the hospitality that they offered to their guests.
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During the second half of the 19th century it became popular for artists to spend the summer at a grand hotel, where they set up their own studio and invited guests to view and purchase their works. One of the most well-known is Frank Henry Shapleigh (1842-1906), who was the artist-in-residence at the Crawford House for sixteen years, from 1877 to 1893. Shapleigh’s original Crawford House artist-in-residence studio still stands today and is part of Appalachian Mountain Club’s Highland Center campus.
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Caddy Camps at the Hotels
For many decades, several Caddy Camps serving the Maplewood Hotel, the Mount Washington Hotel, The Balsams, and others, brought boys from all over New England, including inner-city Boston to the White Mountains. For those in charge of a few of the camps, the purpose was not only to provide excellent caddy service to the hotels, but to help the boys grow and develop. There is evidence that these caddy camp experiences promoted significant healthy education and growth for some of the boys, particularly for the inner-city children of immigrant parents.Vincent Lunetta
Grand Service: The Story of Grace Bickford
Grace Bickford was born on December 19, 1872 and lived in New Hampton, NH as a child. While working as an elementary school teacher, Grace began spending her summers working in tourist hotels in the White Mountains. Her first such experience was working as a “table girl” at Maplewood Cottage, a grand hotel near Bethlehem in the summer of 1895. This pattern was repeated when she secured a summer job in 1897 at Wentworth Hall where she worked as a table girl, maid, and would help assisting in the hotel office.
Because of her talents, Grace continued to thrive in the fast paced world of hospitality, she was able to rise from the status of waitress and part-time office assistant at Wentworth Hall to that of a person of responsibility within the hotel organization. In a short time she became the trusted personal secretary to the hotel manager, Berry, and owner, General Wentworth. Grace became the editor of the hotel’s weekly newsletter Chit Chat, and an affable hostess attending to the needs of guests and rubbing elbows with distinguished entertainers at the hotel.
I don’t know what will become of me. The people here are spoiling me. I put on my new silk waist with my black shirt. It is only the second time I have worn the waist. Well when I went into the dining room – there was a chorus of exclamations. “Oh, how pretty,” “How sweet she looks,” and one man said, “Either you are sweeter every time I see you or I am falling in love with you.”Grace Bickford in a letter to her mother, dated August 1900
Now, Mama, don’t be shocked – There’s nothing to it or he would not have said it before a room full of people. Well, of course the sense of approval of my appearance made my dinner taste very good.
It is unclear how closely Grace was associated with Wentworth Hall, in particular, after 1900, she apparently continued as personal assistant for Wentworth and Berry in their hotel operations for several more years.