• Tom Eastman

A Vacation Village Revitalizes

The village of Jackson has long held a reputation as one of the most picturesque small New England towns in the White Mountains. Norman Rockwell must have loved Jackson if he ever visited there, with its red covered bridge, historic old inns, pastoral golf courses, mountain streams and waterfalls, and white-frame-steepled church located in the village center, all backdropped by mountains of all shapes and sizes.

The rich used to flock to the small village (population 600) in summer to escape the heat of Boston and New York, staying at grand hotels like Wentworth Hall and Gray's Inn, but all that changed as the automobile entered the mainstream of American life and the touring vacation took hold after the Second World War. The beauty never left; but the people who came to visit no longer stayed the whole summer as they used to, and some of the old inns were allowed to fall into disrepair and finally shut down. After that Jackson became a quiet place to spend the summer and a convenient area to stay for winter skiing vacations.

Over the years, innkeepers began to realize the benefits of providing activities for their guests, though the planning for those activities was more or less done on an individualistic level in summertime. Those perceptions became much clearer during last summer's gas shortages and the subsequent effect on the tourism business not just in Jackson, but everywhere. Roadside motels with little to offer their guests besides a place to stay for the night generally lost the most, while the inns with facilities for their guests such as pools, game facilities, and special events, as a rule, felt the effects the least. The message was and remains clear - people will stay longer at the areas with the most to offer.

That message did not fall on deaf ears; as a matter of fact, interest in putting on events for visitors and residents in Jackson had been buzzing ever since the village had celebrated the 1976 Bicentennial with a festival in the park with old time baking contests, music, and the like. Innkeepers such as Bill and Sydna Zeliff of the Christmas Farm Inn, Pam and Marty Sweeney of the Wildcat Tavern, Mal and Betty Jennines of the Dana Place Inn, Jacques and Carol Gagnon of Thorn Hill Lodge, and more recently Darrell Trapp and Bob DePaolo of Whitneys' Inn, have all recognized that need for activities as well as the desirability of promoting Jackson's attractiveness. The innkeepers have been joined by other Jackson business-leaders such as Lee Harmon of the Jack Frost Shop, Bob Morrell of Storyland and Heritage New Hampshire, and Jackson artist Myke Morton in those sentiments, all of which are intended to make Jackson a stronger year-round resort community.

The organization behind the innkeepers' and business people's efforts is the Jackson Resort Association, a 52-member group, which virtually acts as the Chamber of Commerce for Jackson and Glen. Formed in the late 1940s to promote Jackson business, the group last year enjoyed a number of successes during the summer season, as events such as the Fourth of July Old Fashioned Country Fair Day, the Jackson Covered Bridge Foot Race, the Second Annual Jackson Arts Festival and the Thorn Hill Art Workshops were widely attended and acclaimed.

The event which sparked the most interest, however, was also one of the easiest to put on. The group sponsored a Music in the Park concert featuring Mt. Washington Valley natives and recording artist Rick and Ron Shaw, and the turnout and overall color of the event convinced the Jackson Resort Association that the village's potential as a well-known summer resort was boundless. The concert was attended by persons of all ages, as they sat on the lawn in the park that serves as Jackson't focal point, surrounded by the beauty and mountains which typify this summer community, listening to the acoustic and vocal harmonies for which the singing brothers are known. The concert made somewhere in the vicinity of $100 for the Association, which really is not very substantial when compared to the thousands made in other concerts by professional promoters, but no-one seemed to mind. A tradition had been born, and talk began to spread about future concerts and programs, gas shortage or no gas shortage.

The Jackson Resort Association's members look forward to the future for the small, quaint village, though they will be the first to tell anyone who cares that the process of spreading its reputation will be a slow one. They have planned once again a schedule of summer activities for both their hotel guests and all area visitors and residents, a calendar which will feature two Music in the Park concerts, art shows, craft fairs, weekly hayrides and Downeast lobster festivals, tennis and golf tournaments, antique shows, and art workshops.

The Association has retained Agrafiotis Associates Advertising Agency of Manchester to handle its publicity campaigns, the emphasis of which is to show that Jackson has a lot to offer in the summer as well as the winter, portraying it as a destination resort with a multitude of activities, beautiful scenery, shops, golf courses, hiking trails, rivers, and night spots. Jackson Resort Association president Lee Harmon and Advertising Committee member Bill Zeliff note there is an optimistic and industrious attitude in the village, and both mention the potential development of the Gray's Inn property into condominiums as a positive step which would not only add vibrancy to village life without risking its unique charm, but also open the way for similar restoration for the village's other now closed but former glory structure, Wentworth Hall.

Another former old hotel, the Jackson Falls House, was razed a year ago and a new post office has now been built in its place with the backing of the Jackson Resort Association and other involved residents such as Peggy Frost, Thad Thorne, Henry Heald, Ken Studley, and Jim Porath. Further up from the village past Jackson Falls, the proud Eagle Mountain House opened for the winter for the second year in a row last season despite the low snowfall and will also be opening for the summer season. Zeliff and Harmon admit that things are not all economically as bright as they might be at this time had there been a strong summer and winter season last year, but they both note that the village has a strong future with a lot to offer as a destination resort. Now the job remains to let others know it, which is exactly what the JRA is doing by taking an aggressive stand and going after the market.

"We've got an ideal destination resort in Jackson with what we feel is an unsurpassed area of beauty and hospitality. With the gasoline picture being what it is for the summer, we feel that people in New England will be wanting to spend their vacations closer to home in areas that have the most to offer for an extended stay, and Jackson fits the bill," said Zeliff.

Harmon agreed, adding that the Association's efforts are a plus for the village. "We've made a lot of strides with the concerts and activities, but there's always room for more events as well as more members actively participating in the planning of those events. When people can come into Jackson, Glen, and Bartlett and see downtown businesses crowded with shoppers who enjoy dining and browsing here as well as appreciate the area's beauty, then everyone will benefit and we will have accomplished our goal without losing our uniqueness and charm," he concluded.

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