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  • by Tom Eastman

The Hoyts of Purity Spring

Five Generations of Lakeside Living

Renowned as one of the most powerful wholesale auctioneers in New York's retail district in the mid-to-late 1800s, Edward E. Hoyt was known as a man with a kee sense of business acumen and a talent for turning a profit. He also knew a good thing when he tasted it.

Traveling to East Madison, N.H., to visit his sister-in-law in the 1870s, Hoyt discovered yet another commodity to sell--fresh, clear water of superior quality. Flowing from a spring across the street, and supplying most of the needs of the small enclave of houses, blacksmith shops and mills that comprised the village the water astounded Hoyt with its purity. At a time when most city water was foul tasting at best, Hoyt saw opportunity bubbling before him, and set about on a plan to reap its benefits.

Christening the sparkling substance as Purity Spring Water, the enterprising Hoyt tested the water for its quality, and soon began shipping it via oxcart and rail to New York City. Advertised as the "finest spring water in the state for over 100 years," the spring soon won fame as it collected awards in Chicago, New York, and Boston for its exceptional purity. Soft, white, clear, tasteless and free from organic matter, Hoyt claimed his water could "remove from the system all impurities and acids which are the basis for Gout, Rheumatism, and Kidney, Liver, and Bladder diseases," in addition to indigestion, dyspepsia and "nervous prostration."

Remarkable as the water was, Hoyt's miracle product suffered from a severe drawback—more often than not, the glass "carboys" used to ship the water broke long before the precious cargo reached its intended destination of New York. Things got so bad that Hoyt and his son, Edward E. Hoyt, Jr., decided pure was pure, but enough was enough, and Purity Spring Water was shipped no more after 1900.

The elder Hoyt suffered a heart attack and died soon thereafter, but the spring water he tried to market is still flowing in the tap house at Purity Spring Resort in East Madison today. Hoyt's grandson, great-grand-children, and great-great-grandchildren run the resort, known to them simply as "the Valley."

"My father, Edward E. Hoyt, Jr., first came to East Madison in the 1870s to stay with his aunt," related Milton Hoyt, 72, an intensely proud but humble man who has devoted the better part of his life to the improvement and development of Purity Spring into a year-round resort. "He'd been crippled by polio as a young boy, and came north to the lake for his health."

With the younger Hoyt convalescing at Purity Lake, Edward E. Hoyt, Sr. and his family made frequent trips to visit him in East Madison. In time, the elder Hoyt bought property on the lake to spend time there, vacationing with his family and friends. As Milt noted, "After the Civil War, there was a great exodus of people moving from rural areas to the cities. Many farms were put up for sale," he continued, "and my grandfather bought them."

Initiating the spring water shipping business after the introduction of rail service from Silver Lake in Madison in 1871, Hoyt continued to increase his property holdings along the shores of Purity Lake. Included in his estate was the Blaisdell Mill, located across from what is now the Millbrook Lodge of Purity Spring Resort. The center of activity of the small community, the mill provided more than a place to saw logs—it had threshing machines for wheat and a grist mill for grinding corn, and also boasted a cider mill.

Edward Hoyt Jr. managed the mill for his father throughout the late 1800s, overseeing the hauling of logs by ox and horse teams in winter and taking care of the grist and cider operations the rest of the year. Following the cessation of the spring water shipping business and the death of his father after that, Edward inherited all of the elder Hoyt's 1400-acre land holdings in the Valley, but none of his father's money. His brothers received that.

To supplement his income from the mill and pay his property taxes, Edward began receiving summer guests at his home following his marriage in 1905 to Fryeburg schoolteacher Gertrude Keith. It was the start of innkeeping as a way of life at Purity Lake, a tradition which is ongoing today.

"The first guests were friends of my parents, many of them schoolteachers who spent most of their summers here in the Valley," Milt Hoyt recalled, noting that early guests at Purity Spring slept in tents set up on platforms. Although crippled by polio, Edward Hoyt offered carriage rides for inn guests to local points of interest, even driving teams of horses halfway up Mt. Chocorua's Liberty Trail. Gertrude Hoyt served as hostess at the inn, overseeing household duties. In the meantime, the couple had two children—Ellen, and Milt.

The boarding business continued to increase in popularity at Purity Spring, but was disrupted when Gertrude developed diabetes in 1918 and was forced to relinquish her duties. Insulin was just being experimented with at the time, and although she received treatment at Boston's Joslin Clinic, the diabetes eventually caused Gertrude to go blind, and led to her death in 1929.

"During World War I, Dad ran the mill, and that was the only money coming in once the inn business stopped," Milt related about those hard years. Knowing all too well the meaning of what it's like to be "land poor," Milt said he learned valuable lessons from his father which have guided his own actions concerning the development of Purity Spring over the years. "People often offered Dad a lot of money for the lakefront property, but he refused, even though he could have used it. It was tough," he continued, "but Dad always impressed upon me the importance of not selling off the land, of preserving it and keeping it intact. He wanted Purity Lake to remain one of the last undeveloped lakes in New Hampshire."

Milt graduated as the valedictorian of his class in 1929, the year of the Wall Street Stock Market Crash, which heralded the beginning of the Great Depression. Six months later, his mother died, while business at the mill slowed due to the introduction of portable steam powered woodcutters which could be transported to different locations in the woods. Lacking any funds for realizing his dream of attending college, Milt found work as a handyman for his father in summer, and spent the winter as a logger.

His luck changed for the better in the summer of 1931, thanks to the concern and efforts of a visiting schoolteacher who rented the Hoyts' guest cottages. "Her name was Mrs. Hersey, and she was the stepping stone of my life," Milt said with admiration. A teacher at Providence, Rhode Island's Moses Brown School, Hersey spent her summers vacationing with six of her better elementary school students every year, and had come to East Madison for that purpose. "She asked me why I hadn't gone on to college, and I told her I had no means. She told me she'd find something for me," Milt related.

Hersey obtained a job for Milt as a landscaper at the Moses Brown School, for which he received room and board. Enrolling for a year of post-graduate study, Milt took the college boards that spring, passed, and was accepted at Brown University, where he worked his way through school as a waiter.

In addition to setting Milt down the right road to college, Mrs. Hersey was also instrumental in another aspect of his life. As he noted, "The summer I graduated from the post-graduate course, Mrs. Hersey asked me to take care of six students whom she'd chosen to take the summer vacation that year." Held at his father's camp at Purity Spring, the "vacation" evolved into a summer camp. "I was director and camp counselor for the group in a bungalow across the street from my father's house. That was the start of my summer camp, and of the 50 years that have followed, it was probably my happiest summer," Milt noted.

Christened Camp Tohkompeupog ("Spring Water" in Indian, after Purity Spring), the camp grew each summer of Milt's collegiate career to encompass all aspects of summer fun. Enlisting the help of fellow Brown students as counselors, Milt's camp boasted 35 students by the time he graduated in 1937. After stints as an electrical engineer following graduation in New York, Milt decided his true love was teaching, and returned to Brown in '39 for post-graduate work.

Continuing to conduct the summer camps throughout his various studies, Milt also helped develop Purity Spring's winter resort business by offering skiing, beginning in 1938. Returning to Moses Brown to teach and then teaching at public schools in Connecticut over the next several years, he married in 1940, and started a family soon thereafter.

Faced with a choice between assuming greater responsibilities as a school principal at the risk of not being able to devote his summers to his camp, Milt made the momentous decision in 1946 to return to Purity Spring to live year 'round. It's a decision he's never regretted.

"There was more to it than just the camp. I wanted to help out my father in his later years," Milt noted, adding that by that point, the resort was in need of a lot of work. Developing the winter business by operating a boys' Christmas ski camp, similar to that offered at Camp Tohkompeupog every summer, Milt and his wife, Fran, upgraded the amenities at the family area. In addition, his sister Ellen operated a girls' camp in summer to complement Milt's boys camp.

Following Edward Hoyt Jr:s death in 1952, Milt, Fran, and Ellen Hoyt continued to improve the resort, an effort which has continued ever since. Milt and Fran took over sole operation of the inn a few years later, with Milt devoting his time to fieldwork, while Fran was in charge of innkeeping duties. In the meantime, they raised five children, all of whom have come to play a role in the management of the resort at one point or another in the ensuing years.

Using his practical knowledge and engineering skills, Milt cut corners where he could by doing the improvement work himself. Over the years, the resort has faced indebtedness at the start, two fires, snowless winters, and a multitude of other calamities, but the Hoyts have landed on their feet every time. Installing a double chairlift in 1962 and snowmaking in 1980 at the King Pine ski area, while constantly pumping revenue back into the summer resort to stay on top of maintenance, Purity Spring is now a successful family resort, run by a family. And like his father before him, Milt has kept "the Valley" intact and the lake undeveloped.

Retiring in 1975 and incorporating the business, Milt keeps active with the overall management of the resort. Although divorced and remarried, he's still on good terms with his first wife, Fran, and notes he's been very fortunate to have the support of his family.

"I'm most thrilled how my kids have stepped in to manage this place so enthusiastically. They complement one another so well," Milt said, while walking on the grounds, past the old-weathered mill toward the old Purity Spring Resort pump room built over the spring by his father 50 years ago. "And now my grandchildren are getting involved; the fifth generation of Hoyts here at Purity Spring. Other men have had to sell their businesses when they retire," he said, stopping by the flowing water of the spring, "but I've been lucky. The Hoyts are still here."

Editor's Note: While several pictured in the story above have passed on, Purity Spring and King Pine continue to be owned and run by the Hoyt family. For more imformation, go to the Purity Spring website:


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