This blog post was inspired by and is a summary of the 1996 historical publication, "Indian Head - A Dream Fulfilled" by Floyd W. Ramsey, a former employee of the Indian Head Resort.
Cover of "Indian Head - A Dream Fulfilled" by Floyd W. Ramsey
During this time of social distancing and self-isolation, I've found myself looking through old photos, reading old journals, and reminiscing about times past. One interesting piece of history I recently came across was a small, 25-page booklet on the early history of the resort. While perusing through, I discovered many fascinating facts and read the most interesting anecdotes about the resort that I had never known before. Because this booklet has not been published since 1996, and will most likely not be published again, I thought it would be nice to share with you all the early history of the Indian Head Resort as told by Floyd W. Ramsey.
Ramsey sets the scene in 1913 with Ray Gordon, who had just inherited the Indian Head property from his mother's family. When Ray acquired this property, he had no idea it would turn into what it is today. In fact, he didn't even plan on opening up a resort, until two hunters stopped by his house one night and paid him to let them stay in his farmhouse. This gave Ray the brilliant idea to pitch some tents, create a few outdoor fire pits and introduce the world to the Indian Head Estate.
With the increasing popularity of the automobile during this time, tourists from all over were coming to visit the beautiful White Mountains at rates never seen before. To keep his guests entertained, Ray added a souvenir shop and a restaurant to the campground while also inviting his friend Oliver Morris to live on the property with three of his trained black bears. These bears entertained a variety of guests and inspired Ray to create and sell his famous "Bear Beer" in his souvenir shop for just 15 cents a bottle.
You can still purchase "Bear Beer" in our Gift Shop and Dining Room... though the price has gone up a little 😉
In around 1921, Ray realized his guests were not totally satisfied with the tents anymore. Rainy weather and cold nights made it difficult for guests to want to spend the night, so one day, Ray had the great idea to build seven overnight cottages in addition to the campsite. With this great idea, he set off to Littleton, asked the bank for a loan of $600 and... was promptly laughed out of town. This is primarily due to the fact that cabins of this kind were simply unheard of. No one at the time was offering overnight cabins for guests, so naturally the bank thought he was crazy and did not believe that this would be a wise business endeavor.
Vintage Postcard: "Part of English Village West"
It is thought that the Indian Head cottages were one of the first of their kinds in the United States
But with determination and a fire in his entrepreneurial heart, Ray did not give up. Luckily for him, he was actually friends with the local millionaire, Charles Henry. So when Ray presented Charles the idea, he was happy to help. Charles had great faith in Ray and kindly agreed to loan him the money to build his cabins. So Ray quickly got to work and in 1922 the cabins were finished. Ray's dream became a reality, and they were just as successful as he had envisioned. During this time Ray also acquired a 72-foot wooden lookout tower (not the one standing today), which he placed near his souvenir shop. Drawing in locals and tourists alike, guests paid just 10 cents to ascend the tower and experience the breathtaking, untouched views of the White Mountains. As our guests still do with the tower standing today.
Vintage Postcard: "Indian Head Observation Tower"
The Tower, Souvenir Shop and Restaurant used to be where our Notchview property currently is, on the left going north on Route 3
Now inching towards the late 20's, Ray was managing the grounds, working in housekeeping, filling in as a cook and carpenter, while his new wife Ellen ran the office, the souvenir store, and was waitressing in the dining room. But the two soon realized they had their hands a little too full. So Ellen called up her sister Marjorie, who happily relocated to Lincoln to work at the resort, and Ray hired John Aldridge to be his right-hand man. The four of them went on to happily run the business together for many years to come. During the stock market crash of 1929, the team was struck with some good and bad luck. The good luck, business was surprisingly doing well. Tourists were attracted to their high-quality, low-price accommodations and were happy to escape reality for a few days during that difficult time. The bad luck, their 72-foot wooden lookout tower somehow caught fire, and burned down right before their eyes. But Ray did not allow for setbacks. He immediately rebuilt a stronger, larger, and more expensive tower that still stands today. With the late 1930's now rolling in, Ray and Ellen decided they wanted more. With their true entrepreneurial drive, the two of them set off for Riviera Beach, Florida, where they purchased land and built another resort with similar styled bungalows and cottages. They named this property Spanish Courts. After many successful years of Ray, Ellen, Marjorie John running both properties, Ray's health began to deteriorate. Flash forward to 1951, and with all of his health problems catching up to him, he can no longer successfully run the resort. At this point, Ellen, Marjorie and John are happy to run the property together while he spends his final days fishing, hunting, and enjoying the beautiful White Mountains before passing away that same year.
Vintage Postcard: Aerial view of English Village East
After Ray's passing, Ellen, Marjorie and John took full control of running the Indian Head as well as the Spanish Courts. Business was flourishing and the three were an unstoppable trio. But Ellen missed Ray every day, and still had a human-sized hole in her heart. So after a few years, she remarried to a man named Don, and the two of them moved to Florida and took over running the Spanish Courts while Marjorie and John continued running the Indian Head.
That same year, John was given a task that would turn the Indian Head Estate into the Indian Head Resort. His job was to relocate the souvenir shop, restaurant and tower to the opposite side of the road, where they are situated now, so the state could make room for a wider Route 3. John also helped in the design and build of the new property, adding in some motel-style rooms and allowing for even more guests to come visit.
IHR in the 60s
Soon after this major project, John passed away and Marjorie was left to run the resort on her own. Realizing it wasn't the same without her team, she sold the entire property in 1961.
Vintage advertisement for the Indian Head
The Indian Head Resort has had roots in the town of Lincoln and the White Mountains area for over a century. After reading Floyd Ramsey's brief history myself, I realized many of the values Ray Gordon and his family had throughout the years, are still present at the resort today. The Indian Head Resort has been and always will be a home away from home for guests and employees alike.
We thank Floyd W. Ramsey for researching and writing such a great piece on our early history. May he rest in peace and his memory live on.
All photos with a Vintage Postcard caption are available for sale in our Gift Shop.