The Tillotson conquest
This past Saturday, a group of us set off to conquer Mont Hereford. At 850m high (about 2500 ft), it is among the tallest peaks in the Townships and the wintry conditions provided enough of a challenge for us. I was joined by my husband and our friends, one of whom studied wildlife biology. The Neil Tillotson trail scales the mountain along the supposed 5.7km path starting at a red pine plantation, then along a beautiful river with numerous crossings, winding through a mixed spruce-maple-birch forest and evening out in the spruce wetlands (probably a shallow forested bog but too snow covered for me to say exactly which type). About 2km in, the human footprints stopped and made way for the abundant wildlife markings. Moose, deer, squirrels, grouse, hare, porcupine and lots of Canis prints but couldn’t say if it was fox or coyote. Really exciting for a couple of biology keeners!
We stopped at the first look-out, almost 4km in. Feeling great, we set off for the last stretch. It was the hardest section of the trail, ascending rapidly especially in the last kilometer. The deceivingly gorgeous sunshine did not prepare us for the icy blast about 100m from the summit when the trees cleared. Situated along the border, it provided a great vantage point to survey all the nearby peaks from New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont and Quebec, including Mount Washington, Mont Orford, and Sugarloaf. There was a plaque at the top in memory of the man whose name was given to the trail. I took several snapshots but didn’t take the time to really capture the beauty because the wind was blasting us. We quickly left the summit and found a sheltered spot to lunch. We hiked back down as quickly as our fatiguing bodies permitted us to get out before sunset so, unfortunately, I don’t have many good pictures.
Upon our return, my husband inquired “Who was Neil Tillotson?” I am normally full of random facts and knowledge but I couldn’t answer this one. Going through yesterday’s pictures, I was reminded of this question and decided to look it up. He’s actually quite interesting so here it goes.
Dixville Notch is a small community just down the road and across the border, in New Hampshire. You may know the town because of the attention it attracts every four years on Election Day in the United States. Home to the Balsams Resort (a hotel he bought in 1954), Dixville Notch opens its polls at midnight on voting day with the polling station at the resort. The first person to vote in EVERY election starting in the 1960s until 2000 was Neil Tillotson. The story is that he would hold his ballot in the air until the stroke of midnight, when he would place it in the box. All other registered voters would then follow suit. He also voted first in the Republican primaries and the Dixville Notch polling station has voted in support of every eventual nominee for President since 1964.
Born in neighbouring Vermont, he started out in the rubber business after dropping out of school. His first employer, The Hood Rubber factory, was shuttered during the Great Depression, leaving Mr. Tillotson jobless. So what to do? He took some latex from the company before the building was locked up and started doing some experimenting in his attic laboratory. While tinkering, he covered a model of a cat’s head with liquid latex, let it dry, peeled it off and then blew into it. The balloon retained its shape while inflated and so the modern latex balloon was invented. He first sold the product to a Bostonian company but upon seeing the popularity, he started his own company.
The company manufactured many rubber and latex items but his second invention was much more practical than the first. In the early 1960s, his company developed a latex glove for medical purposes that could stretch to fit any size hand. Before this, surgeons had to use rubber gloves that were sterilized between procedures so they could be reused (ack!). Despite being an already successful manufacturing company, the new gloves brought the company more business.
Neil Tillotson passed away in 2001, two months shy of 103rd birthday. He remained a resident of Dixville Notch until the end. The Tillotson Corporation still operates and he remained active in the company until the 1990s. The Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund was established in 2006 to support initiatives in the North Country and the MRC of Coaticook. In 2007-2008, the Fund supported the development of the hiking trails of Mont Hereford. His life’s work was, and continues to be through legacy projects, an important driver of economic and social activity.
“Be humble, be creative and be kind” – Neil Tillotson