Hilton's promoted 'rest, romance, and recreation' for vacationers

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This early 1950s promotional card shows the wide array of activities and attractions that Hilton's offered to the tens of thousands of guests who came to vacation on the resort's scenic property.

Henry Engle started Elm Camp in 1916 on three acres on the bank of the Salmon River. Engle built the Main Bungalow (years later known as the Living Room in the Dining Room), installed electricity, telephone, and a water system,

 

Elm Camp was primarily a private camp supported by a growing canoe and boat rental business. In 1924 the resort consisted of boating facilities, the Main Bungalow, a garage, one log cabin, a tennis court and several outhouses, all located on the riverfront lawn.

 

In the early 1920s, UConn student Ted Hilton started a one-car taxi service, which grew to two vehicles. He had made numerous trips taking people to Moodus resorts, was entranced, and soon closed his two-car livery service to start working for Ingle.

In the spring of 1925, with the 24-year-old Hilton spearheading, there was a burst of progress in building a clientele of summer guests. Over the next two years, two bungalows were constructed and more sleeping and dining accommodations were provided. New facilities for outings of up to 200 persons were also added.

 

In 1927 the Hilton family bought out Henry Engle. Ted retained the title of Treasurer and Secretary and Elsie (Mrs. Hilton) became President.

 

The next 20 years brought much change. Elm Camp became The Hide-A-Way, then Ted Hilton’s Hide-A-Way, and finally just Ted Hilton’s. It was during these early Hilton years that a young teacher, Dorothy Lindvall, was hired as office manager.

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Ted Hilton, shown here at age 23, bought a car and started a taxi service while at UConn. That led to Hilton transporting people to various Moodus resorts. He quit the livery business to work with the owner of Elm Camp, eventually buying him out. He ended up creating a vacation mecca adjoining the Salmon River.

There was continuous construction from the 1930s through the 1950s as guest counts increased. The Hiltons bought adjacent land and developed the property from the riverfront to the highway. Cabins were built to house up to 500 overnight guests. The dining room was expanded. A horse barn was constructed (later the Sunrise Spa), more tennis courts (later the Big Pool) and handball courts (later the Frog) were also added.

Ted Hilton Built a Beautiful Salmon River Resort

 
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Ted Hilton was a great promoter of the resort and became a notable member of the resort industry. His philosophy was simple: give vacationers plenty of fun, food, and frolic, a tradition carried on by his successors. Guest shows, canoe trips and outdoor feasts were highlights of the vacation week.

 

In addition to providing vacation pastimes, Hilton had some guest rules. For example, alcohol was not sold on premises; bedtime was 11:00 PM; quiet hours were imposed; and the front gate was locked after midnight. Also, Hilton requested that guests not chop down the trees. 

Hilton died in 1957 after a three-year debilitating illness. After his death, Elsie and Ted, Jr. shared management responsibilities with longtime employee Dot Lindvall. Frank Davis, who had worked for the Hiltons throughout high school and college, returned to manage the kitchen. 

From 1957 to 1965, the first set of motel units was built, the BBQ pavilions were expanded, and construction of the Hilton’s home was completed (later Independence Hall).

In 1965, newlyweds Dot Lindvall and Frank Davis purchased the resort from the Hiltons. Joe Judge and Bob Johnson, who had worked at the resort during their high school and college years, signed on with the Davises as Food Service Manager and Office Manager, respectively.

For the next 20 years, the resort continued to offer “Rest, Romance, and Recreation” to thousands of loyal guests as it became more challenging for Moodus resorts to thrive in the age of cheap jet travel and recreational changes.

 

In 1986, Dot & Frank retired and the Johnson family bought the resort, continuing Hilton's traditions coupled with innovative new activities. The Johnson family renamed the resort Sunrise Resort, and over time instituted popular events such as Christmas in summer, Cajun and jazz music festivals. Sunrise also built its day business, hosting weddings, conventions, family reunions, company picnics, and graduation class trips.

 

Despite the Johnson's efforts, the 2008 season was the last year of operation for the venerable resort. After 92 years as a quintessential Moodus resort, the Johnson family sold the property to the state.

 

After failing to attract a private developer to redevelop the site, the state demolished most of the buildings and the scenic 146-acre property was reconfigured as a state park and campgrounds.

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It Was a Family Affair

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Staffers Worked Hard

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Guests Returned Year after Year

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The Salmon River Was the Star

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A Personal Reflection and History of Hilton's

“Ted Hilton’s to Sunrise: A Personal Reflection,” tells the story of the creation of the "Most Unique Resort in America," from its beginning as Elm Camp to its heyday as one of the most popular resorts in New England.

 

Creator Ron Hamill bought his first 8mm film camera in 1965, at the age of 12. When his family spent a week at Ted Hilton’s the next year, he used his new camera skills to document their time at the resort. A few years ago, he digitized his film, which led to this charming personal reminiscence of Hilton's, featuring dozens of never-before-seen photos taken by former employees and guests.

 

Ted Hilton Created the "Most Unique Resort in America"

Once a cab driver, Hilton took over a tenting camp and became a masterful resort builder, operator, and promoter.

 

Guests Could Relax or Stay Busy

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Home-Cooked Meals and Riverside BBQs

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Water Sports, Beach Lounging, Canoes, and the Amphicar

The Salmon River was the main place for hanging and socializing from the start. When the pool was built, guests had another popular option for socializing, sunning, and swimming.

 

Activities Kept Guests as Busy as They Wanted to Be

From dawn to dusk, the resort offered a mix of athletics, social events, food feasts, and local sightseeing.

 

Fantastic Food Choices Kept the Guests Satisfied

BBQs, lobster picnics, lamb chop broils, smorgasbords, and pig roasts kept all full.

 

The Staff Was a Mix of Town Residents and Others

Great summer jobs were available for locals and out-of-towners. Many staffers returned each season.