HOSTELS STILL YOUNG, GROWING AT 50
. . . There are youth hostels in every New England state, 40 in all, adding up to the greatest regional concentration in the country. Massachusetts has 15 hostels while in all of Texas there are only two; and in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Kansas and South Dakota and a number of other states none at all. "The AYH started in a small Massachusetts town and spread to other small towns nearby," said Robert Johnson, AYH executive director, "there is a nice network of hostels in New England, almost ideal for the touring cyclist." . . .
In 1932 the first international hostel conference was held in Holland. At the conference, . . . the delegates adopted the basic operating rules that still govern hostels around the world: alcoholic beverages are forbidden, smoking is restricted to a common room, and hostelers must share cleaning chores and provide their own sleeping sacks in lieu of sheets.
The conference took place on the eve of the Nazi take over of Germany, a time when fear of another world war was already widespread in Europe. Like Schirrmann, most of the delegates were peace-loving idealists who agreed hostels must be open to everyone, regardless of race or religion (a concept anathema to the Nazis) and that national hostel associations should honor each other's membership cards, allowing hostelers to move freely between countries — and in the process promote international friendship. These seemingly moderate guidelines have slowed the growth of the movement in countries such as South Africa (and also in parts of the American South) but remain basic hosteling principles. Despite opposition in some places, there are now more than 5000 hostels on every continent and in 62 countries, including several eastern European nations.
The AYH was founded by Monroe and Isabel Smith, Northfield school teachers and scout leaders, who had been greatly impressed by the European hostel system while on a continental bike tour. Like Schirrmann's original facility, many European hostels occupied castles, a type of building in short supply most places in the US, but as the Smiths knew, not in Northfield. One of the town landmarks was The Chateau, . . . in December 1934 the Smiths leased it and opened a hostel on the Schirrmann model. (The first guests were skiers.) The Chateau, which has since been torn down, was impressive but singularly uncomfortable: cold, damp, drafty and decrepit. . . .
Within a few months, the Smiths moved to snugger quarters, two adjoining buildings on Main Street that served both as hostel and AYH national office until 1947, when the headquarters was moved to Washington where it remains. However, there is still a youth hostel in Northfield: The Monroe and Isabel Smith Seasonal Hostel on the campus of Northfield-Mount Hermon School, where the AYH founders taught. . . .
While New England is well supplied with hostels, many parts of the country are not. "There are 15 states where our presence is either nonexistent or so limited that there is no public perception of us," Johnson admitted. It is theoretically possible to drive across the country staying in hostels each night, he said, "but you would have to take a pretty funny route." The AYH is trying systematically to fill in the gaps in its network, and to adapt the hostel concept to the changing needs and nature of its membership. . . .
The new style planned hostel is likely to be in a major city, where there is the greatest great demand for such accommodation. Hostels were long open only to those who arrived "under their own steam" that is on foot or by bike, skiis or in a canoe, but the requirement was quitely dropped a few years ago.. . . .The change was made largely to make hostels more accessible to the increasing numbers of older people interested in using them. Despite the organization's name, there is no age limit for hostelers.
American Youth Hostels, Inc. (AYH), founded in Massachusetts and 50 years old this year, maintains a network of 300 hostels across the United States. Also, through the International Hostel Federation, AYH provides access to some 6000 hostels in more than 60 countries around the world.
Boston Globe, May 20, 1984