One of the most harrowing experiences in Maine life over the past few centuries must have been the calamity of fire. Houses, barns and in my thought process now, hotels.
I say this after perusing "Maine Lodges and Sporting Cabins," by Donald A. Wilson, (Arcadia Publishing, Portsmouth, N.H., 2005). Pictured are dozens of grand hotels, many through the inland parts of the state that burned to the ground.
Some were rebuilt. But in recent decades, the view was that they were too expensive to re-create especially if they were open only a few months per year.
My richest experience with "old" hotels was my working summers at the Samoset Hotel in Rockland. The first summer I worked there I was did room service in the morning, waiting on tables for pool lunch and then working in the bar from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. It made for a full day but since most employees were college students, there were many opportunities for shenanigans late in the evening. During my second summer there, I parked cars.
The Samoset burned in the early ‘70s. It was rebuilt as a “modern” brick-and-mortar structure, with condos and apartments added to the transient-tourist mix. It has one of the most picturesque golf courses in the country but in my view lacks charm.
Scores of other hotels in places like Greenville, Rangeley and Jackman have also gone with the wind, if a Yankee can use such a term. Pictured here is the Belgrade Inn in Belgrade Lakes.
The dinner menu offers a great duck, and it even has a few rooms available. But Belgrade once had many hotels and now this is one of the few. Too bad.
(An aside: The fishermen of past days caught – and kept – dozens of trout and other game fish. It’s a bit of a shock to think that one angler would come home with 30 trout but judging from these pictures in the book it was common. Also, a hotel near Moosehead had 17 deer hanging from the porch beams – presumably not shot by the same party.)
When I pass the Belgrade Inn or the "new" Samoset, I often think of how many families spent their summers in Maine. Tourists by the millions still come but there aren’t many of the great white elephant hotels around anymore to host them.