Lea Wait, here. Last Saturday I spent the day at the Poland Spring Resort. My husband, Bob Thomas, and I drove through the columns that read, “Stress Free Zone,” around the 18-hole golf course, and set up our antique booth with other antique and craft dealers in front of the Main Inn, one of the three inns and ten cottages you can stay in there.
We were part of Maine’s first Dooryard Festival. I sold my books and antique prints; one of Bob’s paintings was on display in the Maine State Building, where, we were both thrilled to find out, it won the award for “best painting.” A good day.
But wearing my historian’s hat, all day I felt the presence of the past. Of the Poland Spring Resort as it had been during America’s Gilded Age, when it competed with resorts in Newport and Long Branch (NJ) as a vacation destination for the upper middle class and wealthy. Opened in 1879, at its height the Poland Spring Resort had 350 guest rooms or suites, many with private bathrooms (a real luxury at the time) and all offering “cooling breezes”. It even had, by the end of the century, elevators. Guests could not only sit on the piazza and read or chat — they could play tennis, golf, or baseball, take walks, or cycle. They could exercise in the health club, or indulge in the beauty parlor or barber shop; listen to an edifying lecture; be immortalized in the photo studio. Even then men would not want to be far from their offices, so Western Union had an office in the hotel, near the newspaper and gift shop, and the Inn itself published a weekly newspaper listing events at the hotel. The nearby Shaker community at Sabbathday Lake had a gift shop at the hotel. The large dining hall served over 300 guests at a time; private dining halls served additional guests the requisite large and lengthy Victorian meals. (No liquor: the Poland Spring Resort was a temperance hotel. At least officially.)
The dramatic lobby featured a wide oak staircase, stained glass windows, fireplaces, and entrances to both the men’s and women’s parlors as well as the casino, the game room, and the ballroom, where musical groups, often musicians from the Boston Symphony Orchestra, played. Of course, balls were also held there. Throughout, there was a “refined presence,” as well as the “healthy atmosphere,” and, of course the “healthy mineral waters” to be found at Poland Spring.
The Inn fell on hard times during the Depression, when maintenance of such a huge property proved impossible. Later, the US government leased parts of the property and the Job Corps used it as the largest women’s training center in the country. In 1969 the Poland Spring House, as it had been re-named, was closed. In 1975 the beautiful old building, by then in sad repair, burned to the ground.
But in 1982 new owners purchased the property and brought the site back to life. Today the Poland Spring Resort (http://www.polandspringresort.com)
still has an 18 hole golf course, tennis courts, an outdoor swimming pool, and some of the most reasonable prices for accommodations in Maine today. It’s not glamorous, but it is charming in an old-style way. I’ve stayed there, for a writers’ retreat, and I can vouch for it. You smile a lot when you stay there.
You can walk to see the original (mid-19th century) Poland Spring bottling facility. The Maine State Building where Bob’s art hung was Maine’s contribution to the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, brought back to Maine after the Fair, and now home to the Maine Golf Hall of Fame, and a museum about the history of Poland Springs.
There’s a beautiful chapel, where there are concerts, and almost every summer weekend, weddings.
The Poland Spring Resort, in Poland, Maine. It’s worth a visit. A smile. It will give you a glimpse of Maine’s history. And, perhaps best of all — it’s a stress-free zone.