Poland Spring: The Inn, Not the Water

Near Entrance to Poland Spring Resort

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.

Bob's Painting that won 1st Prize!

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.  

Lea's husband Bob talking to customer in our booth

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.) 

Poland Spring Resort: Circa 1890

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 Maine Inn, Poland Spring Resort today

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)

Maine State Building at Poland Spring Resort

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. 

All Souls Chapel at Poland Spring Resort

 

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.

 

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6 Responses to Poland Spring: The Inn, Not the Water

  1. John Clark says:

    Thanks for reminding us about this bit of Maine history. The summer cottages on Campobello and the associated hotels that sprang up had a similar life span. For those interested in reading about the history of Poland Springs, I suggest Poland Spring : a tale of the Gilded Age, 1860-1900 / David L. Richards, published in 2005.

  2. Judy Donofrio says:

    Now that’s address (Maine State Building) I’d be proud to live at! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Barb Ross says:

    Bill and I were having our own Gilded Age adventure in Western, MA yesterday touring Edith Wharton’s beautiful home, The Mount. It will certainly have an impact on the imaginary Gilded Age mansion on the imaginary Maine Island that’s the setting for my new series.

    Today, there was an air quality advisory due to a fire at at electrical transmitter recycling plant in Ghent, NY, so despite the beautiful day, we stayed indoors. My activities today reminded me of Shadows of a Down East summer as I tried to track down an advertisement at the Norman Rockwell museum and figure out whether my grandmother posed for it.

  4. Lea Wait says:

    What fun! I’ve always wanted to visit Edith Wharton’s home … I know it was historically endangered a few years back, so am glad to know it is still around. Just proving I was a real nerd in high school, I collected her books then — went to library sales and such — and actually have quite a collection of her books, most of which are now out of print. She definitely lived in another time … even in the time she lived! She and her friend Henry James must have been quite a pair!

  5. Lea Wait says:

    Re: Edith Wharton — it’s been a long time — but as I remember, my favorite of her books was one of her more obscure ones — Hudson River Bracketed. I loved the way her “poor but socially acceptable” characters managed to live off their friends, “paying” through their charm and conversation, and hoping to marry well. Of course — for some years she did the same, writing in guest bedrooms. And then there was the erotica she wrote … a very interesting woman, to be sure!

  6. lil Gluckstern says:

    Thank you for the history story 🙂 I love these things. I’m so glad your husband’s painting won first prize, because I know it really touched me.

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