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Poland Spring: Summering in Fashion

This slideshow contains 25 items
1
Rear entrance, Poland Spring Resort, ca. 1920

Rear entrance, Poland Spring Resort, ca. 1920

Item 25496 info
Poland Spring Preservation Society

Poland Spring was one of the most popular resorts in Maine during the glory days of the Gilded Age.

Its history begins earlier, however.

The family of Jabez and Molly Ricker first came to the area in 1794 and began taking in travelers soon thereafter at what became known as the Wentworth Ricker Inn.


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Hiram Ricker, Poland Spring, ca. 1885

Hiram Ricker, Poland Spring, ca. 1885

Item 25528 info
Poland Spring Preservation Society

A member of the third generation of the Ricker family sought to transform the family homestead into something more lucrative than a country farm.

Hiram Ricker, born in 1809, came of age during the 1830s, and was the quintessential common man on the make turned ambitious entrepreneur.

He persisted through a string of a half dozen failed business ventures in manufacturing, lumbering, and transportation to preside over Hiram Ricker and Sons, a business empire that included two hotels and a thriving spring water business.


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Janette Wheeler Bolster Ricker, ca. 1880

Janette Wheeler Bolster Ricker, ca. 1880

Item 25529 info
Poland Spring Preservation Society

While Hiram never lacked for ideas, enthusiasm, and salesmanship, the business sense in the family seems to have come from his wife, Janette.

She was born into the successful and prominent Bolster family of Rumford in 1821 and married Hiram in 1846.

Her influence helped settle affairs after his failed business ventures.

Although women of the era generally could not play prominent public roles, Janette Ricker was widely revered as a supportive wife, loving mother, and gracious host up until the time of her death in 1883.


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Ricker siblings, Poland Spring, 1926

Ricker siblings, Poland Spring, 1926

Item 25530 info
Poland Spring Preservation Society

Hiram and Janette Ricker had six children, all but one of whom eventually had a hand in operating the resort.

In the photo, from left, are Alvan, who ran the farm that fed as many as a thousand mouths daily; Sarah, who supervised a Sunday School that served both the young people at the resort and in the surrounding community; eldest son Edward, responsible for the hotels; eldest daughter Cynthia, the only daughter to marry, who moved to Massachusetts with her husband, Oliver Marsh; the youngest son, Hiram, who oversaw the water business; and Janette, known as "Nettie."


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Map of the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada

Map of the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada

Item 9536 info
Maine Historical Society

Tourism mostly rode the rails and the transportation revolution came to Poland Spring in 1849.

At first, the Atlantic & St. Lawrence cut into the coach and horseback traffic that plied the county road running through the Ricker’s property.

After the Civil War, the rail line became a draw rather than a drain for the resort.

The Rickers operated a stage service from Danville Junction, which brought passengers the final six miles to Poland Spring.


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Ricker brothers, Poland Spring, ca. 1890

Ricker brothers, Poland Spring, ca. 1890

Item 25519 info
Poland Spring Preservation Society

The guarded gates that regulated entry to the resort were opened to “the representative people of our country.”

That term applied to a social class represented by an urban elite such as businessmen, doctors, lawyers, professors, and ministers.

During the 1890s, two-thirds of the patrons came from large cities with Portland, Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and Chicago the leading points of origin.


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Poland Spring House, ca. 1886

Poland Spring House, ca. 1886

Item 25508 info
Poland Spring Preservation Society

Despite the urban origins of most of the guests, many were small-town New England boys and girls at heart.

Like Hiram Ricker, they had been born and raised in the countryside then gone off to the big city to make a fortune or at least learn business skills they could bring back home.

A surprising number of resort patrons were real live historical manifestations of William Dean Howells’ archetypal Gilded Age businessman, Silas Lapham.

The best example is Byron Moulton. Like Lapham, he was a Vermont farm boy who made his fortune in post-Civil War urban America.

This popular Philadelphia businessman and his family spent their summers at Poland Spring for many years during the late nineteenth century.


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Crowd at Poland Spring House, ca. 1886

Crowd at Poland Spring House, ca. 1886

Item 25548 info
Poland Spring Preservation Society

Economist Thorstein Veblen dubbed the acquisitive urban elite the "leisure class."

The ability to recreate rather than work partly defined their status; so, too, did their conspicuous consumption.

At resorts such as Poland Spring, a corollary conspicuous display distinguished the rising "fashionables" from the more established "solids."


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William Howard Taft, Poland Spring, 1911

William Howard Taft, Poland Spring, 1911

Item 25532 info
Poland Spring Preservation Society

Poland Spring was in the second tier of Gilded Age resorts, in the company of scores of hotels in the White Mountains and all along the northeastern seaboard from Mount Desert Island to Cape May, New Jersey.

The best known and wealthiest families -- the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts and the like -- summered in the hotels of Saratoga, New York, mansions of Newport, Rhode Island, and cottages of Bar Harbor.

The celebrity age of Poland Spring’s history did not come until the twentieth century. In this photo, President William Howard Taft poses in front of the Spring House. Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Warren Harding also visited the resort. Joseph Kennedy liked to bring his young family of aspiring politicians.

Then there were the sports celebrities like Gene Tunney, Babe Ruth, and Sonny Liston, and entertainers like John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Jimmy Durante, Robert Goulet, and Martin Milner.

In the 1960s, Jack Paar even owned a piece of the resort, as his television station, WMTW, was headquartered there.


10
N.N. Francis, Poland Spring, ca. 1910

N.N. Francis, Poland Spring, ca. 1910

Item 25516 info
Poland Spring Preservation Society

Through the gated entrances put in place in 1894, the Rickers guarded their resort’s social exclusivity vigilantly.

The great fear was that their city on the hilltop might be overrun by "picnickers and excursionists," a code phrase for the Franco-American mill workers from nearby Lewiston and Auburn.

They and their guests specifically did not want the resort to become another Old Orchard Beach. Hence, access was tightly restricted.

Select Penobscot Indian families like the Francises were allowed to set up an encampment near the spring to sell handmade wares such as baskets.


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Mansion House, Poland Spring, 1884

Mansion House, Poland Spring, 1884

Item 25512 info
Poland Spring Preservation Society

The two-and-a-half-story portion of the Mansion House, the original Ricker home, accommodated not only family members, but also guests as the Wentworth Ricker Inn.

As the resort became more popular after the Civil War, the renamed Mansion House grew to include the tower to the right. An ell was also built off the back.

In the early twentieth century, a Bath Department was attached to the sprawling complex. With all its additions, the facility could board about 200 guests.

Despite the many renovations over the years, the building always retained its historic homey feel. It became the symbol of the colonial revival at the resort, the proud, albeit slightly xenophobic repository of native nobility in a nation being transformed by waves of immigration.


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Poland Spring House, 1889

Poland Spring House, 1889

Item 25520 info
Poland Spring Preservation Society

As the nation approached its centennial, the rising popularity of the resort required added accommodations beyond the Mansion House.

The accompanying hotel opened in time for the 1876 summer season was the Poland Spring House. It became known as "the mecca of the fashion, the wealth, and the culture of the country."

The Poland Spring House also grew over time until it could hold up to 500 patrons.


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Dining room, Poland Spring, ca. 1910

Dining room, Poland Spring, ca. 1910

Item 25533 info
Poland Spring Preservation Society

The appointments of the Poland Spring House befit the lofty status and luxurious tastes of its guests.

They lounged on shaded verandas, relaxed in elegant parlors, played in well-equipped casinos, were entertained in a spacious Music Hall, and took their meals in a stately dining room.

Attended by table girls dressed in white, families ate sumptuous meals prepared by chefs in the kitchen using food from the resort dairy, orchards, fields, and gardens; local farms; and stocks ranging from anchovies to vermicelli procured by Alvan Ricker at markets as far away as Boston.


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Poland Spring bottling plant, ca. 1920

Poland Spring bottling plant, ca. 1920

Item 25503 info
Poland Spring Preservation Society

What gave Poland Spring its international fame was the water.

This photo depicts a glass enclosure built to protect the original spring source.

Water had bubbled up to the surface long before the Rickers arrived on the scene.

Several stories circulated about miraculous cures. One in 1844 that the water had healed Hiram’s upset stomach eventually took hold as the origin of the water business.

Water did not become an active and viable commercial enterprise until 1860, however. That is when Hiram Ricker began advertising the water for sale and encouraging doctors to prescribe it medicinally.


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Spring House, Poland, 1885

Spring House, Poland, 1885

Item 25497 info
Poland Spring Preservation Society

As the water business grew to a therapeutic spa and worldwide enterprise, the Rickers had to expand and improve facilities.

The Spring House in this photo dates to 1883. It was replaced in 1906 by an impressive stone and marble structure that still stands at Poland Spring.

While Hiram Ricker, the man with the long flowing beard in the center of the picture, could serve his guests by the glassful at the spring source, the bulk of the product was destined for shipment to Poland Spring water depots in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago; agents all across the country, and even a few overseas purveyors.


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Bottling plant, Poland Spring, ca. 1920

Bottling plant, Poland Spring, ca. 1920

Item 25502 info
Poland Spring Preservation Society

The Rickers also had a new, state-of-the-art Bottling Plant constructed in 1906, the same year that Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act after decades of debate.

The Rickers went to great lengths to assure customers of the sanitary standards maintained in the entire manufacturing process from source to plumbing to bottling to packaging to labeling.

Workers showered before entering the work floor and wore white lab uniforms while there.

Purity was the obsession of the day and the Rickers considered their work "the ministry of pure water."


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Baseball game, Poland Spring, ca. 1900

Baseball game, Poland Spring, ca. 1900

Item 25534 info
Poland Spring Preservation Society

One of the many appeals of a Poland Spring vacation during the late nineteenth century was the opportunity to recreate.

Some recreation was sedentary -- reading, conversing, and card playing. But as the leisure ethic took hold, the recreation became increasingly more physical.

Fishing and boating on the ponds, croquet and tennis on the grounds, and billiards and bowling indoors added various degrees of strenuous activity to urban lives that often lacked much exercise.

Contests could be fiercely competitive. In fact, the baseball team included hired ringers to compete against teams from surrounding communities.

Two college athletes who played for the team, Mike Powers and Louis Sockalexis, went on to play major league baseball.

Support for the team came from prominent patrons such as Arthur Soden and Charles Taylor, who owned the professional teams in Boston that would eventually become known as the Braves and Red Sox.


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President Harding, Poland Spring, 1921

President Harding, Poland Spring, 1921

Item 6752 info
Maine Historical Society

"The game of all games," baseball, was supplanted by a new sport in 1896 -- golf. Indeed, home plate of the diamond became the first tee of the golf course.

The resort even came up with a catchy slogan to sell the sport: "Golf Is King at Poland Spring."

Children and adults, women and men were all invited to hit the links. They did so in droves and with great gusto. The competitive playing field was leveled by golf’s handicap scoring system.

Tournaments and skills competitions abounded. Trophies and prizes were contested keenly.

In this photograph President Warren Harding tees off during a visit to the resort in 1921.


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Fete, Poland Spring resort, 1901

Fete, Poland Spring resort, 1901

Item 25517 info
Poland Spring Preservation Society

As a social Mecca, the resort encouraged a high degree of theatricality.

The conspicuous consumption of the leisure class led to the conspicuous display of promenading down the piazza, parading through the dining room, preening in public parlors, doing the hop and performing at masquerades in the Music Hall, and posturing and posing at fetes.

Hotel lore had it that one female patron from Philadelphia remained in her room during her entire stay, embarrassed because she had neglected to pack her finest gowns and best jewels.


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Maine State Building, Poland Spring, ca. 1900

Maine State Building, Poland Spring, ca. 1900

Item 25525 info
Poland Spring Preservation Society

The resort also offered cultural activities, many centered in the Maine State Building.

The building was constructed to represent the State of Maine at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. When the fair ended in 1894, the Rickers claimed their home state’s building.

It was painstakingly disassembled, hauled back to Maine aboard 16 railroad cars, and reassembled in a shaded pine grove between the Poland Spring and Mansion Houses. The reassembled Maine State Building was rededicated at Poland Spring on July 1, 1895.

It exemplified the transformation of the site from a country farm in 1860 to a "summer city" by the turn of the century.

Moreover, it symbolized one aspect of the resort’s cultural significance as "a city of vivid contrasts." At the antimodern end of the spectrum was escape from urban life and retreat to the romantic virtues of natural surroundings and the classical values of the pastoral landscape.

At the other end was the retention of urban amenities. Influenced by the precepts of the city beautiful movement, the Maine State Building served many of the functions – art gallery, museum, library, and newspaper – that the urban elite believed elevated intelligence and uplifted morals, thereby advancing culture and civilization.


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Interior, Maine State Building, Poland Spring, ca. 1900

Interior, Maine State Building, Poland Spring, ca. 1900

Item 25526 info
Poland Spring Preservation Society

The interior of the Maine State Building featured three levels.

The first floor contained an office, the library, a reading room under the rotunda, and museum displays.

The upper floor was used to exhibit paintings and sculptures. With her interest and training in art, Nettie Ricker organized the annual summer art shows at her family’s resort.

Complete with catalogs, the displays included not only successful Maine painters such as Scott Leighton, D. D. Coombs, and Harriette Wood Robinson, but also nationally prominent artists such as Benjamin Champney, John Enneking, and Alexander Pope.


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Frank Griffith, Nettie Ricker, Poland Spring, ca. 1900

Frank Griffith, Nettie Ricker, Poland Spring, ca. 1900

Item 25545 info
Poland Spring Preservation Society

The Maine State Building was the domain of Frank Carlos Griffith as well as Nettie Ricker, both shown in the photo.

The tandem organized the art exhibits and co-edited for several years the resort newspaper, The Hill-Top.

Another small-town Maine country boy who had found success in the big city, Griffith was for most of the year a theatrical agent.

For over three decades, he faithfully returned to Poland Spring during the summertime to inform patrons through newspapers and books and inspire them with natural history and art displays.


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Aerial view, Poland Spring resort, ca. 1930

Aerial view, Poland Spring resort, ca. 1930

Item 25513 info
Poland Spring Preservation Society

This aerial photograph shows the layout of the resort at its maximum extent, which came to encompass 5,000 acres by the mid-twentieth century.

In the foreground is one of the three Range Ponds that bordered the northern end of the resort and provided refreshing summer recreational opportunities for fishing, boating, and swimming.

The woods to the east protected the spring and provided paths for walking and riding. The golf course made up much of the upper half of the open ground. The lower half is the pastoral landscape of fields, pastures, and crops that formed the resort farm.

The most prominent feature of the built environment is the Poland Spring House atop the hill and at the center of the property.


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The Mt. Kineo, Kineo, ca. 1915

The Mt. Kineo, Kineo, ca. 1915

Item 17483 info
Maine Historical Society

The glory days of the Poland Spring resort covered the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Thereafter, the tourism business changed decisively because of an innovation that first arrived in 1901: the automobile.

The auto gave guests greater mobility and freed them from long stays at one hotel. They could motor off to lake retreats in Naples, Belgrade, Rangeley, and Rockwood or to any of the many ocean hotels along the Maine coast.

The Rickers bought the Samoset Hotel in Rockland and Mt. Kineo House on Moosehead Lake to capture some of the expanded business.

Through the Ricker Hotel Company, the family also expanded southward to manage the Forrest Hills Ricker in Augusta, Georgia.


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Poland Spring House, ca. 1935

Poland Spring House, ca. 1935

Item 25514 info
Poland Spring Preservation Society

In addition to the rise of motor touring, other external factors also contributed to the demise of the grand Victorian resorts of the Gilded Age.

Events such as World War I and the Great Depression brought tourism to screeching halts.

The Rickers always blamed their declining fortunes on the introduction of the federal income tax in 1913. More decisive, however, were internal family dynamics and missteps.

The grandsons of Hiram Ricker did not possess the same "hotel blood" as the sons had. Edward, Hiram, and Alvan died between 1928 and 1933, just as the Great Depression hit in full force.

Within a few years the family lost control of the resort. It passed through a succession of owners, each of whom tried unsuccessfully to retain the Gilded Age ambience and elegance.

That era, however, had passed forever.


This slideshow contains 25 items