‘It’s changing times’

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RUMFORD – Edmund S. Muskie stayed here, as did Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, most of the NBC news team, and thousands of other famous and not-so-famous people.

In its 70-year history, the Madison Motel and Restaurant has hosted banquets, dinners for two, college students enjoying the downstair’s bar and thousands of tourists visiting Western Maine’s mountains.

Then there were the businessmen, affiliated with the once numerous companies in the area.

Located on the banks of the Androscoggin River, the motel and restaurant complex is about to go through a major transformation: Within two years, it will be the site of 30 one- and two-bedroom condominium units, all with a view of the river.

Richard Theriault, owner of the complex for more than 40 years, closed the deal on a partnership with Dyke Associates, a development company based in Windham, last week. The partnership plans to sink about $2.5 million into the project.

“It’s time to convert it. The market is there and there’s a lot to offer here,” he said Wednesday afternoon from his elegant, spacious home attached to the east wing of the motel.

At the height of the motel/restaurant’s popularity, it employed 50 people.

Theriault said the fishing, skiing, hiking, snowmobiling and other outdoor activities available in the region is bound to draw seasonal and year-round people to Rumford, particularly when the pre-sale price of the units range from $99,000 to $275,000, and the complex sits on 22 acres, including 3,000 feet of riverfront. Prices could change later.

One unit has already been sold, and the marketing hasn’t really begun, Theriault said.

Condo owners will have access to a pool, health spa, meeting room and a view. They also will have all the yard work done for them.

The motel began in 1934 as two tourist cabins built by Vincent Bernier. In the late 1940s, Arthur Madison added several more tourist cabins. From then on, the complex was known as Madison’s. In the 1960s, the cabins were moved, and eventually, the restaurant was built.

Theriault said when he returned to Rumford and became a partner in the project, in 1963 with Ralph Stearns, expansion got going, and continued through Rumford’s boom years up until the 1980s.

Twenty units and his home were destroyed by fire in 2002 as he was sailing in Alaska. The home was rebuilt.

Theriault remembers a visit by the NBC news team in the 1960s when the Green Berets were training just west of Rumford in the Mahoosuc Mountains. He remembers visits by Sen. George Mitchell, Hugh Chisholm’s grandson Bill Chisholm, and Ethyl Corp. owner Floyd Gottwald.

Helicopters have landed on the motel’s lawn, and native son Edmund Muskie frequently visited the motel and restaurant.

During one of those visits, Theriault remembers standing on his home’s porch with Muskie, looking at the river.

Muskie expressed his enthusiasm about the view, Theriault said.

“I told him I don’t fish it because it isn’t clean,” he said.

It was then that Muskie said he had plans to do something about the polluted waters. The result was the Clean Water Act of the 1970s.

Theriault, 73, graduated from Stephens High School, served in the U.S. Army, and established businesses in Texas before returning to his hometown. He has traveled all over the world, and plans to continue.

He’s hunted on safari in Africa, piloted planes, scuba dived and captained sailing vessels.

Next month, around his birth date, he and his wife, Anita, plan another trip to Africa, this time to the northern country of Tunisia.

“It’s changing times for the Madison. We’re changing,” he said.

If the condo project is successful, he said an additional 40 units may be built on what is now the adjacent campground.

Although he’ll continue to play a role in the development of the condo project, in some ways he feels like a man without a job.

“It’s not the happiest or saddest time. It’s a confusing time,” he said.

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