UPTON — The two houses on the Rapid River where best-selling author Louise Dickinson Rich lived will be split up by the sale of one and the hoped-for preservation of the other.
Rich’s first book, “We Took to the Woods,” was published in 1942 and became a national best-seller. It tells about her life with her husband and children in the wilds of Western Maine — stories, often filled with dry humor, of living off the land, bartering and trading for needed items, surviving winters and a hurricane, encountering woodsmen on log drives, and many other experiences.
The book became a regular on the reading list for Maine school classrooms, and Rich went on to write a total of 27 books.
Her family split its seasons between the Summer House, a large but poorly insulated home perched on the banks of the Rapid River, and the smaller but warmer Winter House, just a few steps away. Rich wrote in great detail about both the endearing and maddening qualities of each.
For example the Summer House, she said in part, “is big and airy and the walls are too thin for warmth and it sprawls all over the place. I like it because it is on a high bluff over the river, with a view and sun-light and space to spread out in; because it has a huge stone fire-place that will take four-foot logs and really heat the living-room in the wettest, coldest September rain storm; because there is a wide porch over the river … .”
For more than 50 years, Aldro French has owned the Rich property, known collectively as Forest Lodge. He restored the two houses from the rundown condition in which he bought them, and they are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
French has operated the property for many years as a fly-fishing lodge, welcoming visitors from all over.
He recently put the Summer House on the market and is asking $1.3 million for the historic home.
The house is still furnished with many things that belonged to the Riches, among them Louise’s typewriter and rolltop desk, an old crank telephone, a piano, a cookstove, pots and pans, and family photos.
Although that house is for sale, French is also pursuing his dream of preserving the Winter House as a museum dedicated to Louise Dickinson Rich.
Like the summer home, the Winter House also contains many original items from the Rich’s days there, including a wood stove, a brass bed and a wall papered by Louise with covers from the Saturday Evening Post.
The house is currently under lease to the Friends of Forest Lodge nonprofit group, to provide a means, at least in the short term, to keep it intact.
“But we need a better structure for the long term, in conjunction with the Friends,” French said Saturday. “I hope we can preserve it for mankind long after I’m gone.”
He has built his own “retirement home” — a small but cozy cabin within sight of the Winter House — and plans to remain near the river he loves.
Steve Wight of Newry, president of the FFL, described the organization’s hope for the Winter House:
“Currently we are working with Don Palmer and the Rangeley Historical Society to create a display of [Rich’s] life in the wonderful Oquossoc Sporting Heritage Museum that Don and his wife, Stephanie, opened last August, on the corner of Routes 17 and 4 in Oquossoc.
“Phase II will be to restore the Winter House and use it as an on-site museum with quarters for a curator/interpreter during the summer. The idea is that Don will work with the Friends of Forest Lodge to supply groups and individuals with information on ways of reaching the river.
“It is also my hope that we will work with Lakewood Camps to include tours of the museum in their guest offerings.” (Lakewood Camps are located about two miles from Forest Lodge, next to Middle Dam on Lower Richardson Lake.)
Volunteers from the Upton Historical Society have been working recently to help spruce up the Winter House.
Wight said that while the summer home might be more ideal as a museum, he hopes many of the key belongings will be saved for display in the Winter House or the Rangeley museum.
The summer property is expected to be featured in the September issue of Yankee Magazine.
For more on the lodge, go to French’s website at www.rapidriverflyfishing.com/home.html. For more information on the FFL preservation effort, contact Wight at 890-8356 or [email protected] The Friends also have a website at www.friendsofforestlodge.org.