The magnificent Poland Spring Resort, including the Poland Spring House, Mansion House, hilltop grounds and golf course, earned a world-class reputation as a luxurious destination for summer rest and relaxation in the so-called “gilded age” from about 1860 to 1900. But a couple decades later, Poland Spring made a bold attempt at becoming a winter resort, too.

Such enterprises, which were popular in Europe, gained attention in America in the early 1900s. The spectacular success of Poland Spring as a summer vacation destination for wealthy families waned after the “Gay Nineties.” For a few years, the Ricker family, noted owners of the Poland Spring resort, opened the establishment for winter tourists, something that was a new but up-and-coming idea for Maine.

L.C. Bateman, a well-known writer for the Lewiston Evening Journal, wrote about the winter recreational attractions after visiting the resort in January 1915.

“Here and there, a muffled figure could be seen on snowshoes or skis, just starting out for the morning tramp through the deep forest or across the distant hills,” he wrote.

Cross-country and downhill skiing, as well as ski-jumping, were specialized Scandinavian sports at that time.

“We drew up in front of the Mansion House just as a big party was entering, (its) sleigh drawn by four splendid black and white horses,” the article states. “The occupants were heavily clothed in furs as a protection against the crisp, cold air, while the horses champed at the bits in their eagerness to start on the long drive. Farther on, others of a hardier nature were indulging in the excitement of the toboggan slide, most kingly of the royal winter sports at Poland.”

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Bateman noted that Poland Spring had been regarded as a winter resort for only a few years, “but during that time, its growth in that direction has been something marvelous.”

That year’s holiday season business had reached “the utmost limits,” he wrote.

“The great summer hotel has never been open for winter guests, but these have been cared for in the Mansion House,” an older and equally elegant building nearby, the article states. Another building, called the Riccar Inn, was added in 1914, providing an additional 80 suites, “each with bath, telephone and all modern conveniences.”

“Riccar” was the historic spelling of the family name.

The winter clientele was not as elite as the summer guests from Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania, as well as other states and a few foreign countries. Nevertheless, this was not a day destination; families stayed for several days or a couple of weeks.

“The toboggan slide is perhaps the most famous because it requires the most steady nerves and daring,” the article states. “This slide is 1,500 feet long and reaches to the Middle Range Pond with a swift descent the entire distance. With a half-dozen people on the toboggan, the narrow roadway is traveled with tremendous speed and the momentum gained is so great that the sled is shot clear across the lake to the other shore, a distance of three-quarters of a mile.”

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Teams of horses and sleighs were stationed at the end of the ride to bring riders back, the article states.

There was a coasting hill for children near the Mansion House, where a long sled was placed atop an inclined platform.

“After being loaded with children, it is shot off like a catapult,” the article states.

The Poland Spring managers also provided a 90- by 100-foot skating rink, illuminated by electric lights at night and flooded often to provide perfect ice.

Bateman’s descriptions of the winter fun at Poland Spring held a few surprises. One of the delights on the grounds were the gray squirrels, which were “exceedingly tame.”

“They love to dive in the pockets of the guests in their search for nuts,” Bateman wrote. “The squirrels had nests in boxes placed among the branches of the big trees. Take away these beautiful, little animals and a great attraction of Poland Spring would be gone.” 

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The winter resort at Poland Spring never rose to the level of today’s ski resorts, and the emphasis was on extended stays rather than day trips.

Another part of the Poland Spring appeal in the early 1900s was a system of baths featuring Poland Spring water, famous for its supposed curative powers.

“Poland Spring: A Tale of the Gilded Age, 1860-1990” is a fascinating and authoritative book by David L. Richards that describes the resort’s prime years.

More information is available on the Poland Spring Preservation Society’s website, www.polandspringps.org, and in its book, “Images of America: Poland Spring.”

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and a native of Auburn. He can be reached by sending email to [email protected]


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