As that first trip of mine to Rangeley progressed that summer, my aunt and uncle delighted in  introducing me to all the things they had experienced in the area over the years. At that time, the Rumford millwas still owned by the family of its founder, Hugh J. Chisholm. The Oxford Paper Company, as it was then called, used to give regular tours of their papermaking operations. We went, and it was fascinating. In later years, this mill- like most in Maine and elsewhere- fell on hard times, due to foreign competition.  The once prosperous and bustling small city of Rumford fell into decay.  One need only to visit the Hotel Harris, an impressive structure built in 1906 (about the same time the mill was established) and listed on The National Register of Historic Places, to experience the downfall. My wife, Cindy, and I recently walked in to the lobby., which is now shabby, dirty and dilapidated, with no one in attendance.  Still, it is a great room of flamboyant proportions, and one cannot help but imagine its former grandeur, as one walks up to the old reception desk, eerily resembling a scene from a Stephen King novel.  It was sad to see all the now vacant stores on the adjacent streets, and the houses in varying degrees of disrepair, especially since my first memories were of a vibrant, productive little city.  Ironically, the mill was recently purchased by a Chinese corporation that is investing money in it.  The fortunes of Rumford are inextricably tied to that mill, and one can only hope that federal attempts to reverse the outrageous trade imbalances will be successful, creating renewed opportunities for the manufacture of paper at U.S. mills. A drive through the residential  areas will reveal scores of examples of beautiful architecture, well built and yearning to be swept up in the renovations of a Rumford Renaissance. As a kid, I thought about none of that, only being impressed by the workings of this great mill, a slice of the Industrial Revolution.
Thankfully, the physical appearance of  “downtown” Rangeley has not really changed that much since I fist saw it in 1958. Being somewhat of an Ayn Rand libertarian, I am not thrilled with the ever growing amount of control that state and local governments have over what an owner can or cannot do with their property. That said, I admit to being fully in favor of architectural commissions that safeguard the integrity of historical structures and neighborhoods, such as those in Boston’s Back Bay and Beacon Hill sections, and even on Nantucket Island. There will always be some egotistical fool ready to build a chrome and glass monstrosity in the middle of a block of historic brownstones, as recently occurred in Portland, or who wants to put a McDonald’s on Main Street in Rangeley. I’m not sure if the town has legislated such controls, and if not, I sure hope it does.
Back then, the town had two grocery stores, the IGA and the First National.  In addition, there was an old time butcher shop, the Main Street Market, run by the Oakes. How that little community supported all these stores I don’t know, but they did. Coming from a city environment, I quickly came to the startling realization that everyone knew everyone else in Rangeley, and now I understand that what I wanted was to be a part of it.  And why not?  Wherever I looked, there was stunning scenery, and just about everyone I met was friendly and nice to me. Please understand that this was a far cry from the neighborhood where I lived.  This was Home Town America, right out of a Norman Rockwell painting, and I loved it!
The old Lakeside Theater was a prime example.  It had a tin roof, and good luck hearing the sound if you happened to be watching a movie in a rainstorm.  Another nice touch was the bats who  inevitably came out to fly around the theater, to the horror of some moviegoers. The manual changing of the reels seemed to take forever.  But it was all in good fun, and the Lakeside was often packed during the summer.  Sometimes they had matinees, so on one such occasion I decided to walk the five miles into town from Sam-O-Set to go to the movies. My uncle Saul had been born in 1900, which made it very easy to keep track of his age, then 58.  To a 13 year old, that was ancient.   Imagine my surprise, as I walked down the hill towards the Rangeley Inn, to see him following a little ways behind. I had no idea that a man of such advanced age could possibly make such a trek!  He had arranged for my aunt Bertha to pick us up afterwards, when we would all go out to dinner.
I loved them like an extra set of parents, which they essentially were.   To provide a bit of background here, I grew up on the first floor of a three decker in Dorchester, with two sets of aunts and uncles and my grandmother living on the second floor. There, the whole family, plus Bertha and Saul’s old Rangeley cohort, Johnny Watson, would gather for dinner every Friday night.  There were no other children. While this could be a good thing for me at times, the attention was accompanied by the burden of having that many people telling me what to do, and not do. The men were all making pretty good money by then, and Bertha was the executive secretary to the president of the Bentley School of Accounting and Finance, now Bentley University.  So, two years later in 1960, my father and my two uncles chipped in and bought a  large single family home in the suburb of Milton, into which all seven of us moved.  I lived in a world of adults, and I thrived on it. Each one of them imparted some of their unique knowledge to me, which has served me well throughout my life. One regret is that I did not find out more about my grandmother’s life in Czarist Russia, from whence she and her family had emigrated in the 1890’s. I had the strongest connection to  Bertha and Saul, undoubtedly magnified by the vacations in Rangeley, which happily continued for many years.
Following that first trip in 1958, Rangeley was always on my mind. I was a student at the austere and demanding Boston Latin School, where I frequently daydreamed about my experiences, while impatiently looking forward to next summer.  I joined the Radio Club at school, which led to my regular nighttime preoccupation with tuning in distant radio stations while in Rangeley.  I learned about the Doppler Skip phenomenon, which allows radio signals to be projected over unlikely distances, by bouncing off the ionosphere. I regularly picked up stations in Albany, NY, Chicago, Cleveland, Charleston, SC, and occasionally even more distant ones. We had no TV at Cabin 14, let alone computers or cell phones, and I am thankful for that.  It was a far simpler life, and at the risk of being accused of romanticizing the past, I’d say a far better one.


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