What follows appeared on page 6 of the August 2, 1957, edition of the Rangeley Highlander and shares some interesting background about the now private Kennebago Lake Club and the interesting characters who ran it back when it was open to the public.

(All text reprinted just as it appeared in 1957. Bill’s commentary noted in italics).

The Kennebago Lake Club

It is believed that the site of the present Kennebago Lake Club was originally an Indian trading post, where the original in habitants of the Rangeley Region, the Abenakis, brought their furs to trade with the white man. In 1871 Ed Grant, Rangeley’s Baron Munchausen, opened a fishing camp for sportsmen at Kennebago. Today one can see the signatures of Ed’s first guests on the lobby walls. Back in- 1873 they registered by writing their names on the wall. Many tales can be told of Ed Grant, the first proprietor at Kennebago. Some years later this spot became too civilized for him, and he moved towards the Canadian border and opened his Seven Ponds Camps at Beaver Pond. (Ed Grant’s camps at Beaver Pond are now known as the exclusive; Megantic Fish and Game Club).

Following Ed Grant, the Richardson brothers ran the Kennebago Lake House for a number of years. Phineas Richardson, father of Prudence Richardson, built the hotel into a popular resort, and during his time a steamer ran on Kennebago Lake. Following Phin Richardson as proprietors were Look, Tibbetts, and J. Lewis York, father of Gerald York, who operated Kennebago from 1935 until his death. (York would later open York’s log Village at Loon Lake). Gerald York took over until 1949.

In 1948 Bud Russell purchased a half Interest in the hotel and in 1950 purchased the other half. In 1934, Bud Russell came to Rangeley from Massachusetts where he had been manager of the Orange-Athol Airport. He was looking for a place where the airplane would be used for transportation rather than sight-seeing trips and instruction. He started the Rangeley Seaplane base, which he operated until the beginning of the Second World War. In 1934, his motor swallowed a valve over Spotted Mt., and he made a forced landing In Kennebago Lake. This was the first time he had seen the place from the ground. Paddling to shore, he thought, “What a place for picture windows.” When he became owner of Kennebago Lake House, there were two things he wanted— picture windows on the lakeside and a cocktail lounge. At that time the lobby was sheathed and painted with green boat paint (one must assume “Rangeley Boat green”).


When the wall was cut through for the cocktail lounge, beautiful hand-hewn timbers were uncovered. After removing the sheathing, the cobwebs were scooped up in buckets and boxes. During this scooping, the old hinges, that now grace the big entrance -door, were unearthed. The walls of the cocktail lounge were an old board fence, and the bar is made of birch and old fence posts. Certainly, this cocktail lounge is a wonderful example of the Russells’ ingenuity. Since the Russells have taken over the helm at Kennebago, many changes have taken place. They have completely modernized the kitchen; and with the arrival of Hilda and Ray Douglass, the marvelous reputation of the Kennebago cuisine has grown and grown. In August of 1949, Bud, who learned road building and upkeep from his dad in Massachusetts, had over 350 rocks blown out of the Kennebago road. This road is no speedway, but it is safe when traveled sensibly. This spring after a lot of hard work, it was as smooth as a boulevard, with the result that Bud was driven off the road by a car traveling too fast. Right now, Bud’s not keeping this road too smooth. If it’s a little rough, people will drive carefully to protect their cars. This road is unique. To hurry is sacrilege, for when driving slowly you’ll see deer, foxes, raccoons, partridge, and even a flock of evening grosbeaks, which really don’t belong way up here. Also, on the Kennebago road is the long lost, and finally located, Intermittent Spring, so keep your eyes open. It’s by pole number 257. This spring is unusual since it boils up at night and disappears completely in the daytime. To augment the recreational facilities the Russells put one of the tennis courts back into excellent playing condition. One, however, could not be restored so it was turned into a horseshoe court. Badminton was added. And archery; then water skis and an aquaplane; a back board and basket for basketball; and two sailboats — one with a red sail and one with blue. This year’s addition is the popular pitch and put court. The Russells feel that there are still so many things to do that they think it would be fine if they could only live to be 500. Bud and Ooie Russell have two children. Joan, or Jody as she is called, and Neil, whom everyone knows as Bing. Jody is married to Gib Philbrick and has two children, Jack and Tommy. When Gib isn’t guiding at Kennebago, he manages to squeeze in some time to be the Principal of Clinton High School. Bing married Louise Crone and they have four children, Jill, Kurt, Jody and Jami. Three years ago, Lou and Bing went to California. He has been working in television and motion pictures. He is costarred in “Ride a Violent Mile’’, which will be released in late September. Needless to say, Bud and Ooie are pretty proud of this.

(Bud and Ooie spent winters in St. Petersburg, Fla. Near the New York Yankees’ spring training camp and Bud ran a sea plane service in the 1930s and 1940s. Bing became an unofficial mascot of and became friendly with players including joe DiMaggio and Lou Gehrig. It is reported that when Gehrig was stricken by the illness that would eventually bear his name, he gave young Bing the bat he used to hit his last home run before retiring. Bing Russell would go on to become a successful Hollywood actor and Minor League baseball team owner. He is best known for playing the role of Deputy Clem Foster on the hit television series Bonanza. He landed several movie roles including that of Robert in The Magnificent Seven in 1960. And yes, his son Kurt mentioned above is none other than Kurt Russell the successful present-day leading man appearing in several blockbuster movies and is married to Goldie Hawn).

As anyone can see, the Russell family are busy people. They are constantly working to improve the Kennebago Lake Club and to satisfy their member and non-member guests. Any business needs constant attention to keep it ship shape, and the Russells manage to do this and yet always have time for a friendly chat or to lend a hand to a guest in distress. The atmosphere at Kennebago is rather like a warm, close family group and the Russells make everyone an honored guest and friend. In their catalogue is a paragraph written by a guest, Leslie Barker. It pretty well sums up Kennebago:

“Kennebago ls a lot of things to a lot of people, but for most it is a place to be at ease, knowing that one’s privacy is respected and that one is measured not by who he is, or what he has, but by the person he is.” May this atmosphere always prevail, and may the wonderful hosts, the Russells, spend their 500 years at Kennebago doing all the things they want to do.

I hope you enjoyed this reprinted tale from Rangeley’s awesome past. Now be sure to go and create some great Rangeley history of your own!

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