Nehemiah P. Jacobs first opened Sparhawk Hall for business in Ogunquit, on June 20, 1897. It was advertised that summer as “one of the largest and finest modern hotels on this part of the coast.” It boasted “magnificent ocean views; fine boating, bathing and fishing; private grounds, pure water and perfect drainage.”
After just two seasons a chimney fire totally destroyed the elegant hotel. The fire, which started around 2 p.m. on Oct. 2, 1899, was reported in the Biddeford Weekly Journal.
“About forty representatives of the Sanford and Cape Porpoise Railroad and Portsmouth, Kittery and York railroad with citizens of York and Wells had just finished their dinner and were about to take buckboards that awaited them at the door for a drive to York when one of the party glancing upward admiring the beauty of the hotel, discovered fire around the chimney.
“Immediately the guests organized themselves into a fire company and with the greatest difficulty saved the surrounding buildings, with buckets and by putting wet blankets on the roof.”
Work began immediately to reconstruct Sparhawk Hall. It reopened the following season without interruption on June 20, 1900. The new hotel offered the same opulent accommodations regular summer waterers had come to expect. Families typically stayed at Sparhawk Hall for extended vacations. Upon their arrival, each family was assigned a waitress who would serve them throughout their stay. The experiences of one such waitress were detailed in charming letters published by Smith College in their student publication.
Betty, a schoolteacher who had wished to further her education at Smith College, had found herself short of tuition funds in the summer of 1901. She accepted the waitress position in Ogunquit even though she was not accustomed to a lifestyle that exposed her to “such a conglomeration of nationalities and characters that compose the happy family known in Ogunquit as the ‘Sparhawk Help.'” Betty advised the recipient of her letter to “get your smelling salts and your fan ready” before reading about her provocative daily conversations with a surprisingly bright Irish bellboy named Ben who fancied himself a future writer.
Even before the hotel opened for the season, Ben had caught Betty’s eye. She mentioned him in her letters far too often and described the witty, familiar way he had addressed her with far too much detail for the reader not to assume she had developed a certain affection for the young Irishman. Another bellboy at the Sparhawk that season was Jimmie, an amateur prize-fighter. “He is a little cockney Englishman and good as gold when he is out of the ring,” she wrote. The chef, she believed, was a real Frenchman. The awe he inspired among the female employees was rivaled only by that of the headwaiter, a Brown University junior.
“My costume,” wrote Betty, “is a study in black and white. Dress and tie black, apron with bib, turn over collar and bow in hair white. I look very fetching in mine,” she boasted.
The Sparhawk Hall Orchestra was second to none. Top-notch musicians were recruited from the best colleges and concerts were performed at the hotel every night, promptly at 10 p.m. The orchestra continued to be advertised as one of the best in Maine for many years, long after Betty’s employment adventure had come to a satisfactory end.
The elegant hotel was again threatened by fire in 1906 when a gas explosion caused considerable damage on Aug. 11. “An explosion of gas in one of the rooms in the tower of Sparhawk Hall at Ogunquit at 6:30 Saturday evening wrecked the room and blew a hole through the roof of the tower,” wrote a reporter for the Biddeford Weekly Journal.
“The tower immediately caught fire and the damage by the flames and water will amount to more than $1,000. It is thought that one of the guests at the hall had left the gas burning in the room where the explosion took place and when it was turned on again it filled the room,” the reporter continued. “A man named Livermore, from Boston, entered the room and struck a match to light the gas. When the explosion came Mr. Livermore was thrown through the door and badly shaken up, but was not seriously injured.” The damaged tower was rebuilt before the 1907 season opened.
Hotel owner N.P.M. Jacobs was plagued by lawsuits during his proprietorship. He was in and out of court for several years after one of his patrons accused him of expropriating her diamond ring that had been placed in his possession for safekeeping. Jacobs admitted to having the ring but refused to return it claiming it as collateral for a hotel bill he said she owed. In another lawsuit Jacobs was accused of being in possession of silverware, for which he had not paid. All of the lawsuits went on for years, costing everyone involved far more than the original harms in attorney fees. The conclusion reached in each case was that Jacobs the hotelman was overeager to collect but reluctant to pay his bills. He continued to manage the Ogunquit hotel until his death in 1931.
Sparhawk Hall’s initial grandeur had already started to wane under Jacob’s management, but it continued to serve summer visitors to Ogunquit until October of 1968. Russell Ireland and Jules I. Voignier Jr., co-owners of the hotel since 1964, sold all the furnishings of the 80-room grand old hotel at liquidation auction and razed the building to make way for the Sparhawk Resort Motel that stands in its place today.