Tag Archives: Summer hotel

Sparhawk Hall in its heyday


Sparhawk Hall loses a bit of roof
Sparhawk Hall loses a bit of roof

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.


Kennebunkport’s bat, ball and glove history

Baseball - summer's preoccupation
Baseball – summer’s preoccupation
Mr. William B. Walker of Springfield, Mass., played baseball against a Kennebunkport team in 1872, even before the big hotel was built on the bluff. So he reported to the editor of the Wave in 1889. By then, each coastal resort area had its own team. “The Goose Rocks beat the Ocean Bluffs 5 to 3,” wrote the Wave sports reporter that summer. And later, “The Granite State base ball club and the Gooch’s Beach team had a lively match.” When a game was scheduled against the York Beach club, local boys piled onto one of Joe Jeffries’ barges and made their way down the coast to rival turf. Temporary diamonds were laid out on the beaches or in open hay fields.


Teams were made up of year-round residents and summer folk. The Ocean Bluff team had the good fortune to have Penobscot and Passamaquoddy Indian boys camping nearby at Indian Canoe Landing. Writer Albert Reed vacationed at Cape Arundel in August of 1889 and raved about the Indians’ passion for baseball in an article he submitted to the Boston Daily Globe. “The most dangerous habit they are addicted to is baseball. All the young braves are deeply versed in the slang and rules of the game and know all about the league standing, while several of them are practicing for positions on the Boston nine.”

Eighteen-year-old Louis Francis Sockalexis, soon to be one of the first Native Americans to play professional baseball, was a member of the extended family of Penobscot Indians summering at Cape Arundel in 1889. Though he wasn’t mentioned by name in the Globe, that summer he was listed as third baseman on Kennebunkport’s 1902 roster after his brief career as the original Cleveland Indian. Some said he could have been the greatest player of all time if only he hadn’t suffered from alcoholism.

The Kennebunkport Historical Society owns a beautiful photograph of renowned Boston and Kennebunkport artist, Abbott Fuller Graves, posing with his baseball team on the front lawn of his Ocean Avenue home. Graves sponsored and managed a local team of grown men in 1915; men with names still familiar in Kennebunkport, like Towne, Littlefield, Gould, Whitehead, Eldridge and Butland. Curtis and Earnest Coombs of West Kennebunk played right field and catcher, respectively. Their older brother John, meanwhile, was playing professional baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Henry Parsons donated land on School Street for a permanent ball park and Frank Atkins was hired to keep it trimmed and tidy. Poet and local shopkeeper Silas Perkins took over as the team’s manager in 1916. The Kennebunkporters continued to play until 1918 when World War I made exuberance for a game seem inappropriate.

In 1922, summer resident George Herbert Walker Jr. brought new life to the Kennebunkport baseball scene by organizing a team he called the Blue Stockings. The following summer he hired John W. Coombs as player/manager. Colby Jack Coombs, as he was known to the fans, had taken a coaching job at Williams College after a brilliant career in professional baseball. With summers off, he was free to lend his expertise to the Blue Stockings.

Walker and Coombs were determined to establish a top-notch semi-pro ball club. A new grandstand was erected at Parson’s field and the Yale groundskeeper was engaged for the season. Coombs played right field. Walker caught the ball. He also held the strings so coyly referred to in the Lewiston Daily Sun on March 1, 1923. “It is reported that strings on a large purse have been unknotted to secure a classy outfit of semi-pro ballmen. Summer residents are keen for a first class team and propose a payroll that will rival that of the Augusta millionaires.”

Walker and Coombs assembled the best collegiate talent available in 1923. Jack’s best players at Williams were recruited as were the crème de la crème from Dartmouth and Princeton. Local sports fans were thrilled with the prospect of a winning ball club but none were happier than the young ladies at Cape Arundel, who reportedly scrambled for their dance cards. The team was referred to as the Collegians by the press; and the name stuck.

By 1950, Jack Coombs had retired. With few interruptions, Herbie Walker was still calling the shots for the Kennebunkport Collegians. Kenny Raynor was his manager. Yes the same Kenneth Raynor who would become President of the Cape Arundel Golf Club. George Herbert Walker Jr. told a reporter for the Portland Press Herald that he didn’t expect the 1950 Kennebunkport Collegians to be financially successful. He regarded the maintenance costs as an investment in good fellowship; a common interest for town people and summer visitors. “That’s worth a lot,” he insisted.

The Collegians didn’t play in 1951. Many of their prospective players had been drafted to serve in the Korean War. Kennebunkport baseball fans, proud of a their semi-professional team and the town’s rich baseball history, hoped the boys would be back after a few years but it was not to be. George Herbert Walker Jr., uncle to two United States Presidents, co-founded the New York Mets in 1960.



Conflicting interests between Wells and Ogunquit in 1883

The bridge to prosperity
The bridge to prosperity

“When a sturdy young man finds his own path to be in conflict with that of his father it is time for him to set up a household of his own,” argued one Maine legislator who was in favor of Ogunquit’s separation from Wells in 1921.

The indignant retort: “A child should not be allowed to leave his mother’s house to avoid paying his share of her bills after she has devoted her life to rearing him.”

Wells and Ogunquit had suffered a strained familial relationship ever since February 1883, when businessmen of Ogunquit Village sought to override a vote of the town of Wells by petitioning the Maine Legislature for a bridge across the tidewaters of the Ogunquit River. Village residents wanted to capitalize on their beautiful sandy beach but the river separated them from it.

A majority of Wells residents lived north of the river and they carried every vote. Tourism at Wells Beach had declined since the Island Ledge House burned in 1878, and then the Atlantic House went up in flames in 1885, taking with it even more tourism dollars. Most of the summer sojourners who visited Wells Beach were travelling north when they arrived and easy access to Ogunquit Beach might divert the few that still came. Taxpayers living farther inland also had no inclination to pay for improvements from which they would not benefit.

The bridge bill was finally passed by the Legislature in 1885. Wells voters then lobbied to have the bridge built upriver that it might be of “common convenience.” The Legislature left the location of the bridge up to the county commissioners, who chose an Ogunquit location. A committee of Wells voters appealed that decision, claiming that the county commissioners were not qualified to make such a choice. By October 1888, the court of last resort had spoken in favor of a location near the mouth of the Ogunquit River. Meanwhile, real estate sales in the village quickened in anticipation.

The following report appeared in the Biddeford Weekly Journal on October 5, 1888: “The proposed bridge shall be let out by contract and be completed by June 1st 1889. W. M. Hatch, B Maxwell, and A K Tripp were chosen a committee to make the plans, specifications etc and put the bridge under contract and to have charge of the whole matter.”

The plan was in place by the first of January 1889. Pilings were set and partly planked by April. In May, what was referred to in the local papers as a “tiny mistake” was discovered when work according to the plan was completed but the bridge was still a few feet short of the beach-side bank. The bridge opened on time nonetheless and Ogunquit enjoyed its most robust tourist season to date.

From that day forward town meetings in Wells were contentious. Warrant articles for sewers and sidewalks in Ogunquit were voted down. Town Hall burned and the location of the new Town Hall was hotly debated, as was the prudence of renting out commercial space within its walls. According to the official town history, when Ogunquit Village landowners wanted streetlights, Wells voters expressed their opposition with “hollering and foot stomping enough to shake the foundation of Wells Town Hall.”

The article was defeated and Ogunquit voters again went to the state Legislature; this time, with a bill authorizing a charter for the Ogunquit Village Corporation. They got their charter and their streetlights. According to the 1913 charter, 60 percent of taxes paid to the town of Wells by Ogunquit Village residents, was to be returned to the Village Corporation.

Similar issues were faced by towns up and down the coast of Maine when the growth of tourism along the shore necessitated infrastructure improvements from which inlanders did not benefit and for which they could not be persuaded to pay. Old Orchard Beach separated from Saco in 1883, and North Kennebunkport — now known as Arundel — broke off from Kennebunkport in 1915.

A yay vote to amend the charter of the Ogunquit Village Corporation tax formula in 1921 prompted Ogunquit taxpayers to petition the Legislature to allow them to break off from Wells. The measure was postponed indefinitely by the Legislature after it heard the testimony of 50 Wells taxpayers. Another attempt to legally separate into two towns was defeated in 1971.

The Maine Legislature finally approved a 1979 referendum for Ogunquit to secede from Wells. An Ogunquit Village Corporation vote in favor of the referendum passed 480 to 94 in October of 1979. Wells opposed the secession.


Victor Vernon, guest aviator at Kennebunk Beach

Mr. Atwater Kent to the rescue
Mr. Atwater Kent to the rescue

Kennebunk Beach had its usual array of summer sojourners in August 1914 but the fresh sea breezes were tainted by the scent of trepidation. Even though President Woodrow Wilson had quickly tried to balance declarations of war in Europe with his own declaration that the United States would remain neutral, the specter of war was omnipresent. As a diversion, the manager of the Atlantis Hotel invited aviator Victor Vernon to stay at the hotel for free with his family if he offered tourist rides on his new-fangled, Curtiss Flying Boat, The Betty V.

Before World War I, aviators were fearless pioneers. Some might even call them reckless. Vernon had been a car salesman for the American Automobile Manufacturing Company only a few months earlier. When the company went into receivership, Victor, who had seen a plane land on the water the previous summer, went to Hammondsport, N.Y., took a few flying lessons from a Curtiss test pilot, and purchased the newest model “hydro-aeroplane” money could buy. He had given just a few exhibitions flights on Lake Erie when he disassembled his Flying Boat and had her shipped by railroad to Portland, Maine.

Little more than a decade earlier, the Wright Brothers had made their first 20-minute flight. The Curtiss Flying Boat was touted the world over as “the sportsman’s vehicle of the future,” and “a marvel of engineering.” The mahogany-hulled, hydroplane was as beautiful as she was fast. Equipped with a 90-horsepower motor she could reach speeds of 60 miles per hour on the water and 75 mph in the air.

Vernon hoped to make a pretty penny flying passengers over Kennebunk Beach or at the very least, enjoy a luxurious summer holiday with his family for free. The Atlantis Hotel, advertised as “a hotel of the very best class,” was built in 1903 in the Spanish mission style. Private bathrooms were available for those willing to pay extra; a rare luxury in 1914. Victor Vernon offered rides from Middle Beach where privileged hotel guests could watch him take off and land from the veranda. His best customer was Atwater Kent, who owned a cottage near St Ann’s by the Sea, in Kennebunkport. Kent had made his fortune by inventing an automobile ignition system that could be engaged from inside the car. He loved any cutting-edge thing with a motor and couldn’t get enough of the Betty V. He showed up day after day to fly with Vernon, sometimes with Mrs. Kent and sometimes alone.

“During Mr. Kent’s first ride with me,” Victor Vernon wrote in his memoirs, “a wave top broke over the Betty V when landing and dampened the magneto. The motor stopped and we started drifting toward a rocky section of the beach near our point of operation. I shouted to Mr. Kent what was most undoubtedly the trouble, but he, an electrical expert, already knew and offered to climb up alongside the motor, remove the magneto cover, clean and dry it out and replace — no easy job in a pitching, rolling ‘boat,’ and not good for his flannels, either. He did an expert job just in time as when I cranked the motor and she caught with welcomed roar, we were only a few feet from huge, jagged boulders and rocks stretching out from shore into deep water and being swept by the waves. He was the highest priced, but unpaid mechanic ever voluntarily serving under similar circumstances, I’m sure.”

After several weeks at Kennebunk Beach, Victor received a phone call from the Chairman of the Labor Day Celebration Committee, Bar Harbor, Maine. He was offered $500 to fly there in time to make an exhibition flight on Labor Day. All his expenses were to be covered. With the economic uncertainty of war looming Vernon accepted the offer, even though no such flight over the ocean had ever been attempted. Nationwide newspaper coverage of the flight made Victor Vernon a household name.

“Victor Vernon made an over-water flight of 150 miles yesterday from Kennebunkport to Bar Harbor,” wrote a reporter for the Lowell Sun on Sept. 4, 1914. “The hydro-aeroplane flight made at 2,000 feet took 2 hours – 32 minutes of actual flying time. Three stops were made; the first at Port Clyde for supplies, a second at Rockland and the third at Northeast Harbor, which the aviator mistook for Bar Harbor.”

By 1916, American participation in World War I seemed probable. Vernon was approached by the Signal Corps, which at that time was the aviation branch of the U.S. Army. The U.S. Air Force had not yet been organized. He accepted the position of chief civilian instructor in its new aviation training program. During the war, Victor Vernon tested Flying Boats built by the U.S. Navy to patrol for U-boats and deliver torpedoes.

The Mousam House, Kennebunk’s trysting place

A house for all seasons
A house for all seasons

The Mousam House, a hotel that stood on Tavern Hill just west of the Mousam River, was opened by Major William Jefferds as Jefferds Tavern in 1791. Its convenient location made it the perfect place for visiting dignitaries — like President James Monroe and later General Marquis de Lafayette — to freshen up before making their way down Kennebunk’s Main Street. Stagecoaches from the north, south, east and west stopped at the tavern door, making it a preferred trysting place, as well.

Captain John Hovey bought the tavern after Jefferds died in 1820. He leased it to Nathaniel Towle from 1824-1830 and then took over the management himself. The night hostler of the inn slept on a cot in the corner of the bar. He was alerted to the arrival of the stage by the ringing of clad horse’s hooves on the large flat paving stones outside the tavern door.

One winter evening in 1840, the wife of Colonel William Chesley arrived at the hotel alone on the stage from Dover, N.H. A short time later her Durham, N.H. neighbor, Mr. Thompson Jackson, arrived on the stage from Portsmouth. The couple intended to slip away on the eastward bound midnight mail stage, but Colonel Chesley arrived just in time to stop them. The colonel found $100 he had given to his wife the week before, on Jackson’s person. Judge Bourne was called and Jackson was charged with abducting and enticing away Chesley’s perfectly respectable wife of 14 years. The defendant was incarcerated at the Alfred jail to await trial. Mrs. Chesley refused to return to Durham with her husband and moved to Alfred where she visited Mr. Jackson daily in prison.

The Eastern Railroad, built in 1843, and Maine’s prohibition law, passed in 1851, changed the character of Jefferds Tavern forever. When the Lord family purchased the hotel in 1856 it was with the understanding that spirits would not be served. In 1861, Benjamin Franklin Goodwin leased the hotel from the Lords and changed its name to the Mousam House. Most of his guests were local boarders.

Kennebunk diarist, Andrew Walker, whose family boarded with Mr. Goodwin, wrote that Abby and Lorenzo Parsons had possession of the hotel from 1870 to 1872. They added a piazza to the front and refurnished all the rooms, but their income was not satisfactorily improved. The Parsons sold the Mousam House to John C. Baker at a loss and he leased it to several different proprietors. Charles and Nellie Tibbetts bought the hotel in 1889 when the liquor laws were no longer being strictly enforced. They doubled the number of guest rooms to 50 and brought life back to the business. After Charles died, Nellie ran the hotel by herself until she passed away in 1936.

Startled guests awoke to gunshots outside the front door of the Mousam House on the evening of Oct. 25, 1892. Local carpenter, William Bickford had met Dr. John Haley at the front door and accused him of having had an inappropriate encounter with his sister at the hotel. The accusation was followed by a blow from Bickford’s fist that lifted the Kennebunk doctor off his feet. The physician pulled out a revolver and fired twice but Bickford escaped the bullets by running into the hotel stable. The night hostler, who had come out to investigate the commotion, prevailed upon the doctor to put down the gun and go home. Dr. Haley had Mr. Bickford arrested and the carpenter was found guilty of assault. It was reported in the Boston Daily Globe that influential Kennebunk men testified to Dr. Haley’s irreproachable reputation and the judge found him justified in defending himself with a pistol. William Bickford was publicly vindicated a year later after the doctor’s wife returned home unexpectedly and found her husband there with the Bickford girl.

Stagecoach travel had ceased by 1924 when it was reported in the Kennebunk Star that Mrs. Tibbetts had sold the historic tavern to Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Bennett of Manchester, N.H. The deal fell through when Mrs. Bennett left town in the wee hours the morning before the papers were to be transferred. She and a mechanic, George Chessman, who boarded at the hotel, absconded with Mr. Bennett’s automobile. Later, it was discovered that Mrs. Bennett had passed several bad checks, including the down payment for the hotel. Mr. Bennett told the police he would be satisfied if he recovered his automobile.

Mrs. Tibbetts was never granted satisfaction. She had no choice but to stay on as proprietor of the hotel for another 12 years even as her health and the Mousam House deteriorated. Only a handful of Kennebunk citizens complained when the historic building was demolished to make way for a gas station in 1937.

Sea serpents sighted off the coast

Sea Serpents off Maine Coast
Sea Serpents off Maine Coast


John Josselyn’s natural history accounts of his 17th century voyages to the new world have informed historians and scientists alike, but some of his observations give pause.

Josselyn would have us believe that sea serpents inhabited the coast and that New England natives had come to respect their powers. A Massachusetts diarist referred to similar knowledge in 1641, but added that the Indians sometimes exaggerated to the Englishmen in sport.

“It pleaseth them to make ye white man stare,” he wrote.

Sea serpents have been reported on our shores ever since. During the Revolutionary War, Capt. Little of the U.S. Navy spotted one in Penobscot Bay and a 100-foot specimen allegedly visited Portsmouth Harbor in 1796. According to hundreds of witnesses, the waters off Cape Ann were virtually teeming with sea serpents in 1817 and sightings in Maine were plentiful during the years that followed. On the rare occasion that one of these slithering devils was captured it always magically transformed itself before scientists could authenticate. Isaac Wildes of Cape Porpoise killed one in 1822, but by the time he got it to shore it had morphed into a 370-pound seal.

The editor of the Eastern Argus swore to the veracity of one Mr. Gooch of Kennebunk when the latter described an alarming encounter a few miles off Kennebunk’s shore on July 21, 1830. Wells and Portsmouth fishermen had already reported being pestered by a sea serpent that week but none of them had had the courage to get as close to the beast as did Mr. Gooch. The two other men in his fishing smack rushed below when the monster approached, but Mr. Gooch remained on deck and returned the serpent’s stare.

“He came within six feet of the boat,” reported the fisherman. “He raised his head about four feet from the water and looked directly into the boat. He was about 60 feet long,” continued Mr. Gooch. “His head was about the size of a 10 gallon keg, having long flaps, or ears, hanging down, and his eyes about the size of those of an ox, bright and projecting from his head”.

It must have been a distant cousin of Gooch’s monster that encircled the fishing boat of Clement Perkins and Thomas Cleaves of Kennebunkport at the mouth of the Kennebunk River in 1850. In a letter to the editor of the New Hampshire Sentinel, Perkins and Cleaves wrote, “The portion of his body out of the water we judge to be 80 feet, his form that of a large bamboo, the distance between the joints two feet, his motion undulating, velocity that of a common walk of man, his head resembling the bill of a duck.”

Nine years later Mr. Gooch’s neighbor, Capt. Boothby of Lower Village, reported seeing a sea serpent frolicking with a school of whales off Boon Island Ledge.

In the 1870s there was a sea serpent population explosion. Curiously, the species had mutated a preference for summer resorts. Hotels in Fortunes Rocks, Wells Beach and Saco sent out press releases all but promising that sea serpents were summering in plain view of their breezy, wraparound piazzas. In 1880, a correspondent from Kennebunkport’s Ocean Bluff Hotel reported that Mr. Hiram Gooch, Skipper of the tourist yacht, Clara Bell, had pointed out a sea serpent to his delighted passengers. They couldn’t quite see his head and his tail was underwater, but the commotion the creature made convinced them they had seen a genuine York County sea serpent. The Boston Daily Globe report tactfully suggested that any doubters should “come to this gem of seaside places to see and be convinced.”

By 1900 every seaside hotel in New England employed a sea serpent. They swam to and fro along the beaches, each one bigger and more rambunctious that the last. Newspaper readers finally became a little suspicious when one of the serpents apparently had adapted to a lakeside resort habitat. A letter to the editor of the New York Times referred to the resort sea serpent as Leviathan the Counterfeiter. The jig was up. Sightings declined. Magical creatures from the deep fell out of favor, at least fore a while.

The hope of seeing a genuine sea serpent attracted hundreds of tourists to York County’s coast again in 1967. Biddeford Pool lobstermen had hauled mysterious remains ashore that looked just as a sea serpent skeleton should look. The monster was embalmed and proudly displayed until a Biddeford High School science teacher remarked that it bore a striking resemblance to skeletons belonging to the shark family.


Watering in Wells in 1846

Atlantic House and 1856 map

Three large tourist hotels were already operating in Wells, Maine, when a travel reporter from the New Hampshire Patriot reviewed accommodations available during the summer of 1846:

“Wells Beach seems not to be known but to a few persons at a distance from it; and probably for the reason that until the present season, there was but one small two-story house upon it, and that poorly prepared for the reception of company. There are now two large three-story houses erected within the past year for the accommodation of parties of pleasure”

He described the new Atlantic House, “fully carpeted throughout, and furnished with new and elegant furniture.” To avoid an impression of excessive decadence he also assured his readers, “Order and system prevail in this house. It is intended to be kept as a rational Temperance House though I am informed that some rich wines may at all times be had for the use of invalids, who are really such.”

Jeremy H. Titcomb from Great Falls, N.H., had recently erected The Atlantic House that opened for business time June 15, 1846. It was located at the present day Gold Ribbon Drive area of Wells Beach. Titcomb sold the Atlantic House to John Horn of Somersworth, N.H., in 1857.

Mr. Horn had terrible luck in the hotel business. During his first season as proprietor, lightning struck causing injury to the elegant piazza and one unsuspecting guest. Horn renovated and refurnished the Hotel just before the Civil War began. He tried to make up the expense by keeping the hotel open year round in 1860 but financial obstacles proved insurmountable and the Hotel was foreclosed.

Andrew J. Nealy of South Berwick acquired it for $86.80. He sold the hotel after the war to Otis A. Frost, proprietor of the Great Falls Hotel in New Hampshire, for $1,250. He was proprietor from 1865 until his death in 1881 when his widow and daughter sold the Atlantic House to Corydon O. Chamberlain of Boston.

This grand hotel had been repeatedly expanded and renovated by the time it was completely destroyed by fire early in the morning of October 13, 1885. According to the Biddeford Daily Journal, one of the last families to leave for the season was eager to catch the 7:20 train to Boston. The kitchen staff, in a hurry to serve the guests breakfast before they left, overfed the cooking fire. Bits of live coal flew from the kitchen chimney and landed on the roof. The fresh ocean breezes fanned the sparks into a raging blaze that in two hours decimated the hotel, stables, dancehall, bowling ally, billiard hall and annexed Sea View House.

The Webhannet House, right next door to the Atlantic House, also opened in 1846. Our roving New Hampshire Patriot reporter was less effusive about the accommodations there but we do know that both hotels were built as three-story structures. Elisha Wiswall of Boston built the Webhannet House and sold it in 1848 to Christopher and Samuel Littlefield. The Littlefields owned it for many years before selling to George Bowden of York. The partially insured hotel burned to the ground March 5, 1867.

The third hotel briefly described in the 1846 New Hampshire Patriot article was on the Old Post Road just south of Morrill’s Corner where today Route 1 meets Route 109. “The Pepperell House is kept by Mr. W. P. Treadwell and his brother.” The brothers William and Samuel also purchased an ad in the New Hampshire Patriot that summer. “The subscribers have taken the House recently kept by Mrs. (Isabella Morrill) Bourne to which they have added 10 rooms and otherwise thoroughly repaired and refurnished it.”

Another ad appeared in the Boston Daily Atlas July 25, 1849. “FOR SALE The Tavern stand known as The Pepperell House of Wells, Me., formerly the residence of Nahum Morrill, Esq., consisting of a large three-story house furnished throughout and capable of accommodating 40 or 50 persons.” The Pepperell House later became the Ocean House which burned under suspicious circumstances on June 23, 1889. Bion Tripp was proprietor. The headline in the Biddeford Daily Journal read “Ancient Landmark Gone.”

Maine tourism was certainly in its infancy in 1846. The Portland, Saco and Portsmouth line connected Wells to the Eastern Railroad in 1842. The growth of the railroad system in the 19th century jeopardized demand for ships built in Maine but it also delivered the “Watering” Public and a new industry still relied upon today in Vacationland.