Looking back to see where we’ve been can be every bit as fascinating as looking forward to where we’re headed. Maybe that’s why I enjoy books about history.
Dale Potter-Clark and Charles L. Day Jr. have given us a fascinating a look back in their book “Summer Resorts and Kids’ Camps,” back to the “good old very busy summer time” days when the Winthrop-Readfield-Fayette-Mount Vernon area — known as the Winthrop Lakes Region — was filled with summer resorts and kids’ camps. And I do mean filled.
I can’t imagine the amount of research Dale and Charles must have done to create this wonderful book, complete with photos and details about the families, resorts and kids’ camps, farms, railroads, tourist boats and more that made this region prosperous for more than 100 years. Imagine Readfield filled with kids’ camps, inns, B&Bs, restaurants, stores, churches, and a very busy railroad station. Well, you don’t have to imagine it, because that was the town 100 years ago!
Having grown up in Winthrop, the book brought back some wonderful memories, including bowling at Maranacook Lake Lodge, where someone was poised at the end of the lane to reset your pins.
Unfortunately, many of the camps in this book are gone, after World War II devastated the industry. Some were sold as private camps.
As an avid angler, I was fascinated by the accounts of fishing in the area, including “the unfortunate introduction of pickerel into the Winthrop and Belgrade Lakes.” That led Fisheries Commissioner Henry Stanley to report that the native fisheries in those lakes were doomed unless local residents reduced their amount of ice fishing. And I was amazed to learn that bass were stocked in those lakes to drive out the “voracious pickerel.” That didn’t work!
The commissioner noted that, at one time, those waters were “fully equal to the Rangeley Lakes.” Sadly, that is not the case today. I do remember catching a lot of bass, as well as pickerel, in Maranacook and other local lakes when I was a kid.
A lot of people contributed to this book, including the descendants of the folks who built and operated all of these summer camps, and my longtime friend, Evelyn Potter, Dale’s mom and Readfield’s historian.
It is clear that this very prosperous era was driven by the arrival of the railroad. I do remember seeing lots of people step off the trains at the Winthrop station, just five minutes from my house.
You may be astonished, as I was, to learn that 39 camps for kids and inns for tourists existed in this area. And a few are still in existence. I remember some of the camps and inns, including the huge Martha Washington Inn on the road between Winthrop and Readfield. It wasn’t torn down until 1992, about 20 years after its doors were closed for good.
The interviews with folks who attended these camps as kids are particularly interesting. Kids came from all over the world to stay all summer at these camps.
A number of my friends are mentioned in the book, including Brenda Wells Joseph, who with her husband George lives on a farm once owned by her uncle and aunt, Clyde and Caroline Wells, very near where her great aunt Lura Wells, a well-known artist, once lived, and Lura’s father Owen, also an artist, ran a very busy kids’ camp on Lovejoy Pond. My dad had a couple of Lura’s paintings and they now hang in our house.
The Tallwood peninsula, now owned by my friends Michael Fiori and Dora Mills, was a hub of summer camps in the old days. And there, on page 224, was a house I recognized, called “Castle Hill Farm,” a gathering place for Girl Scouts. My friends John and Marjorie Tyler live there now.
As I drive around the area today, I am always looking for some of the houses and farms pictured in this book, and there are quite a few.
Folks can order the book at www.readfieldmaine.blogspot.com or contact Dale at [email protected] to make arrangements.
Dale summed up my feelings after reading this book, writing, “I have marveled at how many out-of-state cars appeared in town come July… I have seen strangers in our country stores and eateries and heard them speak with unfamiliar accents. I wondered where they came from and where they ‘hid’ during their visits here. Now, I won’t wonder so much and for the first time in my sixty-eight years I feel ‘connected.'”
Me too, Dale. Me too.