HOME: The Story of Maine

"The Nation's Playground"

TRANSCRIPT

Narrator:

With its remarkable coastline, deep-green forest, and rolling landscape; Maine has been a favorite place for visitors for over a century. The story of what first drew them is next, on HOME: The Story of Maine.

Ed Churchill, Chief Curator, Maine State Museum:

Let us go back to the 1880s, mid 1880s, and the train has just come into one of the small depots along the Maine coast. We see people get off, they're from Boston, New York, Philadelphia. The men are in their black suits and the women in their crisp white dresses. We focus in closer and we see this one couple, and they're looking for another train or trolley to head on and complete their voyage to where thy intend to spend several weeks, or perhaps the summer. When we look at these people we realize we're not just looking at them, but at many, many other people who are going to take a very similar trip, and realize all of a sudden, what we're looking at is the future of Maine.

Narrator:

In 1885, Maine was in crisis. The younger generation was leaving the farm for the promise of a better life out west or for jobs in newly industrialized cities. The prosperity of only a decade before had given way to a sense of desertion. Of hopelessness. Of loss.

Dona Brown, Tourism Scholar and Author:

Most Maine communities

at the turn of the century were in pretty desperate shape. They were losing population and they were looking for some industry that would provide them and their children with a future.

Narrator:

The mid-1800s had been a golden era for Maine. That was the foundation for decades of rail expansion. Trains and freight traveled from every corner. John Poor's Maine Central Railroad linked the lower half of the state to the rest of the nation. Albert Burleigh and partner, Franklin Cram opened up the top half by creating the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad in 1891. Now, the decline in lumbering, boat building, fishing, and agriculture left railroad owners not knowing what to do.

Churchill:

When the railroad owners began to realize that their freight revenues were going down, they had to find a way to make up for that, and so they began to look around, and realized that more and more people were coming to Maine to enjoy the beautiful coastline, to go hunting, to go fishing, and to go rusticating in the wilderness. And they decided that this was an area that they could get involved.

Narrator:

Almost overnight, railroad owners made the important decision to offset their freight losses by concentrating on passenger fares - and the tourism industry took shape rapidly.

Richard Judd, Professor of History, University of Maine, Orono:

We tend to think of the Maine tourist industry as a somewhat passive industry. That is, people from Maine responding somewhat retroactively to the arrival of tourists from the metropolitan northeast. In fact,

Maine tourist promoters have done a great deal to shape the out-of-staters' image of Maine as a tourist destination.

Churchill:

Maine was marketed as a place where you poor, busy, overworked people from the urban areas come to Maine where you can rest and be happy and go out and enjoy the wilderness and in the fall go hunting in these pristine forests and virginal woods and all this sort of stuff. And it had tremendous impact.

Brown:

Maine was marketed both by private companies and private entrepreneurs and by the state. The biggest player in marketing at the turn of the century was the railroad corporations. It wasn't their only means of making money, but it was one of the surest means of making money.

Narrator:

Railroads also published monthly magazines and guidebooks marketing everything along the routes they served.

Churchill:

They would advertise the local hotels where one could go. Would carry little stories about the wonderful game that you could get by going hunting and fishing. The wonderful places you could go sight seeing.

Narrator:

The abundance of Maine's fish and game was a major draw, and promoters downplayed some of the natural inconveniences

Quote:

Maine is a sportsman's paradise, and land of the world's health. At Moosehead Lake, such a disease as hay fever is unknown, save by reputation. -- In the Maine Woods, 1909

Narrator:

Railroad companies marketed this appeal through exhibitions at out-of-state sporting shows and the world's fair. A driving force behind these events was Maine's first licensed guide - Cornelia "Fly Rod" Crosby. Born in Phillips, she had attended finishing school then lived a conventional life in town before her weak health led a doctor to prescribe large doses of the great outdoors. Not only did she become well; she became an avid outdoorswoman. The Maine Central Railroad recognized her unique appeal and brought her on board as the state's first recreational publicist. She wrote countless shooting and fishing stories for sporting publications and newspapers in New York, Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia. Readers flocked to Maine looking for the outdoor life she described.

Quote:

It is in the wilderness one secures not only abundance of pleasure, but also a renewal of wasted energies and a new lease of life. Therefore, I invited all to come to Maine. Have no fear of crowding us, for we have one county, which is as large as the State of Massachusetts, and is the ideal sporting ground.

Churchill:

Fly Rod Crosby was really a very good example of the efforts to popularize Maine in terms of the outdoors, going into the woods, going into the forest, going hunting, going fishing - and, of course, the fact that she was a woman, gave it even more impact.

Quote:

Why should not a woman do her fair share of tramping, hunting, and fishing, and ask no odds of the men? The time is past; I thank kind Providence, when it was thought unladylike for a woman to be a good shot or a skillful angler.

Narrator:

The outside world was charmed. In 1884 the Maine Central Railroad began using Fly Rod's slogan "Maine, the Nation's Playground" and the outdoor industry took off.

Brown:

People imagined Maine as being separate from the mainstream of American society. They imagined it as being timeless, far away from the big problems of city life and modern industrialism and all the problems that people were facing.

Narrator:

At first, Maine farmers were confused by the appeal deserted farmland held for visitors. Signs of neglect and abandonment were evidence of all that had gone wrong. Tourists, on the other hand, saw only rustic beauty.

Judd:

Agriculture was

the bedrock of the Maine landscape that people came to know and appreciate. It was something that defined Maine, in a sense, as a New England icon, as a connection with their own past perhaps where several generations earlier they had come off farms like this. The more weathered, the more traditional, you might say, the more beaten down the Maine farm, the Maine farm buildings, the barn looked, the more appealing it was, the more rustic it appeared to the tourists.

Narrator:

It wasn't long before agricultural leaders realized there was an advantage here. Articles in farm journals taught families how to turn their homes into boarding houses as a way to profit from this new phenomenon. These publications urged farm housewives to "go bury the frying pan 20 feet deep in the pasture," and not to serve fried meat, potatoes, and pies, but to offer fresh eggs, fruit, and vegetables from the garden.

Judd:

Tourism as an industry was integrated into the very adaptable farm economy. Farmers were used to taking on new tasks and new economies as agriculture developed, and this is just one more way of making the farm pay.

Quote:

Some there are in New England who declare that it is not cows we should milk, but city people. The latter come with full moneybags, overflowing with profits that they have got the Lord knows from where. What more should we ask unless it were manna from Heaven?

Narrator:

For well-to-do travelers, more opulent options awaited. One of these was the Cliff House in Ogunquit, a grand hotel opened in 1872 by Elsie Jane Weare.

Katherine Weare, Cliff House, 5th Generation Proprietor:

She knew that a spur of the Boston and Maine Railroad was going to come into York Beach and correctly believed that that would provide access for a whole new market of visitors to the area.

Narrator:

Her formula for success was simple: fresh ocean air, clean rooms, and fine food from her family's farm.

Weare:

People really came for the season with their families, and it was basically like a large cottage colony. Everybody knew each other, and everybody helped out.

Churchill:

It's very interesting to follow the evolution of tourism along the Maine coast. Early on, the large hotels were built basically for the wealthy, and women and children would come up for the summer and be involved in a wide variety of social activities- including visiting each other, having teas, getting involved in lawn games, such as croquet. The men would very work during the week down in the cities, very often from Boston, and come up during the weekend and join their wives at that point. As we move into the latter part of the 19th century however, we see middle class people beginning to take advantage of these things, and staying in the hotels, often for shorter periods of time. This was fine for the hotels, but many of the wealthy didn't view this as wonderful- having this whole new group of people in- and quite a number actually went off and built their own summer cottages. And in some places-such as Bar Harbor and Islesboro - even went so far as to create their own communities.

Narrator:

Wealthy visitors were also attracted by the curative powers and remarkable purity of the state's many mineral springs. This water was shipped to cities and it wasn't long before people began vacationing at the springs themselves. The Ricker family discovered one of the state's most famous springs in South Poland and built the Poland Spring House in 1876.

Brown:

It was thought to be particularly healthy for people who were either suffering from some kind of illness or just stressed. Bankers and businessmen and, you know, generally well placed people tended to get diseases of stress that would attract them to a place like Poland Springs.

Narrator:

Each week during the summer months, this lavish resort served nearly three thousand pounds of beef, two thousand pounds of lamb, and ten thousand eggs. Like the railroads, the owners of this massive spa were tireless promoters of Maine tourism and published their own roadmaps and monthly travel magazine. By the turn of the century, the Rickers also owned the Samoset in Rockland, and the Kineo House on Moosehead Lake. Well into the 1900s, these resorts provided their well-heeled patrons and VIPs, like President Warren Harding, with modern amenities and luxury in beautiful, rustic settings - and only an overnight train trip from Boston. These exclusive resorts and hotels benefited the entire Maine economy.

Brown:

Many of the great hotels were on a circuit that was traveled by northern New England native people so that they would show up at certain times every year in Poland Spring for example selling baskets, canoes, toys, those kinds of things. These resorts appear to have provided a very important part of the survival economic survival of native families.

Theresa Secord Hoffman, President, Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance:

I know from my family's experience that my great-grandmother was raising 8 children on basket-making money at the turn of the century. She tells this funny story about having been approached by some women who wanted to know what basket making was to her and she asked my great grandmother "was this your hobby?" And she said "Hobby? Hell, this is my life! This is my bread and butter."

Narrator:

Native people also found work as guides for tourists who wanted to go deep into the Maine wilderness. This new breed of tourist was known as "sports" and they relied on the burgeoning outdoor equipment and clothing industry for outfitting once they arrived.

Churchill:

People who were cool and in the know, would stop at places like L.L. Bean or some of the other sporting firms, buy their wool pants, their plaid shirts, and, of course, get some spruce gum. Because by gum if you're from Down East, you're going to have some spruce gum. It's pretty awful taking stuff but one of those things that you're going to have to put up with if you're going to be a real man.

Narrator:

These sports jumped on trains and steamboats and headed for destinations like Moosehead and Rangeley Lakes. An important part of their wilderness experience was the Maine guide.

Skeet Davenport, Maine Guide, 1935 - Present:

Initially the reason people had guides was because they had to row their boat. You know if you wanted to go down to the other end of the lake, the only way you got there was to row. What we had in the old days was somebody come up and stay two weeks or a month and hire a guide and stay somewhere and fish that length of time. My grandfather was a guide and my father guided some. He guided families. I guided both fishermen and hunters. I always did a pretty good day's pay. I went a lot of places and had a lot of fun with these people. I had one man that, that when he struck a fish, why, when he struck a fish the canoe would almost roll over, his both feet would go up in the air and I'd have to stop and hang onto the paddle to keep it upright and the fly didn't move a half an inch at least and he never could hook a fish.

Narrator:

Plenty of sports did hook fish - and a lot of them. What the wilderness tourists were looking for was the experience of the catch, the thrill of the hunt. Out of state sports were a financial boon to Maine's inland communities. Maine had the largest influx of recreational hunters and fishermen in New England. This was good for the economy, but it wasn't long before the fish and game herds fell into massive decline. It wasn't uncommon for a hunter to take 10 deer in a single day. The region's moose herd suffered just as devastating an assault, and the once plentiful caribou were completely driven out of Maine by 1902. State officials faced a possible collapse of the recreational tourist industry and sharp hunting and fishing restrictions were placed on Mainers.

Churchill:

You have these horrendously large catches of fish or kills of deer and moose and so on. Over time, these began to take a tremendous toll on the game on both land and water. It became clear that if they let this go on they were literally going to run out of the resource for the reason people are coming up here.

Edward "Sandy" Ives, Former Director, Northeast Folklife Center, University of Maine, Orono:

Preserving the game was one thing, but for, for what reason were we preserving that game? We were preserving it in order so that people who lived here could always have plenty, or were we preserving it so that people from away could come here and hunt and spent their money and leave with a trophy of some sort?

Churchill:

Many of the new laws actually were such that they began to break into old patterns of hunting and fishing that the local people had. So the locals were pretty put off, pretty put out. They really were not very happy about the laws.

Quote:

The Rich have, for reasons best known to wardens, been allowed to kill, to waste, while poor men who have killed to feed their families have been arrested. -- Manly Hardy, Bangor Fur Dealer, 1891

Narrator:

In the eyes of many locals, Maine had become nothing more than a rich man's game preserve. In the 1870s, the legislature outlawed ice fishing on several lakes since it placed demands on resources when there were no tourists in the area. In 1897, the hunting season was restricted for the first time ever. And, in 1916, a four-year moratorium on moose hunting began the process of rebuilding the herd. New game laws were a burden to local families who had always relied on fish and game for food. Many also supplemented their incomes through commercial hunting.

Judd:

Local hunters have a difficult time of conforming to the new laws about seasons, closed seasons on hunting and types of hunting that have traditionally been part of rural Maine going way back to native peoples' techniques, and when they were outlawed in the 1880s. They felt they were being edged out of a subsistence way of life that had been important not only in terms of a forage source for them but also as a form of traditional recreation.

Narrator:

Outraged by these restrictions, many locals simply ignored the new laws and continued to hunt and fish as they always had. Some game wardens turned the other way in compassion for people trying to put food on their tables. Others tried to enforce the law.

Ives:

One of my favorites of course is the story of George Magoon from Crawford who was brought up before the magistrate in Machias for selling moose meat. And there's no question, by the way, that he had sold moose meat down there openly on the streets for many, many years. At any rate, this time he was caught, brought up before the magistrate who said to him, now Mr. Magoon, this man here, this warden, says that he caught you selling moose meat. Magoon said not moose meat at all, it's nothing but a damned old heifer. So he turned to the warden and said, well warden can you, can you swear that this was moose meat that he was selling? He said, oh no, no we can't, but he said it was moose meat that he was selling. And George says no, no, nothing but a damned old heifer I had. Well the judge had to say, well Mr. Magoon I have to let you go on this, but for goodness sakes if it wasn't moose meat, why did you say it was moose meat? Well I'll tell you judge, he said, it sells a good deal better. I don't see George Magoon ever having thought it out. He just went ahead and did what he had to do. The legislators of the time were trying to do what they thought was best and they still are. Sometimes these things have funny repercussions that's all.

Narrator:

Fish and game conservation was soon inadvertently helped along by a shift in visitors' recreational habits. Change rolled into Maine once again and the automobile forever altered the course of tourism in the state. The car became the transportation of choice, and people from a wider economic range could now afford to come. Instead of taking the train and staying for a month, people drove up for a few days at a time. Shorter visits didn't allow sports to go far into the woods and hunting and fishing gradually declined. Rail lines couldn't compete with the newfound freedom of the car and they, along with the grand hotels, began to feel the pinch.

Weare:

People's idea of a vacation with the this love affair with the automobile was to literally just drive from place to place, find a little motel or a cabin and stay there for a night or so. The Cliff House was not in an ideal situation for that market and they had a tough time. I know that my mother tells me that they were so anxious to keep the few seasonal guests, that she had a kleptomaniac one year and the lady was an entire season guest so you took care of her. So other guests would come to the desk in the morning and report various stolen items that they had left around the public areas of the hotel. She would go get the key to the lady's room. Go, find everything on her bureau, bring it back down and redistribute it. Everyone knew it, but everyone was tolerant of it. She was an important guest. She was here for the whole season.

Narrator:

Season-long guests were a thing of the past and most grand hotels never recovered from this slide. Once such a proud and substantial part of the Maine landscape, today, only a handful remain. Mainers have always been adaptable and open to new ideas in an ever-changing economy. Tourism has grown into the state's largest industry, bringing in billions of dollars a year Just as it was 100 years ago, the challenge remains to promote and balance Maine's economic and natural landscapes.

Brown:

I think that today state governments and local governments are hoping to generate

interest in preserving the wildlife among ordinary tourists. And I think they hope to do that through the development of what is usually called ecotourism or green tourism. Which is an increasingly important part of Maine's tourist economy. Wildlife trips, bird watching, puffin tours, whale tours, those kinds of things.

Judd:

What we call ecotourism today has a long tradition in Maine, one might say going back to Henry David Thoreau in the 1840s and 1850s, climbed Mt. Katahdin. And basically he was there to find out what true wilderness was really like. And people come to Maine today for the same experience.

Narrator:

After more than a century Maine is still "The Nation's Playground" and the arrival of tourists is a seasonal tradition that most Mainers welcome.

Davenport:

I heard somebody the other day say something to the effect that "I'll be glad when the tourists are gone and it's quiet around here." You just can't be too set against it because it puts bread on the table. You got to have tourists. That's all there is to it.

Narrator:

Ecotourism is just one of many options today. Learn more about Maine's tourist economy by visiting our Website.

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