The history of Maine is riddled with a past that vacillates between tourism and industry as key components of our economic picture, and as such, we have collected boxes upon boxes of memories of what we think is the past. Our memories are not always faithful to the facts, however, and when we try to relive what we think is the past, it never really quite achieves satisfaction to our expectations. Today, as we seem to be looking to embrace the tempting vagaries of what has been dubbed “eco-tourism” by the UN, we are once again drifting away from a rich, industrial based economy towards that ever so fleeting economy of the tourism dollar.
Pondering the possibilities, I am reminded that Maine has enjoyed pockets of popularity that made us world leaders in the vacation industry in many ways. The Poland Spring House, Mt. Kineo, Old Orchard Beach, Bar Harbor, and many other communities have billed themselves as “the place to recreate” over the last nearly two centuries. Biddeford pool immediately popped into my mind as I was reflecting upon Maine’s history this morning, and so I pulled a few things out of the many resources available to share with you here.
Moses F. Sweetser writes about Biddeford Pool in his 1889 “Here and There in New England and Canada;”
Biddeford Pool, down near the mouth of the river, was in former days one of the pet resorts of the Maine seaboard, visited every returning summer by hundreds of city families. But a few years ago the chief hotels were burned down, and the remaining house (the SeaView) and cottages hardly suffice to accommodate their would-be patrons. For the place has great natural beauties and advantages, which should be more fully and freely developed. The Pool itself is a shallow salt-water lagoon two miles long, filled high by the returning tides, and affording capital opportunities for safe boating, while to the eastward is a long sandy beach, rolled hard by the surf, and to the north, beyond the famous Wood-Island Light, the eye rests contented on the curving lines of Old-Orchard Beach and the dim seaward projection of Prout’s Neck. On one side of the narrow outlet of the Pool rises the grim little Fort Hill, where the colonists erected their stronghold of Fort Mary, in 1708, after the truculent Indians had captured their stone fort up near the falls. For many years, from the early provincial times, the Pool was as beneficent as Siloam or Bethesda in the belief of the Maine farmers, who had a fancy that whoever bathed therein on the 26th day of June would be healed of all diseases. This is indeed the festival of Sts. Vigilius, Maxentius, and Anthelm, but what connection these Latin worthies may have had with the coast of Maine is not clear.
A steamboat runs from Biddeford to Biddeford Pool twice daily, and crosses also to Camp Ellis, the terminus of the Old-Orchard-Beach Railroad, where connection is made for Old-Orchard Beach.
Fortune’s Rocks and Goose Rocks, with their small hotels and clusters of cottages, are reached by stages from Biddeford; and their bold and rugged coast-scenery, and opportunities for fishing and gunning, attract many visitors. Fortune’s Rocks is a series of iron-bound promontories projecting into the sea from the lower end of the magnificent beach running north to Biddeford Pool; and has cottagers from Boston, New York, Washington, and other cities, with lakes rich in water-lilies, and comfortable old farms on the landward side. The rocks afford a wonderful marine garden, where star-fish, sea-anemones, sea-urchins, and other strange creatures dwell, with seals sunning themselves on the outer ledges.
Most people today look upon Biddeford Pool as a place where the elite live with their high dollar beachfront homes, but this really isn’t the case in relation to the history of Maine. Early on, the area had been a farming and fishing community, with no pretense towards being a tourist haven. Life in those days was hard, with most people just barely scraping by in the harsh wilderness of Maine. In the 1700s several rounds of war and depredation between the English settlers and the aboriginal populations created a need for garrison houses and forts to be constructed for protection. At one time the area was actually evacuated due to the Indian wars for a time.
But time progressed, and as the Biddeford/Saco area slowly grew into a viable and long lasting community, agriculture receded and industry took over as the power of the Saco Falls and other locations of water power caused manufacturing businesses to flourish. Sawmills, and gristmills grew and other facilities such as carding mills and various other manufactory’s were established, creating in turn a new source of income to the citizens of these communities.
During the early 1800s the value of the fresh and invigorating coastal air created an opportunity for businesses serving the tourism trade to flourish, and several hotels and boarding houses were erected to accommodate those travelers seeking refuge from the sweltering heat and pollution of the now growing industrialized cities of the interior. The Yates House and the Highland house, both shown here as woodcut reprints from “The Shores of Casco Bay” [J.S. Locke, 1880] became the big names in the trade, and accommodated several hundred guests at a time between the two.
The proximity of the sandy beaches of Old Orchard and Pine Point, a short carriage ride away, added to the lure of the Biddeford Pool location. It must have been a wonderful experience to visit the area in Maine’s bygone days, but unfortunately, a series of fires destroyed most of the larger hotels and boarding houses over time, and none of them were rebuilt, once gone. As the train and trolley systems came into being, it made other communities more attractive in their newness and lower costs, and Biddeford Pool succumbed to the cycle of growth and change that afflicts all communities.