Maine's Poland Spring

Deborah Holmes

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The sign says it all: The Source (of Poland Spring water)

Teddy Roosevelt is said to have insisted on drinking it; Joan Crawford reportedlybathed in it and Alice Cooper favored it for his pet boa constrictor. Almost since itsdiscovery and subsequent commercial development by European settlers in the late 1700s,the waters of Poland Spring have quenched the thirst of celebrities, royalty, politicians,industrialists and plenty of common folk.

Poland Spring is one of many premium bottled waters on grocery store shelves. But in a tiny Maine town in the foothills of the White Mountains, the real PolandSpring still trickles. The spring house, simply labeled "The Source," is adjacent to the 1906 bottling plant, now a museum of local and company history. A modern bottling facility that produces the bottles you find on your grocery shelves is located a few miles away.

The spring house, along with the bottling plant and several other buildings on theNational Register of Historic Places, are part of the Poland Spring Preservation Park.Here you can sit in the marble walled spring house, imagining white gloved workers servingup icy spring water from silver ladles, tour the historic bottling plant featuring carraraglass walls and ceilings -- even in the bathrooms -- and get a feel for the grandeur ofAmerica's resort era.

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Structural pigmented glass, or carrara glass, was a popular substitute for marble from 1900 on. The two bathrooms at the historic Poland Spring bottling plant, as well as the main space of the factory itself, are lined in carrara glass.

From 1797, when the first modest Inn at Poland Spring was built, this land was much more than just a source of clear spring water. In 1793, Jabez Ricker traded land in southern Maine to the AlfredShaker community in exchange for 300 acres that would become Ricker Hill in Poland. Thus began a business relationship between the Ricker Family and the Shakers that would last for a century and a half.

A tiny village was instantly created when Ricker moved with his wife and ten childrento Poland in 1794. Three years later, his sons built and opened the first inn.

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The grand Poland Spring House, circa 1901
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection

It was Ricker's grandson, Hiram Ricker, that transformed Poland Spring to a resort and who saw the commercial potential in the waters ofPoland Spring. A mid-1800s marketing genius, Hiram touted the purity and restorativepowers of the spring water. After all, he attributed the minerals in Poland Spring waterto his own cure from dyspepsia.

The first bottling (barrel) plant was built in 1845. Workers at the nearby ShakerVillage at Sabbathday Lake provided wooden barrels and later crates for the water, and thecommercial sales of bottled Poland Spring water began.

In 1876, the elaborate Poland Spring House opened to accommodate 450 guests. Theimposing edifice was landmark for many miles around until it was destroyed by fire in1975.

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Fireplace in the reception area of the historic Poland Spring Bottling Plant. Green and brown were the colors connected with the company then -- and still are today.

The Rickers pitched the resort's high altitude, natural beauty, and its connection withthe Poland Spring water. In anadvertisement in a local newspaper in 1860, Hiram Ricker vouched for the water's abilityto cure stomach, liver and kidney ailments and well as to purify blood. Historical accounts show that Ricker's strategy worked. Guests arrived by train and then coach to enjoy a month or two of mountain air and mineral water.

From 1876 through 1935, the health spa and resort entertained guests from all over the world. But by the 1940s, grand resorts such as Poland Spring lost favor with Americans and years of decline began. In 1975, the now dilapidated inn was destroyed by fire. A year later, the Poland Spring Preservation Society was formed to restore and preserve the architectural treasures of the area.

Today the more modest Poland Spring Inns offer a taste of the grand resort age withaccommodations, golf, grass tennis courts, hiking trails, a private trout pond,entertainment and meals. On a clear day, from the vista of Ricker Hill, visitors can still see the White Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean. And they can drink water from "The Source."

The Preservation Park offers miles of scenic natural trails for hiking and biking inthe warmer months and cross-country skiing and snow shoeing in the winter. Four buildingson the National Register of Historic Places are open for tours. The Spring &Bottling Houses are now museums of science displays and bottling memorabilia. TheMaine State Building, an octagonal mansion purchased and moved toPoland Spring by the Ricker family in 1894, was the Maine state pavilion at the 1893World's Fair in Chicago. The non-denominational All Souls Chapel, built in 1912, is hometo the Poland Spring Preservation Society's summer concert series, and is still used forweddings, christenings and other ceremonies.

Getting there: Poland Spring Preservation Park is located on Route 122 (off of Route26) in southwestern Maine. The park museums are open Tuesday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to4 p.m. excluding major holidays. Travel directions and more information may be found atthe park's web site: www.polandspring.com, or bycalling 207-998-7143.

Also in the area: TheSabbathday Shaker Village.

About the Author
By Deborah Holmes, The Old House Web

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