Boarding Houses

Before Maine became Vacationland, it was considered to be a health spa as early as 1837. The Boothbay Region was said to be the “Favorite resort for invalids during the summer season on account of the purity of the air and the facilities for bathing in the clear sea water.”

Old Homestead – Near Decker Cove

There were no automatically granted vacations then.  The idea of maintaining a house just for summer use was unheard of.  At first, refugees from hot city summers boarded with families who had an extra bedroom or two. Boarding houses grew from small beginnings to flourishing businesses.  Families who had taken paying guests into their homes saw the inherent possibilities and expanded their facilities to accommodate many more. Some expanded into small hotels.

These early years of the 20th Century were halcyon days.  As soon as school closed, families packed huge trunks to last for at least two months. They traveled to Bath by train or steamboat.  They had breakfast in Bath while their luggage was transferred to the little island steamer that would take them down the Sasanoa River to Southport.  There they would be met by a horse and wagon, which would take them and their luggage to the hotel of their choice. At one time Southport boasted fourteen hotels or boarding houses.

The men of the visiting families, after seeing that their wives and children were comfortably situated, returned to the city, They commuted to Southport on weekends as regularly as they commuted to work.

Members of the host family did the cooking.  At mealtime a large hand bell was rung to call guests to the table. The meals were sumptuous. Breakfast began with cereal doused with cream from the family cow.  It proceeded through fish cakes, baked beans, bacon and eggs to mince pie. Dinner, which was served at noon , usually began with clam chowder or lobster stew, which was followed by a meat roast, chicken or fish and fresh biscuits and a huge platter of cold lobster meat.

For amusement, guests would row around the harbors and coves or “travel” miles in rocking chairs on the piazzas. There were motorboat rides for those who enjoyed them, and walks to the Post Office to send cards to friends saying,  “Having a wonderful time, Wish you were here.”

When automobiles became common, boarding houses went out of business. People became more mobile, and developed a great desire to see what was around the next curve. Motels took over.

In the 1930’s the museum building was used as a boarding house.  Washbowls were placed in each bedroom.  There was only one bathroom and that was downstairs. To answer an urgent call in the night it was necessary to creep silently and dangerously down the steep, dark stairs or use the “thunder mugs” still displayed under the beds

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