In the first couple decades of the 1800s, Bangor, Maine, became the capital of the timberlands of the state, as thousands of acres of untouched forests were sold for lumber harvesting and shipping to other developing parts of the region. The massive cedar trees were shipped by rail and boat to cities like Boston, which lacked such large lumber. At the time, a group of wealthy lumbermen in Bangor wanted a hotel which would impress investors and visitors to the frontier town. Inspired by The Tremont House in Boston, an 1829 hotel that was then regarded as one of the pinnacles of luxury accommodation. The investors hired architect Isaiah Rogers, the same architect who designed the Tremont House years earlier, to design the Bangor House. The two hotels are strikingly similar in design. The hotel expanded numerous times over the decades, until the 20th century, when the town’s prosperity began to falter. Many of the additions have since been torn down as part of the building’s conversion to apartments, replaced by modern residential wings which are much lesser quality of design and construction. Thankfully, the historic core of Bangor House remains very well preserved and as it did nearly 200 years ago!
One of the lesser-known historic hotels in Boston can be found at the corner of Exeter and Blagden Streets in the Back Bay neighborhood, tucked behind the Boston Public Library’s Johnson addition. Exeter Chambers (now Courtyard by Marriott Boston Copley Square), was built between 1889 and 1890 from plans by architect Theodore Minot Clark. Clark was a professor at MIT and the understudy of Boston’s famed Trinity Church architect, H. H. Richardson. Clark oversaw much of the construction of Trinity Church and his name is even engraved on the building. Exeter Chambers was constructed by the Guastavino Company, a very prominent contractor during the period noted for style and quality, known for the Guastavino tile. Cutting edge techniques such as compression arches and terracotta accents were featured throughout the structure. The hotel was vacant for many years and a renovation in 2004, which added three stories to the building, restored the ornate exterior to its former glory.
One of the earlier grand hotels in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, was Mount Pleasant House, built in 1875 after the arrival of the railroad through Crawford Notch. The hotel was located on a small hill where the Lodge at Bretton Woods is currently sited, across the street from the iconic Mount Washington Hotel. It was built by lumberman and investor John T.G. Leavitt and opened the following year. It was then a simple, almost box-like structure with only forty rooms, later expanded and “modernized” to accommodate the growing waves of affluent visitors from New York City and Boston every year. In 1881, Leavitt sold the hotel to Oscar Pitman and Joseph Stickney, the latter eventually became sole owner and acquired land across the street to build the Mount Washington Hotel in 1900. Possibly as a practice for his larger endeavor across the street, Stickney hired one of Portland’s leading architects, Francis H. Fasset, to design the additions and alterations. When Stickney died in 1903, just a year after his larger hotel was built, both properties were willed to his wife, Caroline. She ran the company through changing economic conditions and when she died, in 1936, the hotels were left to her nephew, F. Foster Reynolds. Reynolds decided that the Mt. Pleasant was not worth the expense needed to maintain it, and in 1939, ordered the building demolished, replaced decades later with the present building.
The Omni Mount Washington (originally the Mount Washington Hotel), surrounded by the great White Mountains of New Hampshire, was completed in 1902, at the end of the Gilded Age and the grand hotel era of America. The grand hotel was financed by Joseph Stickney, a native of New Hampshire, who made a fortune before the age of 30 investing in the coal business in Pennsylvania. In 1881, Stickney purchased the Mount Pleasant Hotel, a nearby summer resort and enlarged it, and acquiring a taste for hospitality development in the White Mountains (it was later demolished in the 1930s). He hired architect Charles Alling Gifford to design a new, larger resort across the street which in total, cost him over $50,000,000 in today’s dollars! Ironically, Joseph Stickney, had famously told the press on the opening day: “Look at me, for I am the poor fool who built all this,” as the economy was starting to turn right as the hotel opened. He died one year later in 1903. Nevertheless, up to fifty trains a day unloaded the families of the country’s wealthiest people, mostly from New York City, who stayed here for Summers at a time, leaving behind “the yellow fever and cholera in the cities” for fresh air and open space. The hotel’s design incorporated some of the most cutting-edge innovations of its age, including a steel-frame superstructure, an electrical power plant, and a sophisticated internal heating system. Roughly 250 Italian artisans were brought in to provide artistic touches to the structure by working on its exterior granite and stucco masonry including the two massive octagonal towers, and installing Tiffany stained glass windows.
After Joseph Stickney’s death in 1903, Carolyn his widow, became extremely rich (the couple never had children). Carolyn spent her summers at the hotel for the next decade, a nearby chapel honoring her late husband. The hotel did well in the subsequent decades until the advent of income tax, Prohibition, and the Great Depression, which harmed many large resorts’ profits. In 1936, Mrs. Stickney’s nephew, Foster Reynolds, inherited the hotel, but it closed in 1942 because of World War II. A Boston syndicate bought the extensive property for about $450,000 In 1944. The Bretton Woods monetary conference took place that year, establishing the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. After subsequent owners, in 2015, the hotel and the Bretton Woods Mountain Resort were purchased by Omni Hotels & Resorts, who have been advocates to the history and preservation of the building and surrounding area, also overseeing the hotel’s inclusion to the illustrious Historic Hotels of America list.
There is so much more I could write about the Omni Mount Washington Resort, from the incredible interior spaces, to Carolyn’s marriage to a French prince, to the supposedly haunted sites… So much history to uncover, so little time!
The historic Omni Bretton Arms Inn, adjacent to the Omni Mount Washington Hotel in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, was built as a private home in 1896. The home was designed by, and occupied by architect Charles Alling Gifford, while he oversaw the design and construction of the iconic Gilded Age hotel. After the hotel nearby was opened, the interior was converted to hotel rooms, and opened to guests in 1907. The Colonial Revival building features a central mass with two wings. The building was occupied in 1944 as the headquarters for the Conference Secretariat during the 44-nation Bretton Woods Monetary Conference. The Inn was granted National Historic Landmark designation in 1986 and has recently undergone a $1.4 million renovation focused on bringing the outdoors in. Part of the Omni Mount Washington Resort, this property offers more seclusion and less crowds compared to its larger neighbor. Just down the road from the Bretton Arms is the equally stunning Bretton Woods Stable, likely built at the same time.
The largest building on Main Street in Stockbridge has to be the Red Lion Inn, a regional institution and one of the best places to rest your head in New England. The inn got its start just before the Revolutionary War. According to tradition, Silas Pepoon established a small tavern on the corner of Main Street in 1773, under the sign of a red lion. A year later, angry citizens gathered at the tavern to boycott English goods and to pass resolutions protesting the oppressive Acts of Intolerance levied against the colonies. Since its earliest days, the inn was a vital gathering place for locals and has continued to play an important role in the life of the community ever since. In 1862, the inn was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Plumb, avid collectors of rare and fine items, who became renowned for their impressive compilation of colonial antiques. A fire in 1896 destroyed the building but its remarkable array of collectibles was saved and the inn was rebuilt within a year by designs from Harry E. Weeks, a Pittsfield-based architect.
The Wesley House on Lake Avenue is the sole survivor of the numerous large hotels that sprung up in Oak Bluffs in the mid-1800s in response to the growing summer colony and tourism after the growth of the Methodist Camp Meeting Association. While many such hotels did not fare so well with storms and fires, the Wesley House has thrived over the years, even expanding multiple times as Martha’s Vineyard has continued to see larger summer crowds. The Wesley House was named after its original owner, Augustus G. Wesley, who was born Augustin Goupille in 1843 in Saint-Gervais, a village near Quebec City. Goupille emigrated to the U.S. in 1859, and in 1869 changed his name to Augustus G. Wesley. Whether his name change was motivated by sympathy with the teachings of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, or to endear himself to the Methodists who would soon patronize his cafe (and later hotel), is not known. Mr. Wesley built the hotel for the sum of $18,000, after seeing the demand for larger lodging options with limited space near the ocean. The original main entrance fronted Commonwealth Square and the Wesleyan Grove, before shifting the entrance to the more prominent Lake Avenue. The hotel remained under Wesley’s ownership until he was convicted of attempted arson of the hotel in 1894, for the insurance money, and on September 25 of that year, he began serving a sentence of three years at hard labor in the New Bedford House of Corrections (but was pardoned after just ten months).
The hotel ownership was passed to a family friend and after subsequent owners and expansions, it was purchased by Lark Hotels in 2015, changing the name to Summerhouse, and completely updating the interior, while preserving the iconic Second Empire exterior with balconies.
Oak Bluffs got its start as a resort community when the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association began constructing permanent summer cottages in 1860 in the area known as Wesleyan Grove. Due to this success, a couple wealthy men in Edgartown formed the Oak Bluffs Land and Wharf Company, who purchased land adjacent to the Grove, between the Campground and Nantucket Sound. The 75-acre parcel was laid out by Robert Morris Copeland, a Boston landscape architect, who created a system of curvilinear streets and parks, with house lots surrounding each park, in much the same manner as the Campground itself. A few parcels were established for places of worship, but the development wanted to appeal to other religions as the Methodists already had an entire development, from this the 1870 Union Chapel, designed by Samuel Freeman Pratt, was the first built. Another anchor of the development was to be a large luxury resort.
At the head of the Steamship Wharf, the Company built one of the most spacious and luxurious resort hotels of its time, the Sea View House. When it was completed in 1872, the Sea View House was the symbol of the Company’s success. The Sea View was built at a cost of $102,000 with a further cost of $30,000 in furnishings; five stories high on the waterside and four on the inland elevation, it measured 225 feet in length and 40 feet in depth. It contained 125 rooms, office, parlor, spacious dining salons and reception suites. Speaking tubes connected every room with the office; the whole hotel was lit by gas, and warmed by steam heat. The hotel was the first thing seen by new visitors disembarking from the steamers onto the island. The hotel was designed by the same architect as the Union Chapel, Samuel Freeman Pratt. He continued his use of the Stick style for the hotel with elaborate wood framing, trim and Victorian flair. Sadly, on September 24, 1892, the Sea View House caught fire and burned to the ground in less than 40 minutes after the alarm was sounded. The fire originated in the basement near the kitchen, and it was thought resulted from a stray spark getting into the cotton waste that was near the engine.
One of the larger hotels in Kennebunkport, the Colonial Revival Colony Hotel, built in 1914, provides historic charm with views of the Kennebunk River and Atlantic Ocean. Owner Ruel W. Norton had the new hotel built on the site of the Ocean Bluff Hotel (1873, burned 1898), to attract summer people, many of which stayed for months at a time. The Colony was originally called Breakwater Court until 1947, when George Boughton purchased Breakwater Court and changed the name to The Colony Hotel to complement their Florida property, The Colony Hotel in Delray Beach Florida. The hotel was designed by John Calvin Stevens, who lived in Maine and designed an estimated 1000+ buildings in the state, many of which in the Shingle or Colonial Revival styles.
In the late 1800s, many coastal New England communities – including Kennebunkport – became summer resort towns and colonies for upper and middle class families. To accommodate families, who would arrive to these small towns by the train-load, many wealthy citizens constructed luxury hotels which offered longer term stays compared to what we think of hotels today.
The Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport was named from a Native American word meaning ‘blessing’ or ‘prayer’, but has become synonymous with ‘family’, the word was chosen as the building was believed to have been constructed on land where Native Americans traded with early settlers. Opened on the Fourth of July in 1884, the hotel was constructed for Captain Henry Heckman, the original owner. The building was a fairly modest, late Italianate design until alterations and additions in the 1890s added a Colonial Revival motif, with pilasters capped with Corinthian capitals and cartouches; however, many features have been removed.