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!
In the 1890s, Charles Strong Guthrie and wife Frances Amelia Lampson Guthrie began vacationing at Pequot Colony, a resort community in New London, CT, with considerable social cachet and popular with wealthy New Yorkers like themselves. Charles Guthrie was an industrial mogul who served as President of the Republic Iron and Steel Corporation. In 1901, the couple acquired 12-acres of land overlooking the Long Island Sound, and hired renowned Summer home architect William Ralph Emerson to design a mansion with the Olmsted Brothers commissioned to design the site and landscaping. Upon completion in 1902-03, the estate became known as “Meadow Court”, taking its name from the six-acre wildflower meadow overlooking the Sound. The home was a landmark in the Mission/Spanish Revival style, which became popular in the early 20th century, coinciding with other architectural revivals. Charles Guthrie died prematurely in 1906 at age 46, and not long after, Frances began spending summers on Long Island. In the 1920s, she sold off some of the land to a developer, who constructed more modest summer cottages, and sold the mansion, which soon after re-opened as the Lighthouse Inn. The summer hotel flourished through the mid 20th century, boosted by great management and luxury events. A fire in 1979 destroyed some of the building, but it was restored. It closed in 2008 and sat vacant until recently, when a new owner has begun the long process of restoration, looking to restore the light back to the Lighthouse Inn.
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.
Designed in 1893 by the Boston architectural firm of Peabody and Stearns, Wheatleigh is an early example of Renaissance Revival architecture which became popular for country estates in the early 20th century. The estate was constructed for Henry Harvey Cook, who purchased over 250-acres of forest and lawns overlooking Lake Maheenac for his summer “cottage”. Cook was a New York-based businessman who made his fortune in the railroad and banking businesses, and he wanted a summer house to escape to every year. He named his home “Wheatleigh” as an homage to his family’s ancestral home, Wheatley, Oxfordshire. The mansion is approached by a circular drive that terminates in a formal entrance court partially enclosed by a buff brick wall and evergreen trees, centered on an octagonal marble fountain decorated with a shell and leaf motif. Upon Cook’s death in 1905 Wheatleigh passed to his daughter, Georgie, the Countess de Heredia. Under her ownership the formal garden was opened for evening worshipping services and musical events. Following de Heredia’s death in 1946 the property was divided and changed hands numerous times. In 1976 the mansion and 22 acres were opened as a resort hotel, known as the estates historic name. The Wheatleigh remains one of the most esteemed luxury hotels in the country.
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.
Built in 1923, this striking French Eclectic home is by far one of my favorites in Brookline! The home was built for Emile Coulon, a hotelier. Coulon was born in Le Mans, France and worked in several European hotels before moving to America, first settling in New York in 1901. Fluent in four languages, Coulon was also well-read and catered to the luxurious clientele many of the hotels he worked at. After one year in New York, he moved to Boston and started as a waiter at the Hotel Touraine. By 1912, he leased the Hotel Westminster and five years later, the Hotel Victoria. He later leased the Hotels Touraine, Lafayette and Vendome in the 1930s, in the midst of the Great Depression. Coulon was elected president of the Massachusetts Hotel Association. Emile and his wife lived in this French style home, likely designed with his French roots in mind, for just five years before they moved to a unit in the Vendome to be closer to his 24/7 job. He died in 1947 in his beloved Vendome apartment.