Maine Summer Colonies
There are a number of Maine summer colonies along the coast that were established in the late 1880's. Affluent families from Boston, New York, Philadelphia Washington, and as far away as Chicago would escape the heat and pollution of the cities for the clear, cool weather of Maine.
Many families started by visiting areas and staying in large, rambling hotels or renting a cottage. After a few seasons many families would purchase land, hire an architect and builder, and construct their own cottage (see diagram below).
As with many summer colonies, there were a number of large inns and hotels. In York Harbor the largest was the Marshall House. Additionally there was Harmon Hall, The Emerson, Hillcroft Inn and the Hotel Abracca. Many of these inns had other cottages available to rent. These inns are no longer standing, but many of the cottages (on their grounds) are still around, and have been sold to other summer residences.
How did York Harbor Compare to Other Summer Colonies?
In collecting information for this project we heard a number of comparisons between York Harbor and other summer colonies.
Most of the very large cottages in York Harbor were between 5000-7500 square feet. To our knowledge there were only two cottages - Rock Ledge Cottage, and the Brambles that were 12,000 to 15,000 square feet in size. These two cottages also had 7.5 and 5 acres of land respectively on the ocean. By comparison in Bar Harbor at the same time there were a number of cottages that were in excess of 25,000 square feet in size, and had 20 to 30 acres of land. York Harbor also had a more simpler shingle architectural style compared to the stone and marble cottages of Bar Harbor with soaring turret rivaling the castles of Europe.
York Harbor attracted a very affluent summer cottage owner and many were doctors, lawyers, authors and captains of industry. Later in this site we profiled some of the owners, and the architects that they engaged to build their cottages. The owners were not Marshall Field from Chicago - but rather Henry Field - Marshall's brother. They were not JP Morgan, but Francis L. Stetson, JP Morgan's personal lawyer.
More information on other Summer Colonies in Maine
The Summer Cottages of Islesboro, 1890-1930 Paperback – 1989 by Earle G. Shettleworth
Memories of Grindstone Neck, Winter Harbor, Maine, Grindstone Neck Association, 2004, 127 pages. Excerpts can be found at: http://www.winterharboryachtclub.com/grindstone_memories.pdf
'First Generation' Cottage Owners
Many of the large cottages were built between 1890 and 1910 by wealthy businessman. When the York Harbor Cottage booklet was published in 1930, a number of the cottages had passed to the 'Second Generation' Owners. For example, Rock Ledge that was owned by Thomas Nelson Page had passed to Henry Chalfant.
To view more information and profiles of some of the First Generation Cottage owners, click HERE.
Naming your cottage
A common custom was to name your cottage. Edgecliff, The Ledges, Roaring Rock, Rockledge, Rockmoor, and Stonecroft were some of the names. Many names were reference to the rocky coast of Maine. Today, most of these names are lost, replaced with more modern names, or a simple street number.
One tradition of the summer colonies was to christen your cottage with a 'strong' names such as “Stonecroft” or “Rockledge”. Cottages that were not named were referred to by their owner’s name such as the “Aldis Cottage”. As would be expected, owners after the 1930's would change the name of their cottage, or more commonly, the original name would be dropped. Today we estimate that less than 20% of the cottages are referred to by their ‘given name’ from the 1930’s or earlier. Instead they are referred to by their street address which added to the challenge of identify the cottages and to documenting the inventory.
Why did Cottages Colonies decline?
Fires or other forces of nature. Many old cottages constructed of wood, and located in remote areas have been lost to fire. The great fire of 1947 destroyed many of the cottages of Bar Harbor. Once destroyed, they were not rebuilt to their original glory. York Harbor did not suffer from the Great Fire of 1947 but due to the seasonal use and the remote location, many of these large cottages did burn from individual fires.
Federal Income Tax. Income tax on individuals is generally cited as the passage of the 16th Amendment, passed by Congress on July 2, 1909, and ratified February 3, 1913.
Two Great World Wars. Both WWI and WWII had a significant impact on lifestyles and available resources to support the summer colonies.
Changes in family ownership or ownership structure. Once a cottage passes to the next generation, there are often issues of joint ownership between siblings. The resolution is to sell the cottage or to divide the land. Similarly, large cottages have been divided into condominiums – common in the 1970’s and 1980’s in York Harbor.
Change of economics and lifestyle. Without a war chest of family money, it was more difficult to maintain the lifestyle of earlier generations. Additionally, available time was the real constraint. Earlier summer rusticators could afford to spend the entire summer in York Harbor, but later generations found that they had a few weeks for a get-away.
The 1970-1980’s were not kind to the classic shingle-style architecture of York Harbor….
...and yet about 75% of the classic cottages have survived!
Above: Hill Top Cottage - Harley Mason Estate in 1930's and (left) a controlled burn in 1990's.
Kearasarge Hotel in York Beach - Demolition in November 2015 to make way for a new timesharing hotel.