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.
Power Brokers and the YH Ecosystem
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. 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, most of these names are lost, replaced with more modern names, or a simple street number. Today less than 20% of the cottages are referred to by their ‘given name’ from the 1930’s or earlier which added to the challenge of identify the cottages.
Books and others References
York & York Harbor History & References
Maine Summer Colonies
Specific Shingle-Style Architects (Historic)
Other Site Links
Down East Dilettante - Tales & Strong Opinions, From Maine, Regarding Architecture, Art, Books, Design, & Landscape
Cottages of Mount Desert Island - part of the Mount Desert Island Cultural History Project
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.
Resources for Researching Your Cottage
There are many ways to discover the history of your cottage, and the reference material listed below are available through the Research Library at Old York Museums or other noted sources.
Common Research Questions:
1930 Cottage Booklet - This is a 60 page softcover booklet that was published by the York Harbor Improvement Society in 1930 and contains a comprehensive list of York Harbor cottages, their owners, a photograph of the cottage, and in some cases a floor plan drawing. In the back of the booklet is a fold out map of York Harbor with annotation of individual cottages reference number. With this booklet, you would be able to locate a specific cottage, the owner (as of 1930), see a photo of that cottage, and understand where that cottage is located – for example on the ocean, the harbor or up on Sentry Hill. This is probably the single most comprehensive document of the York Harbor Cottages as they were in 1930 and forms the baseline for the York Harbor Cottage Project.
Click this link for a digitized version of the publication by the Maine State Library: http://statedocs.maine.gov/books/1/
1896 - York, Maine: Bureau of Information and Illustrated History of the Most Famous Summer Resort on the Atlantic Coast.
This is one of the first promotional books on York, York Harbor and York Beach. It has a history of York and many photos of cottages, hotels and sights in the area. It also contains many specific EB Blaisdell buildings and cottages and reference to him being the architect or builder for that structure. Now available through Google Books -see the link below.
Google Books: https://books.google.com/books?id=8zQIvmHaY1wC&pg=PT85&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=3#v=onepage&q&f=false
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps (1896, 1905, 1913, 1923, 1945). These are large, multi-sheet maps that cover the areas of York and York Harbor. These maps represent a significant documentation of cottage locations a valuable information resource to the York Harbor Cottage Project. Not all years cover all physical areas, and they are sometimes a little tricky to find an area since a single sheet may contain street areas from multiple locations in York. Every structure (cottage, hotel and inn) is represented, along with roads, driveways, and smaller structures such as garages, sheds and greenhouses. Since these are insurance maps the purpose was to determine where a structure might be located relative to an access road, and water supply. In each survey (1896, 1905, etc.) some of the structures would change (additions, elimination due to fire, etc.) and the maps would be updated by pasting a new image on the previous survey’s map. In some cases you can see where a structure was located as the image was erased leaving a faint image on the map.
Cottage Lists - between the years of 1903 and 1953 an individual softcover pamphlet was created that recorded the names of individual summer residents in York Harbor and which cottage (by name) they were staying for the summer. These are helpful to associate a specific family name and a cottage. Because the cottage lists cover 50 years, you can sometime see a family visiting York Harbor and renting a cottage for a few years, and then building their own cottage a few years later. Additionally, when a cottage name drops off the list, it may be an indication of a cottage was destroyed or was renamed.