Harpswell Historical Society

Incorporated 1979

929 Harpswell Neck Road
Harpswell, Maine  04079

The Harpswell Historical Society is dedicated to the discovery, identification, collection, preservation, interpretation, and dissemination of materials relating to the history of Harpswell and its people.

Table of Contents

Historic Park 
and Museum

Links to 
related sites


Occupations in Harpswell Maine in the Early to Mid 1900's

Harpswell Hotels

By students of West Harpswell School

A 2001-2002 Harpswell History Project

Growing up
Living on a Farm

Harpswell Hotels

Currently Harpswell only has a few hotels. The hotel and boarding houses did well in business in the past.

The first Harpswell hotel was a boarding house on the east side of Cundy's Point. The second was opened on Bailey's Island. The Mansion House on Pott's Point and the Union Hotel in Cundy's Harbor were the first hotels specially designed as a hotel. The Union Hotel advertised "Nothing but the best," like fresh fish, fruit, and vegetables as well as "milk straight from the cow." Both the Seaside Hotel and the Mansion House burned. (Seaside in 1866, Mansion in 1869.)

After the first fire, the young boys went up and down the road singing their new folk song:

"One Sunday night when all was still
A fire broke out on John Smith's Hill, 
The people all came running round, 
To see the Seaside burning down."

In Harpswell there were things for all ages to do. The sandy beaches and ledges were liked especially by shell collectors and sun bathers.

They also liked cool long walks in the woods. Fishing and sailing were enjoyments too. Tennis, croquet, baseball, and bowling were available as well as picnicking and clambakes.

Some people could spend all day on the veranda's just talking and playing cards.

After the Civil War, there was a time when people in Maine had a great way of living life. Railroads were better, industries grew, cities grew. Adults wanted a cool place for their children to do more things. People wanted more fresh nourishing food and more opportunities for their children. Maine seemed a place for summer vacations, with its cool, refreshing breezes, its pine forests, and its nourishing food.

Harpswell people knew people from the city wanted to come to the coast. They knew they could make money. They needed new ways to make money because of the shipbuilding jobs they lost. More and more hotels were built. Steamboats left New York and Boston to come to Portland. Then families took small steamers to Harpswell several times a day.

Taking care of a hotel was very different back them from how you take care of a hotel now. You had to carry water for everything; drinking, making food, washing dishes, washing clothes, and washing before meals.

Food had to be kept cool by using cold spring water or ice cut from the winter before. Frozen sweets had to be prepared right at the hotel. Many innkeepers had their own gardens for fruits and vegetables to serve, dairy cows, a bunch of chickens for eggs, and they brought in their own lobsters, clams, crabs, and other things from the sea. Chimneys and lamps had to be cleaned daily. Chamber pots had to be cleaned each morning. People put rhubarb leaves in the outhouses so they wouldn't smell so much.

Three hearty meals were served everyday plus afternoon tea and refreshments. The breakfast menu was fried eggs, fried potatoes, hot biscuits with butter and honey, fresh doughnuts, apple pie, choice of coffee, tea, or milk.

After a lot of remodeling, Susie Ransom opened an inn and gift shop in the house of Curtis and Estes shipyard on Lookout Point. Lookout Point had been active in the middle of the 1800's. The old Lookout Point House is now the Harpswell Inn and is a Bed and Breakfast.

Some of the old hotels had very few guests, but some could hold 125 people. Some of the hotels names were Merritt House, Ocean View Hotel, Merriconeag House, Harpswell House, Hotel Germania, Lookout Point House, The Old Fort House, Mansion House II, and others. Some of the hotels had large dining rooms. When a steamboat was refueling, the Merritt House would sometimes feed 300 people. The hotel and boarding business in the summer continued to grow at the turn of the century.

With the coming of World War I (1914-18) the business began to decline. Two of the most important reasons of the decline was that more and more families owned cars and highways were being improved so people could travel more.