Maine's inland waters once provided a powerful, and colorful, draw for visitors.
Scan the postcard racks at Route 1 visitor centers these days and you can't miss the key elements of the modern Maine brand: lighthouses and lobsters. To the frustration of inland businesses that would like to attract more tourists, the coast gets the lion's share of attention, with tourism studies estimating that as few as a fifth of all visitors make it north and west of Route 1. But a perusal of brochures that advertised the Pine Tree State back in the twenties and thirties reveals that Maine's lakes were once among the state's star attractions.
"After the Civil War, the Rangeley lakes in particular were viewed as kind of a second Adirondacks for both their hunting and fishing opportunities," explains Earle Shettleworth, the director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission who has been gathering the colorful tourist literature for the past thirty-five years.
Indeed, even before Thoreau piqued Victorians' curiosity in the North Woods an enterprising hotelier had opened a small guesthouse in the shadow of Mount Kineo on Moosehead Lake, and Hiram Ricker was already capitalizing on the healing waters of Poland Spring to promote his spa and grand resort in the Sebago region. The expansion of railroad lines to Greenville and through western Maine brought hordes of well-heeled visitors from New York and Montreal.
The Rickers' ownership of the three largest hotels - the Poland Spring House, the Mount Kineo House, and the Samoset - in the early twentieth century allowed them, as well as the state-sponsored publicity bureau, to build a unified image of Maine that emphasized the swimming, hunting, and fishing opportunities to be found in the state's interior.
"I think the lesson to be learned from this material is that previous generations were intent on promoting all of Maine as a resort state with great quality, clarity, and ingenuity," Shettleworth remarks. "A lot of the image-making that we're doing today was forged in that period."