Down East 2013 ©
Photograph Courtesy Bethel Historical Society
Ingenuity is a trait that has never been in short supply among Mainers. Even before the Civil War, families like the Rickers of Poland Spring had discovered that careful marketing of their water supply could spell a fortune, and this circa-1859 portrait proves that such talent for publicity ran deeply in their family. Here Hiram Ricker’s first cousin, Dexter D.W. Abbott, dressed in black at center, pours a glass of water from a pitcher alongside his wife, Drusilla, and some two-dozen gathered relatives at a spring atop Mount Zircon, just south of Rumford.
Everyone has dressed for the show: the gentlemen all sport their finest top-hats and bowlers, the girls’ hair is neatly pinned (though one youngster at rear, just left of center, has snuck her favorite doll into the scene), and even the boy at upper left has put on a coat. Most importantly for such an early photograph, virtually everyone remains dead-still so that the image can be as tack-sharp as possible.
A few years earlier — not coincidentally, around the same time rail service was established to nearby Bryant Pond — Abbott had built a wooden platform around the spring (the covers have been hauled to the side, at right), and began filling the wooden barrels at right. The Rumford businessman seized upon a story that these “Waters of Health” had cured a sick ox and used the tale to attract city folks to western Maine. The fifty-room Mount Zircon House was erected two years later.
But Abbott’s success was not to last, as the Mount Zircon House burned in the 1870s. Abbott soon died, and Drusilla was forced to sell the spring. Future operators, who produced everything from ginger champagne to drinking water, seized upon the fact that the spring’s output seems to vary according to the moon’s phase and named it “Moon Tide Spring.”
“There have been people who said maybe there are fissures in the rocks that open slightly during phases of the moon, and there was a report produced in the 1980s that indicated that there was a correlation with rainfall,” says Randall Bennett, a Bethel historian who has written a book on the spring. “I prefer to let people decide for themselves what causes it.”
Today the 1890 bottling house that covers the spring shown here is locked behind a chain-link fence. But nearby, hikers can still find a trickle of water, a testament to the power of nature — or at least of creative marketing.