Before Lakewood. . .There Was Fairgrieve's Bay Hotel & "Resort"

I was thrilled to recently discover this very rare, undated postcard, which shows Fairgrieve's Bay (misspelled "Farigraves").  Fairgrieve's Hotel was located on Lake Wesserunsett, on the same side as Lakewood Theatre, just north of Lakewood Grove and south of Black Point.

Skowhegan Businessman George B. Fairgrieve Built a "Resort" on the Shore of Lake Wesserunsett...Long Before Lakewood Existed

In my research for the Lakewood Theatre book, I was flabbergasted to discover that, long before "Lakewood Grove" was a bustling trolley park or theater colony, visitors were coming to the shores of Lake Wesserunsett in Madison, Maine, to visit a place called "Fairgrieve's Bay," the site of a hotel and "resort."

George B. Fairgrieve was a Skowhegan businessman who, early in the 1880s, saw the potential of the Lake Wesserunsett shore as a resort destination. He built several cottages just north of where Lakewood is situated (and just south of Black Point, for those who know Lake Wesserunsett). 

Later, he built the Fairgrieve Hotel, a popular summer destination for local folk. The hotel often served as many as 150 people for Sunday breakfast, and was the site of many private dinners and dances.  

Fairgrieve had a small steamer that carried 25 passengers, as well as a barge that could be towed behind, carrying 50-60 people for "lake excursions." He also had more than 45 boats of all types for rent. 

Lakewood’s own hotel (which from 1895-1922 graced the spot where the current Madison Public Boat Landing is now) eventually eclipsed Fairgrieve’s in popularity (likely due to the proximity of the theater), but George Fairgrieve can most definitely be credited with being one of the first “developers” of Lake Wesserunsett.

 

The Historical Document That Tells the Fascinating Story of Fairgrieve's Bay

Below is a transcription of a document I obtained from the Madison Historical Society in November of 2014. The piece was a two-sided mimeograph of a typed article, attributed to a Lillian K. Smith, who is alleged to have written it for the Lewiston Journal sometime after 1914, which can be deduced by the reference to that date in the article. There is also a reference to John B. Hymer’s summer home, which would place the date of this article after 1929, that being the date the Hymer house (now the Colony House Inn B&B) was built.

I have not been able to find a copy of the article in print, nor have I been able to find any trace of a Lillian K. Smith. But if her story is accurate, what a tale it tells!

Here is her article, reproduced for you:

A Popular Summer Resort

Few Maine people know that before Lakewood was even thought of, Lake Wesserunsett was a lively and popular resort in summer.  Fairgrieve’s Bay was then the center of attraction.  It still lures visitors, but they go there now for the quiet and seclusion instead of for the activity.

Along the lake shore, beginning just above the summer home of Melville Burke, who for many years has been director of the Lakewood Players, but separated by the fence is a line of small, quaint but attractive cottages that were built by the late George B. Fairgrieve of Skowhegan, who at one time had a hotel there and in summer carried on an active business at a time when Lakewood was little more than a grove with a few small cottages.

A child waves the American flag outside one of the small cottages that were part of the "resort" at Fairgrieve's Bay on Lake Wesserunsett.

A hedge of cedar and hemlock grows along the lake shore and there are many fine, old trees.  To the north, above the cottages, is a dense growth of trees and interesting vegetation and plants, with long vistas of beautiful woodland with mysterious, little green paths leading everywhere through it.

The cottages are all simple in design and without modern improvements, but are still eagerly sought after by people from all over the New England States and New York, as well.  The chief charm of Fairgrieve’s Bay is its quiet.  All of the estate is private at all times.  The place is open only to the cottagers and their friends, and this includes the bathing and swimming.

This estate was developed by the late George B. Fairgrieve, for many years a familiar figure in and around Skowhegan.  When a young man he came from Galashields, Scotland, first to Dexter, Maine, where he lived for a time, then to Skowhegan in 1875.  In his younger days he was much interested in the woolen industry and was one of the woolen pioneers of this country.

This estate was developed by the late George B. Fairgrieve, for many years a familiar figure in and around Skowhegan.  When a young man he came from Galashields, Scotland, first to Dexter, Maine, where he lived for a time, then to Skowhegan in 1875.  In his younger days he was much interested in the woolen industry and was one of the woolen pioneers of this country.

FIRST COTTAGE BUILT IN THE EIGHTIES

In the late eighties, [Fairgrieve] purchased of John Sawyer, of Madison, a small piece of land on the shore of Lake Wesserunsett which took in the old barn now standing and at present used as garage.  Here he cleared land and built a small cottage, in one half of which the family lived in summer; in the other half the horse was stabled, a valuable animal and a great pet of the family.  This cottage burned and was soon replaced by the comfortable, cozy cottage now standing and known as the “Winter Cottage”.  Mr. Fairgrieve soon bought more land along the lake shore, which at that time was so covered with trees, vines and undergrowth that it was almost impossible to work one’s way along the shore, while the land back of that and reaching almost to the spot where the grove of pines now stands, was wet, marsh land, covered with scrub growth of trees and vines.  Beyond this to the west was a high ridge of hills.

Mr. Fairgrieve, by different purchases, soon became owner of all that tract of land which is now known as Fairgrieve’s Bay, in all, some two hundred acres.

He began at that time, almost Herculean task of clearing the land, cutting away the trees and shrubs, leaving only such as he wished for shade and beauty.  With a wooden railroad, a gravity car and some men, he cut away the high range of hills at the edge of the field, loaded the excavated earth on the gravity car, sent it down the hill, over the railroad where it was used to fill in the wet, marshy land below until he had a gently sloping, cleared field from the State road to the lake shore, about one hundred acres.  In 1914 he set out the pines which are now a beautiful grove of fine, large trees.

Along the lake shore in front of the cottages, Mr. Fairgrieve built a stone wall to prevent the lake water from overflowing his land and set out the hedge of cedar and hemlock.

HOTEL DREW CROWDS

A closer view of Fairgrieve's Hotel on Lake Wesserunsett in Madison, Maine.  Black Point is visible in the distance, disappearing off to the right of the frame.

The hotel was at first a small building, but when a short time after it was built, he began to serve guests with dinners and lunches, the large dining room was built on and in the room many private dances were held.  Often on Sundays as many as one hundred and fifty people were served, in those days of long ago, when the only means of transportation was the horse and buggy.

All this was at a time before Lakewood was started, when the only activities along the lake was the Spiritualistic camp-meeting held in August and September and an occasional dinner served, in an old barn, situated a bit below the spot where John Hymer’s lovely summer home now stands [now the Colony House Inn B&B -J.O.], the dinner consisting of a fish chowder, the fish for which had been caught in the Lake.

Mr. Fairgrieve made a good deal of effort, years ago, to establish a trout pond and much trout fry was put into the Lake and nearby streams, but on account of the many pickerel and bass the enterprise was never a success.

PUT STEAMER ON LAKE    

[Fairgrieve] owned and operated a small steamer on the Lake capable of carrying twenty-five passengers and this steamer, when occasion required, towed a large barge that could carry fifty or sixty people on excursions around the Lake.  He also owned forty-five boats, including sailboats, rowboats, canoes, dinghies, dories and Kennebec boats and when all of these were in use the Lake was a scene of pleasure and activity.

Mr. Fairgrieve was a thorough businessman and acquired much property.  His home on Russell Street is still standing.  For many years he conducted a restaurant on Madison Avenue and here he sold also, all sorts of fishing tackle and supplies and sporting goods.  He had land on the Eastern Shore of Lake Wesserunsett, a sporting camp at Moosehead lake, and a number of sporting camps at Carry Pond.  But of all his sporting places he liked best to be at Fairgrieve’s Bay.  It was his heart’s idol.  Here his happiest days were spent, sitting on the porch of the hotel overlooking the Lake and walking over the property which he had converted from a wet, boggy, unsightly tract of wasteland to a place of beauty and value.

Courtesy of Lakewood Theatre

Courtesy of Lakewood Theatre