Before routes 4 and 17, before the railroads,
before the stage road or even the two ruts from the buckboard
was the Indian trail leading north from the Kennebec and Sandy
Rivers to a chain of lakes that characterize the place now called
the Rangeley Lakes Region.
Until 1796 the area belonged to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
That year four men - including James Rangeley Sr. of Philadelphia
- purchased nearly 31,000 acres between the Kennebec River and
New Hampshire for timber and mineral rights. The area was inhabited
by five different Indian tribes at the time - the St. Francis
and the Abnacki, thought to be the most predominant.
lakes, known as the Androscoggin Lakes, included Aquassuc (later
changed to Rangeley), Mooselookmeguntic, Mollychunkamunk and
Welokennebacook (the Richardsons), Umbagog, Cupsuptic and Kennebago
privately owned, the Indians had the land
exclusively to themselves until 1810. It was not until a few
years later that Rangeley Lake would see any permanent "white
man" settlement. The first family was from Avon - Luther
Hoar, his wife, Eunice, and eight children, including 7 week-old
baby Eunice. In late March of 1817, they trekked 26 miles on
foot through the woods and snow to Rangeley Lake with all of
their possesions on two "moose sleds" and the baby
strapped into a large wooden bread mixing trough. They reportedly
survived on fish and game and lived quite "primitively".
The following year, two other families settled near the lake,
and thus began the "Lake Settlement."
his father's death, James Rangeley, Jr. inherited his share of
land in Maine and proceeded to buy out the other partners. In
1825, James Jr., later known as Squire Rangeley and his family
traveled the single horse trail from Madrid, intent upon making
this wild place their home. About 12 years later the area was
renamed "Rangeley" on a new state map. (Maine became
a state in 1820.) By 1840 the population had grown to 39 families.
Rangeley was a small but thriving farming community with
a sideline trade in lumber...yet there was a spot at the confluence
of the Rangeley and Kennebago Rivers, called Indian Rock, where
Brook Trout weighing in excess of eight pounds could be caught.
Sport fishermen from Providence, Rhode Island and New York City
discovered this spot in the early 1840s, but it wasn't until
the 1860s that Rangeley's reputation as a fisherman's paradise
really took hold.
For many years the local farmers had fished for sustenance, and
therefore, they instinctiveley knew where the
best fish could be landed. As the news spread to the cities,
bringing greater numbers of fishing enthusiasts to the area,
many of Rangeley's enterprising settlers became guides while
others built public houses, sporting camps (usually a cluster
of cabins serviced by a main lodge), cabins and even hotels to
accommodate their guests. Across from the famed Indian Rock,
a group of the earliest sport fishermen formed the Oquossoc Angling
Association, a private club of individual cabins with a main
lodge for dining.
now, the later half of the 19th century, Rangeley was attracting
sizeable publicity. An enticing 15 page article on the region
was published by Harper's
New Monthly Magazine in 1877. Soon after, the railroads published
their own regional travel guide to attract visitors. Cornelia
"Flyrod" Crosby was probably one of the area's most
famous publicists. Her articles and fly casting demonstrations
at eastern sporting shows had a major impact on drawing visitors
and sportsmen to the Rangeley region.
By 1900, fishing guides in the area numbered 200. One of
the most famous guides was Herbie Welch, who arrived at Haines
Landing in 1903. He was a champion fly-caster and served as a
guide to Rangeley's distinguished visitors, including former
president Herbert Hoover. Another locally famous person was Carrie
Stevens, who lived at Upper Dam in the 1920s -1940s and originated
and tied approximately 100 fly patterns, with the popular Gray
Ghost Streamer being one of these. During this period, some of
the well known resorts included Camp Bemis on Mooselookmeguntic
Lake, Mountain View House, Mooselookmeguntic House, Rangeley
Lake House, The Barker, Bald Mountain Camps, The Birches on Students
Island in Mooselookmeguntic Lake and Grant's Kennebago Camps.
in Rangeley was primarily influenced by tourism. By 1909 its
population had grown to nearly 1,300 up from 238 in 1860. In
addition to the numerous
public accommodations were substantial private camps owned by
wealthy, influential families from Philadelphia, New York City
and Boston. Locals and visitors alike were serviced by a bank,
library, churches, a school, public water, locally generated
electricity, grocery stores, a hardware store and pharmacy -
all evidence that Rangeley had come a long way from the farming
community its Squire had left some 70 years before.
late '20s and '30s were known as the "Golden Age" for
hotels and the larger sporting camps. Families escaped the heat
and dirt of the big cities to "summer"
at their favorite resort in Rangeley, a tradition which often
spanned several generations. Rangeley eagerly met its visitors'
sophistication by providing chefs, orchestras, ballroom dancing
and silent movies. Simultaneously, the railroads obliged by extending
their lines to convenient in-town ports and a bus service transported
vacationers from Farmington and Phillips and beginning in 1934
one could even arrive via seaplane.
World War II would change Rangeley's course of history by not
only taking its young men, but also by halting the summer vacations
of many who were devoting their days to less frivolous activities
to aid the war effort. With the
end of the war came a noticeable change in previous trends. Reportedly,
the "vacationing public was becoming more mobile and would
no longer be content to stay in one place for an extended period."
Larger hotels quickly lost popularity to motels, and the cabins
of public sporting camps and cottage communities were sold off
to individual owners for use as summer homes. By 1958, the famed
and historic Rangeley Lake House was razed. Other resorts were
destroyed by fire and consequently never rebuilt, thus ending
Rangeley's prosperous hotel era.
Although the style of vacations in Rangeley
has changed, the region is still a highly popular summer resort
and summer home destination. Many of the children and grandchildren
of visitors during Rangeley's Golden Age own cabins or camps
that were once part of the many resorts dotting the shores of
Saddleback Lake, Quimby Pond, Kennebago Lake and other bodies
of water. Still in operation today are three historic sporting
camps now run as public resorts for fisherman and family vacationers:
Bosebuck Mountain Camps on Aziscoos Lake, Grant's Kennebago Camps
and Bald Mountain Camps on Mooselookmeguntic. The renown Oquossoc
Angling Association is still thriving, and the centerpiece of
downtown Rangeley, the 91-year-old, three story Rangeley Inn
(earlier called the Rangeley Tavern), continues to stand as a
proud monument to the Hotel Era. Today the Inn offers all of
the modern conveniences and amenities, yet its architecture still
draws vacationers back to an earlier, grander time.
remnants still remain of the Indian path, the buckboard road
and the railroad passage leading to the chain of lakes...and
although a thriving four-season resort community, one doesn't
have to walk far into the woods and mountains to experience the
area's wilderness and, in a sense, walk back in time.
Source of information and quotes:
A Chronological History of the Rangeley Lakes Region by Edward
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