History of Poland Spring
The very short story is that the story of Poland Spring begins in the late eighteenth century when Jabez Ricker moved his family from Alfred Maine to Bakers town, present day Poland. Jabez had owned land adjacent to the Shaker community in Alfred and when they pressed him to acquire his land, he relented and made the land swap. Shortly after the Ricker’s arrival in Bakers town, some travelers knocked on the door looking for a place to stay. In 1794 the family began operating an inn on the property and by 1797 opened a brand new building - the Wentworth Ricker Inn. Thus the beginning of a tradition of operating an inn on the grounds that continues today.
In 1844, Hiram Ricker, after suffering from dyspepsia for many years, went to
the fields to oversee the men on the farm. For several days he drank only water
from the spring on the edge of the property and after consuming the water for
ten days, he became cured of his illness. While this is not the first time
members of the Ricker family drank from the spring when they were ill, this was
the first time that water was perceived as having medicinal properties. In 1845,
the Rickers began sharing water and by 1859 made their first commercial sale of
the water. In marketing the resort as a country getaway with recreational
activities and having water with health benefits, the Rickers slowly grew their
In 1876, the family opened the Poland Spring House which shortly became a popular attraction for the country’s social and political elite. The hotel, eventually comprised of over 350 guest rooms, a barber shop, dance and photography studios, pool room, music hall, bowling alley, dining facilities, fire sprinkler system and elevators, served as the crown jewel of the resort grounds. Its design and amenities were used to develop several other Hiram Ricker & Sons operated hotels, including the Samoset and the Mt. Kineo House.
The resort also took an unprecedented step in 1894 when it purchased the Maine
State Building from the state. The building, constructed of granite, hardwoods,
and slate from Maine, was originally constructed as the state entry for the
Columbian Exposition or Chicago Worlds Fair of 1893. Designed by Lewiston native
Charles Sumner Frost, the building was purchased by the Rickers, disassembled,
transported to Poland Spring, reassembled and dedicated for use as a library and
art gallery for the resort guests. It remains as one of only a handful of
buildings left from the almost 200 that comprised the grand and historic fair.
In 1895, the family opened a nine-hole golf course, one of the first in the state, after commissioning Arthur Fenn as its designer. Fenn, considered by some to be the first American born professional golfer and course designer stayed on for many years as the golf pro at the resort. By the early twentieth century, the resort desired a modernization of the course and contracted with Donald Ross to redesign the course and expand it to eighteen holes. Ross is recognized as one of the most celebrated golf architects of all times and designed, re-designed, or expanded eleven courses in the state, the one at Poland Spring being the oldest.
In 1907, Hiram Ricker and Sons Co. opened a new bottling plant and springhouse
on their property. This was perhaps the most modern bottling facility of its
time, installed with glass and silver piping, non-porous Cararra glass for easy
cleaning, and even showers for the workers to use prior to beginning their
shift. The company was able to churn out over 450 cases of water per shift and
continued their dominance in the water business.
The 1930s were not kind years for anyone, including the Ricker family. Eventually losing control over their empire, the resort and water company was owned by several iterations of business consortiums.
In 1962, Saul Feldman purchased the resort and built a new inn on the grounds. He tried to attract a new clientele and offered modern amenities. In order to increase his profits, he leased the Poland Spring House and other buildings on the grounds to the US government for use by the Job Corps program. When the program opened in 1966, Poland Spring was the site of the largest women’s training center in the country. With several thousand individuals coming and going, the wear and tear took its toll and then the Job Corps left the grounds in 1969, the Poland Spring House was closed and not used as a hotel again.
In 1972, Mel Robbins came to Poland Spring to develop condominiums but instead fell in love with the historic character and the potential of the property and began leasing the hotels from Mr. Feldman. In 1975, the Poland Spring House burned to the ground and in 1977 the Maine State Building and All Souls Chapel were donated to the Poland Spring Preservation Society.
What started as a stage coach stop in 1794 when George Washington was president, continues on a resort. Located in the foothills of western Maine, the Poland Spring Resort, with its three inns, three restaurants, ten cottages and a Donald Ross designed 18-hole championship golf course, surely has a lot to offer.
Cyndi began her career at Poland Spring in the dining room when she was just 16 years old. She and her late husband Mel bought the hotel in 1982 after operating the resort for a decade. By the 1970s the grand lady on the hill known as Poland Spring was in trouble. It needed a new vision to restore it to its former grandeur. Mel Robbins was just the maverick to tackle the project. They made quite a team with Mel's vision and marketing savvy backed by Cyndi's tireless ability to know and do all of the things that make a resort operate efficiently everyday. Mel ran the front of the house in the early days and Cyndi ran the back of the house. Mel passed away in 2007.
Mel was an advocate of change and Cyndi has carried on that tradition. Under Cyndi's leadership Poland Spring has positioned itself to be a destination resort in yet another century, enabling the great Poland Spring brand to continue. Many renovations and changes have been completed while others are planned for the future. A new driving range was built in 2011 to compliment the golf course, which is the oldest resort course in the United States. Also the first nine holes of a disc golf course have been added and a mini-golf park is underway. The Lodge was completely renovated and is the first inn on the property to offer year round service since 1979.
When visiting Poland Spring, one is taken by the beauty of the natural landscape and the interaction the property has with its surroundings. Sitting on the veranda of Maine Inn, one overlooks the greens and fairways of this golf gem with the panoramic views of the Presidential Mountain and Carter-Moriah range as a backdrop.
History is abound; from the historic golf course to the two museums on the property to even offering guests the opportunity to stay in a building listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Really, though, it is about the people. The smiling and positive attitude of Cyndi's extended family, the Poland Spring employees. Poland Spring has been her life’s work like Mel before her and the Rickers before him. In her words, "If I sold this place what would I do? I love it. It's my family and it's my life."
Last year, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Robbins management at Poland Spring, Cyndi has re-released her husband’s book, Inside Poland Spring: The Uncensored Story which was published almost 15 years ago. She wrote an update of the past decade and shared her story at Poland Spring. Just one more story that helps to illustrate all that is special about Poland Spring.