June 22 – 29, 2017 Vol. 19, No. 3

Summertime in the Belgrades

June 22 – 29


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On the Stand: 25 Years Ago

A collage of covers from the first season of "Summertime in the Belgrades"

by Esther J. Perne

Twenty-five years ago gas cost around a dollar, a Bush and a Clinton were campaigning for president and in the Belgrades a new publication appeared. It was billed as the weekly guide to the best of the Belgrade Lakes Region and its mission was to represent the wonderful positives and proactivity of this unique lake-rich area: the history, the livelihood, the outdoor lifestyle, the enrichment and the mystique of such a vast and diverse region.

"Other people dream of a Belgrade Lakes-style summer," the paper pointed out to readers. "You are living it. In a world where change is the norm, changes in the Belgrades never seem to alter the basic beauty, peacefulness and rusticity." Twenty-five years ago, the region pulsed on small-time, small-town, small-news events just as it does today.

The Calendar of Events was filled with a schedule of summer theater productions, car shows, square dances, children's reading programs, fishing tournaments, canoe races, nature appreciation workshops, chicken barbeques, parades, public suppers, free concerts indoors and out, and, of course, mailboat rides on Great Pond.

A few highlights of that summer:

  • The gala of the summer — at the Village Inn — was the 15th birthday of the Belgrade Regional Health Center, located at that time in the former Belgrade Elementary School, for residents old and new to meet each other — besides in the waiting room.
  • A door-to-door petition spearheaded by two customers convinced Skowhegan Savings Bank to stay in town.
  • The McGrath Pond/Salmon Lake Association was four years old and already holding winter and summer annual meetings, publishing a newsletter, distributing lake preservation literature, giving out trees and plants to replenish the shoreline.
  • It was year three for the Snow Pond/Messalonskee Lake Association. Members were picking up their free spruce trees, taking home dye pills to put through their septic systems and thinking about the threat of phosphorus to their lake.
  • A new dam was built at the end of Messalonskee Lake by Central Maine Power, involving the construction of a cofferdam to hold water back while the spillway was being repaired.
  • Loon experts estimated there were 4,000 loons in Maine, 182 in Vermont, 20 in Massachusetts, and 495 in New Hampshire. Massachusetts lost its loons to acid rain, Vermont to development as did New Hampshire with a low of 77 loons in 1978 until the state staged a campaign for man-made nesting islands.
  • Children's Book Cellar, Railroad Square and Hamlin's Marine in Waterville, Mid-Maine Marine and Alden Camps in Oakland, and Day's Real Estate, Great Pond Marina in Belgrade Lakes and Hammond Lumber in Belgrade were advertisers - and still are.
  • Exciting activities among the lakes included berry-picking, antiquing, fishing, attending public suppers, water sports, shopping and a few hikes.
  • The Belgrades were faced with an almost lack of public lands. Blueberry Hill, the boat launches, and two parcels of land in Rome (including French's Mountain) held by the Belgrade Region Conservation Alliance comprised almost the entire public or preserved lands.
  • A GMC 1992 Extended Cab 4x4 cost $16,752.
  • The 100-year-old, five-story Cascade Woolen Mill in Oakland offered over 250 styles and colors of wool and wool blends in its outlet store.
  • The 18th Annual Buttermilk Hill Music Festival was held on the Gawler Farm in Belgrade Lakes — for an old-time good old time.
  • Mount Vernon celebrated its bicentennial with a year's worth of fabulous activities, looked back on more thriving times and myriad changes and concluded the community remained essentially what it set out to be 200 years ago: a community distinct and unto itself.
  • In real estate, an unfinished cabin at Woodland Camps could be purchased for $45,000, a 3-bedroom log home with 5+ acres for $119,000 and a year-round, 2-bedroom house on Great Pond for $139,000.
  • An ad for a local dude ranch — one of the more unusual ads to appear during the first season.

  • Smithfield, age 152, had a population of 865, one store, one church, one garage [for repairing automobiles], one fire station, one grange hall, one antique shop, one post office, one beach, and one roller skating rink. There were 12 births, 5 deaths and 6 marriages during the previous year.
  • Popular mailman Dave Webster — there had yet to be a mailwoman — offered passengers "the best sightseeing opportunity in the Belgrades." He also delivered messages to remote lake dwellers, once saved a drowning child at one of his stops, successfully headed off a runaway speedboat and hosted a wedding (also successful) ceremony on the boat.
  • The 84-year-old Sidney Fair, the only agricultural fair in the Belgrade area offered horse, oxen and pony pulling, dozens of concessions and an antique midway.

People were just starting to ask, wouldn't it be nice if the next generation and the one after that and indeed the ones beyond could enjoy the lakes and the land the way they were?

Because they did ask and because they joined forces, preserved land, monitored water quality, and advocated remediation the Belgrades continue to offer the basic beauty, peacefulness and rusticity that other people only dream and those who work, play, visit and vacation here continue to live.