Of the many unique uses of old properties for new enterprises, the Elizabeth Arden landmark is one of the most impressive and one of the most visible.
Located on the Castle Island Road near where Belgrade, Rome and Mount Vernon merge, the mansion on the hill overlooking Long Pond was familiar to generations of residents and vacationers first as elegant and elite, later as grandly fading and unused. Almost everyone who drove by knew it was the Arden Estate.
According to the Vienna Historical Society, Elizabeth Arden made her appearance in Maine in 1929, when she purchased The Gables in Mount Vernon. Born in poverty in rural Canada the former Florence Nightingale Graham had become enamored of the Belgrade Lakes area while visiting a friend.
By the early 1930s, her property, now renamed the Maine Chance Farm, opened its doors to businesswomen as a spot to relax and recuperate. In addition to the main lodge there were several guest houses and a bath house near the lake. Illustrious and wealthy women from all over the world were pampered with beauty treatments, special diets, and exercises. Maine Chance offered treatment rooms, steam rooms, exercise rooms, recreation rooms and a riding stable. The resort's operating farm produced much of the food for the spa.
In a write-up in 1949 in the Boston Post Magazine, reporter Frank G. Jason called Maine Chance "the most noted establishment on the Belgrades."
He also pointed out, "Lest it be misunderstood, Miss Arden's Maine Chance Farm is not the place where her racing horses are bred and trained, though her stable goes under that name, rather it is, shall we say, a reconditioning establishment for ladies of the social set who are inclined to overindulge in crumpets and caviar."
It wasn't all hard exercise and spartan dieting though. Local lore has it that the fishing guides who worked at Maine Chance would sneak their clients sandwiches and candy bars.
Another local story is that Castle Island, a popular fishing camp today, was claimed by both Elizabeth Arden whose land extended that far east and fishing guide Horatio Castle who owned from the island to West Road in Belgrade. When Arden with a battery of city lawyers took Castle to court, he represented himself and won.
Today, the Elizabeth Arden Estate is again one of the most noted establishments on the Belgrades. It has been transformed into a retreat of great recuperative health and wellness magic for Veterans and their families and almost everyone who drives by knows it's the Travis Mills Foundation.