Belgrade Hotel Memories
Click any blue-bordered photo on this page to enlarge it.
An aerial view of the Belgrade Hotel, date unknown. With frontage on Long Pond, the hotel was situated at the southern end of Belgrade Lakes Village, just behind where the Sunset Grill is today.
by Rod Johnson and Sandra Lewis
During the first half of the last century, articles and ads featuring the Belgrade Hotel were prevalent. Maine publications and some from Boston and New York were often quoted. Here are several that were researched by Belgrade Historical Society member Sandra Lewis, and some memoirs of my own from the early and mid 1950s. These short articles speak to "The Belgrade" being planned, the spring opening in 1905, a visitor's memory in 1934, the proposed auction sale in 1942 and lastly an article announcing summer opening in 1956, only four months before it burned to the ground.
From Sandra's research:
- January 6, 1899: The Waterville Mail reports that plans are already drawn for an elegant summer hotel that is proposed to be built the coming year at Belgrade Mills. It is proposed to have a house of 30 sleeping rooms ready for the opening on the first day of June. The land has already been purchased and there is no question that the company will be organized within a few weeks. The work will begin as soon as possible after the snow if off the ground.
- June 15, 1900: New time table for Maine Central: The fast train between Boston and Bar Harbor will stop at Belgrade. This is brought about through the erecting of the Hotel Belgrade. The train will not make regular stops there for everybody and anybody but only for those who hold tickets from Boston.
- July 8, 1905: A new and modern hotel, The Belgrade, first class in all its appointments is located at Belgrade Mills, or Belgrade Lakes as it is now called, between Great and Long Ponds in close proximity to the fishing grounds. This is ready for occupancy and the opening of the fishing season. The famous hostelry is reached from Belgrade Station on the back route of the Maine Central Railroad. This is a famous and deservedly popular resort for sportsmen and summer tourists.
- July 5, 1934: This is an excerpt from an article written by a visitor to the Belgrade area: In this water system is the lovely lake called Belgrade Lake, which fronts the lovely gardens and façade of the Hotel Belgrade at the village of Belgrade Lakes itself. Everybody knows all about this beautiful sheet of water, but beside this there is a Great Lake which seems to have hidden itself. At least that is how it all seemed to me. The first time I ever saw it was passing down a tiny stream in behind the village of Belgrade Lakes, then suddenly out into a sheet of water so impressive that it almost takes one's breath away. It is full of fish and the shores are deeply indented. Lights twinkle here and there from camps and cabins when the evening shadows come.
- May 9, 1942: Lewiston Daily Sun notice of sale: One of Maine's famous summer hotels situated in the heart of the beautiful Belgrade Lakes Region is to be sold at public auction on May 11, 1942. The four story building is approximately 335 feet long, with veranda. It contains 90 rooms and 63 baths. The main floor contains a large dining room, beauty parlor business and telephone office. Most of the rooms were newly equipped and furnished in 1936, and are in excellent condition. There are 3 guest cottages, separate annex for domestic help, golf course and 1000 feet of shore frontage with boat house and diving tower. Owner decided to sell for cash, the hotel and cottages including furnishings. Cash or certified check for $3000 required at the time of sale, balance due upon delivery of deed. Auction will take place May 11, 1942 at 11:00 a.m. on the grounds of the Belgrade Hotel, Belgrade, Maine. For more information: Smith, Stanley Inc., 66 Main Street, Waterville, Maine. Tel. 636
- June 20, 1956: Advertisement: Now open, The Belgrade Hotel and Cottage Resort, Belgrade Lakes, Maine. You are invited. Maine people are always welcome at the famous Belgrade Hotel to enjoy its manysummertime activities. We offer golf, swimming, boating, fishing, tennis, etc. Come and enjoy the finest food in Maine, tastefully served in the delightful hotel main dining room. Come early and stay late. You'll enjoy Belgrade hospitality and fine food with moderate prices. Cocktail lounge always open. Luncheon, 12:30-2 p.m. Dinner, 6:30-8 p.m. on weekdays. Sunday dinner is served 12:30-2 p.m. and 6:30-8 p.m. This summer, dine at the Belgrade Lakes Hotel, easy driving from any point in Central Maine.
(Author's note: Just four months after the above ad circulated on June 20, 1956, the grand old Belgrade Hotel burned to the ground. Fire departments from many surrounding towns were unable to even slow down the inferno that took the old wooden icon in just a couple of hours. The town's people gathered into a large group where the Sunset Grill is now. We all watched as the roaring fire, aided by a southwest wind, quickly transformed the glorious old building into a pile of blackened rubble. Many elders were clearly shaken with tears in their eyes. The loss of the Belgrade Hotel marked the end of an era, but it seems that a new move by summer visitors to build and own their own cottages was already in the works. A few new camp roads were being built along the shorelines to access some of the previously inaccessible areas.)
Next are a couple of memories from the Luckiest Boy:
After the Belgrade Hotel burned in October, winter came along quickly. We kids went off to school daily as usual, not caring about the old hotel's demise. We did mill around the charred wreckage after school and took over a small piece of the golf course to play baseball and other games. We also continued a right of passage that all boys in town were expected to do. The huge water tank sitting up on a hill behind the hotel had been emptied for the season not long before the fire. We all climbed up the long steel ladder and down into the inside of the tank. A few years later the tank was cut up with a torch and removed as scrap. Soon thereafter the property was sold to a developer named Tobey. The entire acreage was surveyed into building lots where many homes and cottages have been built over the last 65 years.
In the summer of 1956, the Belgrade Hotel hosted some large gathering, probably a conference of some sort. A large golf match was scheduled as part of the weekend fun. All the older boys in town were scheduled to be golf caddies. The golf pro apparently ran out of boys by late morning and sent a runner down into the village to gather up younger boys, not normally considered big enough to caddy. At age 9, myself and three or four others were scooped up while swimming at the dam.
Within an hour we had all reported for duty and got our first chance to be a caddy. I remember we were all about four feet tall and the golf bags dragged on the ground. We all went home later in the day with a few dollars in our pockets and some very sore shoulders.
We hope you all enjoyed these tidbits of history. Thanks to Sandra Lewis for making the old articles available for Summertime readers.
Rod Johnson was born and raised in the Belgrade Lakes in the 1950s and '60s.
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