Western Maine, from Bethel to Greenville, has always drawn tourists with a good range of lodging, restaurants, and outdoor activities from hunting and fishing to skiing and snowmobiling. But from the get-go, we Mainers have had a love-hate relationship with people from away, whether they were here for the summer or just a week of hunting.
Leon Leonwood Bean offered the following advice for nonresident hunters in his book, Hunting-Fishing-Camping, republished in 2012 by Down East Books for Bean’s 100th anniversary. “When on your hunting trips do not try to belittle the back woods folk even though you are a college man and your home is in a big city,” wrote Bean.
“While your education and personal appearance may be far superior to theirs,” he noted, “they may be getting just as much pleasure out of life as yourself and when it comes right down to country common sense, they probably have you beaten.”
Mainers have made tourists the centerpiece of our jokes, deriding them as people “from away” – or worse – and even been subject to advertising urging us to be nicer to them. The ads seemed to have worked. A key survey of tourists in 2011 turned up no complaints about us – but a few about our roads. We agree!
In the early 1900s, a correspondent for The Nation reported, “As a whole, the disposition to provide especially for the needs or desires of visitors is not strong,” amongst Maine’s residents. “The assumption seems to be, rather, that the visitors are sure to come anyway and that the less there is expended for their gratification, the greater will be the profit from despoiling them.”
Some locals worried that summer visitors distracted families from their work, drove up farm wages, and set a poor example of extravagance.
Despite all of this negativity, between 1879 and 1909, investments in Maine summer resorts increased from $500,000 to $138 million and tourist industry income rose from $250,000 to $20 million. Vacationland was up and running.
The Poland Spring Hotel’s Hill-Top magazine urged Mainers to thank summer visitors to “awakening us to the significance of our home.” Well, there is that. And the fact that tourism now delivers about $8 billion to our economy – up slightly from that turn-of-the-century $20 million! It’s now our number one industry.
The Origins of Conservation in Northern New England, written by Richard W. Judd and published by Harvard University Press in 1997, from which some of the information in this column was retrieved, provides a fascinating look at the history of tourism in Maine. Here’s a favorite passage.
“Hundreds of miles deep in the interior Maine woods, visitors to the rambling Kineo House on Moosehead Lake feasted on roast lamb, wild strawberry preserves and cream in the largest dining hall in the state. They delighted in the hotel’s comfortable beds, steam heat, gas lights, open fireplaces, and in-room bathrooms before disembarking by canoe into the ‘freedom of the forests.’ Reporters dispelled the ‘popular delusion about the black fly,’ which allegedly had been driven from the area by the onset of civilization.”
Well, ok, we haven’t always been honest with our tourists. Certainly, black flies have not been driven from the area! But there is still a lot of fun to be had here, by tourists and those of us blessed to live in Maine year-round.