In the Poland Spring Preservation Park in Poland, Maine, you’ll find a lovely octagonal Queen Anne style building with a fascinating story – along with the famous spring water and the historic resort.
The octagon building is called the Maine State Building, built in Chicago for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Maine’s Legislature had decided to showcase the state’s “material resources and industrial development” at the ambitious world’s fair.
Everything about the building came from Maine. The granite came from 10 different Maine quarries, the slate roof from the Monson Slate Company of Monson, Maine. The wood came from Maine forests. Maine craftsmen built the entire thing, inside and out. Even the architect came from Maine: Chicago architect Charles Sumner Frost, a Lewiston native, graduated from MIT.
Displays about the state of Maine (including Poland Spring water, which won the Medal of Excellence) filled the building. So did fairgoers. An estimated one in four Americans visited the World’s Columbian Exposition. The spectacularly successful fair influenced the arts, architecture, urban planning, sanitation and the country’s self-image as an industrial behemoth. Maine, no doubt, felt good about itself as well.
After the fair ended, a tragic fire swept through the fairgrounds, destroying nearly all of its 200 buildings. Those that remained found homes. The Palace of Fine Arts became the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. The Norway Building was moved to chewing-gum magnate William Wrigley’s estate in Wisconsin, then became a museum. The Dutch Building moved to Brookline, Mass. And the Maine Building moved to Poland, where its three floors held an art gallery, a library and four bedrooms.
The Ricker family, owners of the Poland Spring resort, bought the building for $30,000. Hiram Ricker brought a crew of 19 Mainers, led by the resort’s head carpenter and civil engineer, Forrest Walker, to dismantle the structure. In Chicago Ricker watched as they carefully took apart the building and loaded it onto 16 freight cars.
When the building arrived in Danville Junction in Maine, oxen hauled it to Poland Spring in carts. A pamphlet called “Poland Spring-America’s Leading Spa” reported, ‘”This undertaking was conducted with so much skill and care that not even the immense polished columns were scratched in the operation.”
The cornerstone was then laid on Aug. 14, 1894, and the building was dedicated a year later. Ricker added adornments and another floor to enhance its appearance.
For years the guests at the Poland Spring Resort visited the Maine State Building. Hiram Ricker’s daughter Janette, “Miss Nettie,” directed the well-attended summer art exhibits. Every year her father’s company, Hiram Ricker & Sons, bought art for the resort’s collection from its annual budget of $1,000.
But the days of the grand hotel ended and the building’s allure faded over time. So in 1966, its contents were boxed up and stored, according to the Poland Spring Preservation Society. In 1968, they were auctioned off. The Preservation Society then took ownership of the Maine State Building and began to restore and preserve it.
More About Poland Spring
The historic district encompasses 23 buildings of the old resort’s 200 buildings. The National Park Service describes as “an important aspect of Maine’s emerging tourism industry.” Though the 500-room Poland Spring House burned down in 1975, the bottling plant, inns, cottages, chapel, golf course and Maine State Building survive.
Poland Spring began in 1794, when Jabez Ricker began putting up travelers on the stagecoach stop between Montreal and Portland. His business did well for decades, but then the Grand Trunk Railway opened in 1852.
Fortunately, Ricker’s grandson, Hiram Ricker, had discovered in 1844 that drinking the water cured his dyspepsia. The family, which still ran the inn business, began promoting the curative effects of the water. In 1859, they started selling it. They described it as healthful because it cleansed the body of “evil humors” and the mind of “distorted fancies.” Doctors in Portland also prescribed Poland Spring water for stomach disorders and diseases of the kidneys and liver.
After the Civil War, the railroad and the steamship began bringing summer visitors to Maine. The Poland Spring resort grew up around the mineral waters.. Ricker built the 500-room Poland Spring House, where guests spent the summer. They came to escape the bad air, bad food, bad water and general unhealthiness of the city. Ricker then added a masseuse and European-style spa services.
Other spas followed, including Ballston Spa and Saratoga Springs in New York, and White Sulphur Springs in West Virginia.
Heyday, And Then…
The Poland Spring resort reached its heyday between 1876 and 1933. Then came the automobile, and the end of the era of summer-long vacations at grand resorts settled amid rural splendor. The Ricker descendants, too, had less interest in running the business.
Today, the golf course still attracts golfers. The Perrier Water Co. bought the water business in 1980. Then Nestle bought it in 1992, and in 2021 sold it to two private equity firms.
Visitors can see a display of the furniture and art that remained with the Maine State Building. For more of the history of the Poland Spring resort, click here.
Thanks to Daniel C. Purdy, who brought this story to our attention, and to Paul Lessard who brought the Maine State Building website to our attention. This story last updated in 2022.
Image: Maine State Building By Tim Pierce – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11126419. Dutch Building By User:Magicpiano – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9501802. Water logo By https://www.polandspring.com/, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=67335928. Poland Spring bottle by agamitsudo with additional modifications by gavingt per Open Food Facts, CC By-SA 3.0.