Historical Sketch of Old Orchard Beach, Maine
A Gazetteer of the
State of Maine

By Geo. J. Varney
Published by B. B. Russell, 57 Cornhill,
Boston 1886

Retyped for the web by Gene Hubbard

Old Orchard Beach lies between Wood Island Light at the mouth of the Saco River and Prout's Neck in Scarborough. This beach has been called the finest in New England. Its actual limits are from near the mouth of the Saco to Pine Point near the mouth of Scarborough River, having the form of the arc of a circle. At low tide the beach is about 300 feet in width, of fine, hard, smooth sand, at no point wholly interrupted by rocks for the whole distance of 9 miles, and affording an excellent drive-way; while from the absence of undertow, the surf-bathing is perfectly safe. It is reached by stage from Saco, and by the cars of the Eastern and the Boston and Maine railroads. A branch of the Eastern road has now been extended southward along the beach for 3 miles to Bay View at the mouth of the Saco, where connection is made with the Pool in Biddeford by means of a ferry-boat, and with Saco and Biddeford at the falls by steamers. The two latter afford a convenient means of viewing the river scenery, the buildings and the beach. Near the hotels and a little back from the shore, is a beautiful forest park of 30 acres, with pleasant paths, arbors and rustic adornments. About 2 miles towards Saco on Foxwell's Brook is a picturesque waterfall about 40 feet in perpendicular height. Half a mile south of the large hotels is the pic­turesque camp-meeting ground of the Methodists. It is situated in a hollow among hillocks, and beneath the shade of noble trees growing in a thick grove. Between the camp-ground and the beach, scattered over rocky knolls, is a village of summer cottages owned by the breth­ren who annually sojourn in the place through the weeks of religious and temperance meetings. At the beach and its neighborhood are a large number of public houses, from the country tavern to the palatial hotel of 500 rooms, furnished in the best manner, and supplied with all the latest appliances for comfort and entertainment.

This beach received its name from an orchard set by Thomas Rogers who settled here in 1638. His farm, near Goose Fare Brook, became of so much importance that the early geographers of Maine designated it on their maps as " Rogers' Garden." The trees that he planted remained more than a century. But long after the first hotels were built, and even to this day, there are standing some of the trees of an "old orchard," but a subsequent one, planted by some later disciple of pomoculture.

In the early days, the councillors [sic] constituting the government of Gorges' province of Maine met for business at the house of Richard Bonython, which stood on the east side of Saco River, near the lower ferry, or just above the terminus of the Old Orchard Beach Railroad. This form of government continued from 1639 to 1652, from which date Massachusetts most of the time maintained her authority and government here by the strong hand. In 1677, however, the heirs of Gorges sold their right to the Common wealth, which thenceforth held undisputed jurisdiction, until separated from her and admitted as a State in 1820.

No summer resort can be complete without a picturesque character in its his­tory ; and this want is supplied to Old Orchard by its pioneer caterer, Ned Clemens-half hermit, half epicure. The first knowledge of him in this region was his arrival at a hotel in Saco, where his genial deportment soon won him many friends. By his apt quotations, he exhibited a knowledge of the dramatic poets and classic authors; and his acquaintance with American scenery showed that he had ac­quired much knowledge from travel. In music he was accomplished, and often be­guiled his leisure with his flute. He was reticent in regard to his previous life, but in later years it became known that he was a native of Philadelphia, where be was educated for a dramatic life; and several years acted in that profession. He was with Barnum in the first organization of his popular exhibition. Evidently he was not successful in this line; and having met with disaster in a matrimonial project, lie had wandered to Saco to start afresh in a new place. Looking about for a means of livelihood, he opened some bathing-rooms under the Thornton House. After awhile this house was burned down, and poor Ned had to make a new shift; and he next alighted with his bathing-tubs in the basement of Cataract Block. Then to his bathing he added victualling. By the death of an artist brother in a distant State, he became the possessor of a panorama of the River Rhine, with which he travelled [sic] for awhile. His tastes-and poverty-at length led him to Old Orchard Beach, where among the whispering pines which then stood near the site of the present Sea Shore House, he erected a small building which he furnished, ornamenting it with natural history specimens. This received the name of "Old Orchard Retreat," where he dwelt alone, and entertained such patrons as came with chowders and other simple fare. He also supplied bathing-suits to his patrons. Here, too, he issued a small newspaper called the "Goose Fare Guide and Old Orchard Bellows." It is acknowledged to be the first " Guide " to these shores, and the " Bellows " which first blew abroad the praises of Old Orchard. But E. C. Staples, proprietor of the Old Orchard House, was the first to open a house for boarders, which he did in 1837, at the solicitation of a few individuals who had been impressed with the beauty of the beach and the invigorating quality of the climate. He then dwelt in a plain farm-house, the home of his ancestors; but it has been remodeled, and is now the Staples' Cottage. The first season's boarders were charmed with the place, and the next year there were more applica­tions than the house could accommodate; and he soon increased its capacity by an addition. Among the early patrons of Mr. Staples were gentlemen and their families from Montreal, who came the whole distance in their own private car­riages. The Portsmouth and Portland Railroad was opened in 1842, and the Grand Trunk from Montreal to Portland in 1852. These brought passengers to Saco Station, within four miles of the beach; and from that time the demand for hotel accommodations increased with great rapidity. Mr. Staples enlarged his house from year to year until his "Old Orchard House," accommodating 300 guests, had been erected. This was popular and prosperous, until destroyed by fire, July 21, 1875. The new "Old Orchard House" was erected in 1876, with ac­commodations for 500 guests. Boarding-houses and hotels have since been increas­ing and enlarging for several years, until now they number above 30, with accom­modations for more than 4,000 guests.

Adjuncts of Old Orchard Beach are Bay View or Ferry Beach, at the mouth of the Saco River, the Pool in Biddeford on the opposite shove,* Pine Point, and Prout's Neck. All these places are supplied with hotels -some of superior quality.

* See article on Biddeford. See article on Scarborough. See article on Saco.

(Note: Old Orchard Beach was incorporated as a town in 1883, this 1886 printing of the book was an update to an earlier one and this was not updated.)

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