The Fisherman’s Resort
Written By Arthur W. Wheaton
adapted from a presentation to the
Annual Meeting of the Grand Lake Stream Historical Society
This Maine Sporting Camp, located in the down east village of Grand Lake Stream, a much sought after destination itself, is a century old icon for sportsman wanting a traditional experience with Maine guides in a Grand Laker square stern canoe, a shore lunch and fine fishing for landlocked salmon and smallmouth bass. Its wonderful classic log cabins, fine dining and ambiance, adjacent to great fly fishing water on the stream itself, makes for a grand sporting experience.
Jeff McEvoy and Beth Rankin, current owners of Weatherby’s, “The Fisherman’s Resort”, are raising their children Keaton and Carson in this downeast village that is steeped in a proud tradition and affection for the Sporting Life. The Camps, the guides, the square stern canoe rooted here, are essential backdrops to a somewhat unchanged classic experience that has been a treasured destination for as much as three generations of “sports”.
To get a wonderful sense of history for the great Grand Lake Stream watershed (West Branch of the St. Croix River), one must reach back to when William Gould came to the northern edge of Township 27, near the outlet of Grand Lake Stream on Big Lake, and built a landing in 1854/55, which ultimately became a well used sportsman’s entry to Hinckley Township. The salmon fishing in the stream was becoming well known among ardent fisherman during the 1850’s, 60’s and into the 70’s and Minnie Atkinson, author of Hinckley Township, says that during this time as many as 50 tents dotted the stream. With Indian guides carrying the canoes, and later Gould using a makeshift wagon to carry baggage, sportsman used the old tote road or Indian carry from Big Lake to find good fishing, in the stream and on Grand Lake. Minnie Atkinson reports “In the earliest village days, tenting along the stream by fisherman was the only way these sports could keep from the weather; later certain housekeepers had opened their homes for the accommodation of periodical sportsman visitors.” The first boarding house to make provisions for sportsman was credited to Mrs. Lavonia Ripley and this growing need by sportsman was answered by others.
In 1869 the Princeton and Milford Turnpike Company began work on a road to connect the Houlton road (now U. S. Route 1) to Milford on the Penobscot River but due to financial difficulties only “grubbed out” 3 or four miles west of the village of Grand Lake Stream before abandoning the project. Early in the summer of 1870 the Shaw Brothers, Thackster, William and Fayette came to the Grand Lake area “to see if conditions favored the construction of a tannery.” It looked possible and they went ahead with their venture. By 1881 the tannery business was deemed most prosperous, employing approximately 150 men, my grandfather, Arthur Rutledge Wheaton being one of them.
As was common in most tannery towns, the boss, the superintendent, or owner selected one of the best plots of land in town and built the finest and most elegant house. This held true in Grand Lake Stream. Mr. Charles Bates, a short time junior partner and superintendent of the Shaw Tannery business (in fact it was called Shaw and Bates Tannery initially) owned the “White House”, located on a high hill overlooking the stream, today known as Weatherby’s. Soon after 1874, Mr. Bates retired and Mrs. Sym, wife of Mr. George Sym, a tannery foreman from Montreal, took over the “house built for Mr. Bates” and turned it into a boarding house for tannery workers; but she made special provisions for sportsman that visited her annually. Interestingly, Mrs. Sym obtained the White House very soon after the tannery commenced operations. In 1895, the White House was sold to Mr. Stephan Yates, son of Samuel Yates, the first pioneer of Township 21. At that time more and more sportsman visiting the area were needing accommodations, however Mr. Yates was obliged to give up the business after a few years on account of the poor health of Mrs. Yates.
It was March 19th, 1898, when the old tannery, a cornerstone to the very beginning of the village, its economy, and regular employment of its residents, was sold to the International Leather Trust and its doors were forever closed to business. In its declining years, Grand Lake’s population dwindled from approximately 500 to 221 by 1900 and for the most part economic stress for shear survival of the village was apparent. A long standing employer, since the 1870’s was gone forever but with its demise, emerged a new and now long standing tradition for the area – landlocked salmon fishing and later smallmouth bass, along with some of the finest hunting in Maine. And with these sporting traditions came the charm and character of the Maine Sporting Camp and the Grand Lake Stream Guide who had been tannery workers, farmers, woodsman, lumberman and the like. A state administrated registration system for guides, for a 1.00 fee, became effective March 19, 1897 and “Fly Rod Crosby” receives the first Maine guide’s license.
But with the very bad tannery news, signaling the ending of an era, yet another event occurs that is significant for the “White House” and the village of Grand Lake Stream. The Washington County railroad opened in 1898, with a railroad station in Princeton. Spring travelers and sportsman for the early fishing could travel via the old route over the lakes using a small steamer that made daily trips on Big Lake when the water level was sufficiently high, or could now use the “horse stage,” a most viable transportation over the Milford Road to the wonderful fishing grounds at Grand Lake.
Then, on September 1st, 1901, approx 25 years after Mrs. Sym first started boarding sportsman
in the “White House”, Stephan Yates sold the existing “White House” and buildings including the “Birches”, a two story building that sat in the current location of the “Jack and Jill”, and property to Mr. Frank Ball of Andover, Massachusetts, who for approximately 5 years had been at the Duck Lake Club on Grand Lake. Mr. and Mrs. Ball enlarged the “White House” and, likely in the years 1902-1904, built a number of small, attractive cottages, including the “Outlook”, the “Den”, the “Ball” (named for his father) making it “one of the most popular sporting camps in eastern Maine.” Frank Ball was first to operate the White House and camps as a traditional Maine sporting camp.
It was noted in the 1906 brochure that after arriving in Princeton by train, sportsman could continue by stage to the Stream or by launch up Big Lake which is met by buckboard at the landing, en route to “The White House”. 1907 Brochure says this sportsman’s destination is The White House and Ball’s Camps, suggesting that the “White House” had attained some measure of recognition by this time and Frank Ball wished to keep the identification in his brochure.
Later brochures told potential Sportsman, that to reach Ball’s Camps, leave North Union Station, Boston about 10:00 pm arriving at Forest, Maine, next morning, where you will be met by Ball’s Camps autos. Also travel by way of Princeton, Maine reaching camp around 1:30 pm. A new large garage was constructed on the property at the corner of Milford Road and Church Street. It is little remembered that Frank Ball, sometimes called “The Kaiser on the Hill” by townsfolk, borrowed money from the town to build this garage whereby he put guest cars and stored cars and canoes of townspeople in it for the winter. Years later, because it blocked the corner, Woodie Wheaton and Bev Weatherby tore it down.
On April 30, 1920, Mr. Benn Treadwell of Tuckahoe, New York bought the property adjacent to Ball’s Camps owned by Mr. Stephan Yates who originally owned the “White House but gave it up and eventually “opened an adaptation and enlargement of one of the older village houses located on the higher part of the easterly ridge that over looks the stream.” He went on to build supplementary small cottages. Treadwell named his: “Grand Lake Camps”, which later were sold to Guy Bonness, brother to Rae (Bonness) Weatherby and are known as Indian Rock Camps today.
Mr. Treadwell’s connection to this story clears up when we learn that he was official counter of the number of salmon being caught from Grand Lake and Bev Weatherby recalls that NO salmon were caught in Grand Lake one year and that is what convinced Frank Ball to sell his property to Rutheford L. Weatherby, as he may have believed the lake was fished out. It is important to note, in those days, salmon fishing was spring and fall only and guides went back home to do the haying and other work during the summer months as the smallmouth bass fishery did not exist as it does today. No wire or lead core lines were being used to catch salmon during the heat of the summer.
Now it is Rutherford L. Weatherby of Little Ridge, New Brunswick and Herb Chisholm that purchase
Ball’s sporting camp in 1922 from Frank H. Ball, for $5000.00 each, nearly 50 years after Mrs. Sym acquired the “White House”. They ultimately maintain 15 cabins and a central dining room. Beverly Weatherby, Ruthie’s son, is 2 yrs old and Minnie Atkinson in Hinckley Township lists 53 guides by name, and further reports “with two or three exceptions” every family in the village is represented at least once. In the early years there were no outboards, but later with the invention of the square stern canoe, credited to Herbert “Beaver” Bacon of Grand Lake Stream (circa 1923) a new canoe building era was underway. The history of the square stern canoe (Grand Laker), the makers, styles and evolution is a story by itself.
In 1935, Alice (Christie) Weatherby and Ruth (Christie) Wheaton spend their first summer in Grand Lake Stream, later to become Mrs. Beverly Weatherby on July 28, 1943 and Mrs. Woodworth Wheaton on April 23, 1939. Bev Weatherby was 15 years old, taking advantage of his first driver’s license without having to take a test, so he drives his friends and guests all over. At that time the camps were still operating under the name Ball’s Camps but after pressure from Bev, Ruthie changed the name in the 30’s to Weatherby’s Camps.
During the 2nd World War, Bev picked up guests at Forest Station ( also Bangor & Calais) at 5 am so they could breakfast at camp and be fishing that day. Trains departed at 10 pm, so guests could have a days fishing and leave on the train that night.
Landmarks of Weatherby’s during the Ruthie and Rae (Bonness) Weatherby years, included a water tower (1936), built 25 feet in the air of spruce by Allie Nason, which supplemented the water supply. Originally, water came from a very deep dug well that was covered by a well house, used in the winter for some years along with the water tower, and in the well house was located a Delco 4 cylinder, gasoline, 32 direct current power plant. It had a big set of batteries. The well house, had a cement base, but the building was moved and became the “Shady Nook” in approximately 1938. The generators were moved to the “chicken coop” or the workshop area as it was very noisy.
Approximately 1933-34 a small building that was a bathroom between the “Upper Berth” and the “Owl” was removed and relocated to become a one-bedroom cabin called the “Hillside”. Bathrooms were built inside the “Owl and “Upper Birth”. The age old liar’s bench, along the wall under the car port was in regular use, as well as the round sitting bench, situated around an apple tree in the yard, just off the alley way and guides bathroom (see photo). Later, Guide Ollie White would run into the round bench with his car and that was the end of it. Here, local and Passmaquoddy Indian guides had gathered each morning to await their guests finishing breakfast and readying for a days fishing. During this time few guides had cars or drove. Transportation by the lodge was provided for them, their guests, their canoes and supplies. Trailers were built by local craftsman George Bagley to haul 3 canoes at a time on a box trailer with cross ties covered with rubber cut from car tires. Flat tires were a regular occurrence on the old trailers as travel to the many lakes in the region over dirt roads made it rough on car tires.
The “Rose” camp and the “Wren”, both with beautiful hardwood floors, with closets added later by Bev Weatherby were moved between 1930 and 1935 from the original Will Rose property (now Colonial Lodge) to Weatherbys, and the “Mushroom” was built by Allie Nason and Ruthie in eight days and so named for the quick construction. During this time the “Cedar” was built and Bev installed a ping-pong table in the “Shady Nook”. In the early ’50’s Ruthie became ill, but his wife Rae continued to run the camps until the torch was passed to son Bev.
Bev Weatherby and Alice (Christie) Weatherby purchased the camps from his father in 1955, and continued the operation for 20 years. Rutherford Weatherby passes away in 1956 but the Weatherby family own and operate the facility for 52 years.
The saga of the old landmark water tower continues, and Bev and Woodie Wheaton rebuild it of Cypress in 1945 or 1946. Bev recalls that all they had were three posts sticking 25 foot in the air during this reconstruction.
By its very nature, age and demands of a new generation of sportsman for improved accommodations, upkeep and improvement were ongoing. Bev remembers the Birches and White House originally had gaslights and the gas tanks were located in the well house but they were eventually converted to electricity. The “Birches”, originally located where the “Jack and Jill” is today was moved across the lawn by jacking it up and sliding it on skids where, in its new location of today, housed employees. The two-story building had seen tannery borders, housed employees and sportsman but would now be relegated to employees only. The new “Jack and Jill” named by Rae Weatherby for its location and matching left and right accommodations had a door in the middle, leaving 2 large living rooms, each with a fireplace that could be opened in case a large party needed its complete use. Other changes included removing the porch from the main house, where they only had a small office and crank telephone, a porch office added, a wider walking porch with birch floor and a birds eye maple floor in the lobby and a fireplace was added, as well as a bathroom.
The character of Weatherby’s as a premier sportsman’s destination was enhanced by the many notables who frequented the place. The accommodations, the history, the game and fish mounts and attractive décor supported its ultimate tagline of “The Fisherman’s Resort.” Some of those notables visiting during the 50’s and 60’s, were outdoor writers, high ranking generals, business leaders, top physicians and other accomplished and well healed folks.
The famous Jimmy Doolittle (1968) was a down to earth man says Bev Weatherby. Ted Williams, “the splendid splinter” was an accomplished fly caster as well as the greatest hitter of all time with a lifetime average of .344 and a high of .407 in 1953. General Matthew Ridgeway (1954), Hal Foster, the artist, Dr. Paul Dudley White, the president’s physician, Joe Brooks, the sports writer, (1969-70) all were regulars at camp. A Mr. Carmichael, then secretary to the Smithsonian was a visitor. The Adolph, Lionel & Alvin Weil party, and the Griswold’s and Ralph Swartz who owned New York central railroad were other notables. George Hartman, of the Robling Co who built the Brooklyn Bridge, Mr. and Mrs. Bert Lahr, A. J. McClane, sports writer, Bill Rae, Exec Editor of Outdoor Life, Charlie Elliott, Bud Leavitt and other captains of industry came to enjoy the great fishing. Referrals from the great Abercrombie & Fitch, N Y outfitters, was a boon to Weatherbys and at peak times Bev employed 20 some guides as Alice remembers packing 20 lunches.
Maintenance never ends in the sporting camp business and tending a big garden, spacious lawns, obtaining plenty of wood for the cabins were all daily chores. A “back kitchen” is where employees ate, baskets were packed and cooking dishes washed. In those days, Bev had to go get all guides as there were no telephones and most did not have all their own equipment and no means to transport their canoe.
The changing of the guard was to occur again in Sept 1974 when Mr. and Mrs. Ken Sassi of Orlean, N.Y became the new owners of Weatherbys. Ken was an engineer for Dresser Industries and a born and bred Mainer from Rumford. The Sassis would continue to upgrade and improve the facility to meet the ever-growing need for comfort and modern accommodations, a costly and endless task.
Although the facility remained the same in physical layout with no new structures, the Sassi’s on going improvements were important to the longevity of Weatherbys. Vinyl siding was applied to the “White House”, the driveway was repaved, the dinning room and lobby refurbished with a new chair rail and wainscoting, all cottages re-roofed except the “Ball”, floors refurbished, stoves replaced, electrical and plumbing updated, a new heating system and a new water system with dry well pump installed. The old landmark water tower finally saw its last day in the early 1980’s, after years of service. Robert Gagner, owner of the Pine Tree Store and Ken took it down by sawing the legs and hooking it up to a truck to pull it over. A _ ton truck could have driven into it when it fell, to give you an idea of its size. The strapping around the tub held when it fell. The old apple tree, around which the traditional wood bench had been built and local guide Ollie White had won a battle of engagement, finally died in 1977, and the spot was paved over in the early ’80’s as part of the driveway. The glorious bench- sitting here by Indian and local guides is now gone forever. If it could only talk, the colorful stories, the wonderful remembrances of days gone by could be relived and captured for future generations.
Notable personalities continued to seek out Weatherbys as a destination for great accommodations and classic guided fishing with the tradional shore lunch. Ted Williams, the outdoor writer, Jerry Robinson and John Merwin of Field and Stream and David Kotok of Cumberland Advisors as well as other Wall Streeters, Leon Gorman of LL Bean and Robert Poole, executive editor of National Geographic paid a visit here to Down East Maine.
It was the Sassi’s who became a driving force behind the Conservation effort to save the lands forever that bordered the stream from Grand Lake past Little Falls and Big Falls to Big Lake. Ken Sassi remarks that his legacy and one of his proudest efforts was to close this deal with a final donation of $10,000 from Georgia Pacific. His work with local folks and the Maine Coast Heritage Trust culminated with a pronouncement by Governor Angus King in Grand Lake Stream acknowledging the land was protected forever. Additionally it was Ken Sassi who was a force to refurbish the old James Bright schoolhouse and he personally pulled out the old heating plant. He was most interested in utilizing the old gymnasium for use by kids that could not stay at the Woodland School for extra activities. Ken also notes that he played a role in starting the Grand Lake Historical Society.
As with the Balls, the Weatherby’s and the Sassi’s ownership, generational changes occurred with guides. Many of the old timers passed on and new classes of Grand Lake Stream guides emerged. At its peak Ken Sassi reports that Weatherbys, secured 25 guides and many worked for the business exclusively. Ken expressed loyalty for the many that depended on the Weatherby sportsman for their livelihood as he felt it important to seek their employment first when guides were needed.
And now Jeff McEvoy and Beth Rankin are writing the next chapter in the history of Weatherbys. Jeff, a guide of 22 years, apprenticed with Woodie Wheaton during the ’80’s while guiding on East Grand Lake in the upper St. Croix watershed, learning the guiding profession in the Grand Lake tradition and so loved the area, he and Beth decided to carry this grand sporting camp tradition in Grand Lake Stream.
As Jeff and Beth make their way to invest, repair, upgrade, and advertise, to encourage revenues “from away”, our world continues to change, with increased pressure on the resources, careful attention is required for the land, the fishery, and the community. The future is likely to require greater collective attention of guides, town folk and sporting camp owners to find solutions for environmental, economic, resource management, services and a host of other challenging issues.
At the very root of the future of this area will be the importance of return visitors with positive experiences to fuel the many needs of the community. Sportsmen “coming back” as well as new ones exposed to this rich experience are the common denominator that will provide a strong future for all who derive a livelihood from this recreational pursuit.
And as we face new challenges of the 21st century such as protecting the land, maintaining and improving our fisheries as more and more fisherman come to the region, vigilant conservation of the land and protective regulations such as catch and release must be considered to maintain the high standards set by the guides and sports of yesterday. The interrelationship of the environment our lakes and forests, our lunch sites, our fisheries and wildlife and more, suggests it will be imperative we all work together for the future. A fragile balance is being tested today by the ever-increasing use of these resources. The good work of folks in this community and the Downeast Lakes Land Trust, with a vision to protect and preserve a tradition, are invaluable to a sporting way of life. The energy to find solutions to the forever growing financial and service oriented needs will be ongoing. Solutions will only be found by working together, recognizing, the limited resource as a valued commodity as the economic well being of owners, guides and towns folks are all interconnected and dependent on it.
Weatherby’s continues to be one of the best examples of the grand Maine Sporting Camp and is known far and wide for its classic experience. It is a part of Maine’s rich history – the history and landscape of the region. And as long as folks want and can, hunt and fish, Weatherby’s will be considered as a premier destination. The White House, Balls Camps, and Weatherby’s all- in -one have been an integral part of the village of Grand Lake Stream that has existed for over 100 years and its contribution to the local economy and its reputation stand tall. I know these things! My grandfather was a tannery worker and one of the first Maine guides here, my father, a Maine guide here and later a sporting camp owner, and I, were born in Grand Lake Stream, and my first education was in the James Bright School. My family roots are in Grand Lake Stream.