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.