The History of Sebasco Harbor Resort
Sebasco Harbor Resort has a very rich and colorful history and will be celebrating its 84th season in 2013. The property that encompasses what is now the Resort was originally part of Rock Gardens Inn, owned by Freeman and Jenny Merritt, the family for whom Merritt Mountain is named. Rock Gardens Inn was built between 1909 and 1912 and the entire area was once called “The Garden of Eden”. The Merritt’s sold the property to Nate Cushman in 1928 when they found themselves heavily in debt. The property was known as “Sebasco Lodge” until 1997 when the present owner, Bob Smith, purchased the property and the name was changed to Sebasco Harbor Resort.
Nathan Cushman made his money in the bakery business and intended to open a summer retreat to attract his friends and outside guests, a pursuit which he considered a hobby. His plan was to open a resort that was different from the standards of the time with a “village” style layout, recreation based versus the more sedentary pursuits, and a mixture of “rustic” with modern accommodations. Nate did much of the work around the property himself, including landscaping the golf course and construction of some buildings. Rocky Crest is one example of Mr. Cushman’s handiwork. This cottage was completed in 1933 using a method called glove masonry, and was named “Rock of Ages”.
Many homes scattered around and near the property belong to the descendents of the original visitors to Sebasco Lodge and Cushman family members. Sebasco Estates has always been a small fishing village and many families who resided in the area in the 1920’s still live here. Members of these families have worked in various capacities at the resort for generations. Guests also return each season, and some have been visiting the resort for as many as four generations.
Sebasco Harbor Resort and the village of Sebasco Estates are both part of the town of Phippsburg. The area is rich in shipbuilding history and remains one of Maine’s most beautiful coastal areas. You will see many photographs around the resort of the magnificent ships that were once built in the center of Phippsburg. The Aryan was the last three-masted schooner ever built in the United States. It was completed in 1893 by the Minot Shipyard on the shores of the Kennebec River.
At its peak, the Popham area of the peninsula was busy with steamships and schooners hauling passengers and cargo up the Kennebec. Sebasco was once a stopping point for these steamships. Popham was home to a number of large hotels catering to summer folk from the larger northeastern cities that came to escape the heat.
Cornelius Pond (now referred to as Wat-tah Lake) and many other ponds in Phippsburg were used as ice harvesting farms prior to the invention of the refrigerator. A photograph in the first floor hallway of the Main Lodge depicts what was a thriving business around 1876. Ice was cut from the ponds, packed in sawdust and hauled to the docks by workhorses and sleds. It was then transported by ship to cities along the Atlantic seaboard to be used in iceboxes.
Much of the charm of Sebasco has been retained over the years. Many original pieces of furniture still grace the accommodations and public areas of the resort. For instance, the grandfather clock in the Great Room of the Main Lodge has been there since the 1930’s.
1998 was an extremely busy year at Sebasco Harbor Resort. The historic Clipper building was moved from the waterfront to its present location to make way for a new building. The Clipper is the only theater in Phippsburg and is used for many of the resort’s summer activities, as well as meeting space and social functions including bingo, lobster bakes and rehearsal dinners.
The Pilot House Restaurant and The Ledges Restaurant were built in the footprint of the Clipper that same year. The Pilot House was named in honor of Judge Kenyon (of the Teapot Dome Scandal) who had a summer cottage at Sebasco fashioned from part of the pilot house of a boat. He spent his summers golfing at Sebasco in the morning and writing in the afternoon.
The Pilot House building faces to the west, which affords dinner guests the opportunity to view breathtaking sunsets. The setting has a spectacular view of Casco Bay with West Point to the south, Cundy’s Harbor to the north and Bailey’s Island to the west.
Nate Cushman built the Lighthouse in 1945. It was intended to be a beacon and landmark for mariners, although it was never actually an operating lighthouse. Mr. Cushman was interested in poetry and writing and challenged his guests to submit various works, which he then published in small collections. A poem about the Lighthouse is part of one of these collections, and can be seen hanging in the entryway of the building.
A number of cottages at Sebasco were built for specific guests and many have been moved at various times as the property changed and expanded. Cricket, for instance, once served as a snack bar and was situated in the current Lighthouse location.
By the late 1940’s, Nate Cushman’s son, Dick, had taken over direct management of Sebasco. He and his wife, Ruth, brought their own style to the forefront, involving the staff more closely in the hotel’s success. He also expanded the property by building the Olympic-sized saltwater pool, tennis courts, and the Cornelius Dining Room.
Many famous guests, including Eleanor Roosevelt and Benny Goodman, stayed at Sebasco in the 40’s and 50’s. Eleanor wrote about Sebasco in “My Day” after her stay here on the way to Campobello. More recently, Sebasco’s list of celebrity visitors include Paul Newman, Cameron Dias, Harvey Keitel, Owen Wilson, Kenny Chesney and the world’s greatest fishermen, Bob Knight and John Havlicek.
In April 1959 the Cushman’s sold Sebasco to Dorothy (“Doss”) and Woodbury (“Woody”) Dana, a couple with strong ties to Portland, Maine and with no resort or hotel experience. Their personal grace led to instant and lasting friendships with guests, staff and others in the hospitality business nationwide. Based on his background in the textile industry of the South, Woody saw the need to reduce Sebasco unwieldy size and to provide better amenities for a more sophisticated traveler. When Woody passed away in 1967 Doss asked her daughter, Dee Dee, and her husband, John Bradford to manage Sebasco Lodge, and they did so until 1996. During that time Sebasco was rebuilt, modernized, consolidated, expanded and retrofitted. Hardly a year went by without a major project being completed, yet the atmosphere and the character of Sebasco was retained. In May 1997 the Smith family began a new era by purchasing Sebasco Lodge from the Dana family.
Sebasco and all of Phippsburg have changed as the culture of vacation travel has evolved. Guests no longer stay for the entire summer and do not arrive with the entire family and entourage of maids, nannies and butlers in tow. The invention of the automobile and air-conditioning improved life in the city during the summer months. However, when guests ask why we still do not have air conditioning in some of our accommodations at Sebasco Harbor Resort, the answer is still “We don’t need it here on the Coast of Maine.” While the summer breezes still blow as they always have, our suites and our public spaces have added that “modern convenience”. But you can still turn on a fan and open a window to enjoy the fresh ocean air if that is your preference.
$10,000,000 in additional improvements have been made to the resort since the Smith family purchased Sebasco in 1997. In addition to the new waterfront dining facilities built in 1998, the golf course has been expanded, renovations have been made to existing accommodations, 23 new suites have been built and the Fairwinds Spa, our newest addition, now provides our guests with a world class spa experience.