Mechanic Falls, a town in the southwestern corner of Androscoggin County, was initially part of Bakerstown Plantation, named for Captain Thomas Baker who was granted ownership by the Massachusetts General Court after services rendered in the 1690 Battle of Quebec. It was then named “Jericho” by renowned Maine physician Dr. Jacob Tewksbury of Oxford who made a perilous journey on a dark and stormy night to deliver the town’s first baby, Isaiah Andrews, son of the town’s first resident, Dean Andrews, in 1828.
After that, it was called Groggy Harbour (spelled in British English) in honor of the large quantity of grog sold in and around town. It wasn’t until the first post office was established in 1841 that the town was renamed Mechanic Falls, the suggestion of the town’s first postmaster, Frank A. Millet. The name stuck.
As with many towns in Maine, natural waterpower served as the impetus for settlement and growth. Little Androscoggin River, which runs just north through of the center of town (and, at 178 miles long traversing both Maine and New Hampshire, is by no means diminutive), drew early settlers and provided seemingly infinite energy for the town’s subsequent industrial prosperity.
As the town’s wealth and population grew with the arrival of paper mills and manufacturing companies, there arose a need for public food and lodging services. The Eagle Hotel, as it was originally known, was built near the river in the center of Mechanic Falls at the corners of Elm and Lewiston streets to accommodate the town’s new business and traveler demands.
The first paper mill in Mechanic Falls was built on the eastern side of the Little Androscoggin in 1851. New resident A.C. Denison bought the mill from its original owners in 1865 and added it to his other prosperous paper mill business on the opposite side of the river.
In 1859 Denison and Company then built the Eagle Hotel for $7,000, a gorgeous Greek revival structure which boasted forty rooms and a livery stable. The hotel, “one of the finest establishments of its kind east of Boston,” per an 1860s traveler’s brochure, was operated by several landlords until 1870 when Denison closed it to the public and moved in himself, making it his personal residence. Denison lived there from 1870 until 1889.
In 1887, Denison sold his residence to H.S. Jordan, who converted it back into a 60-room hotel and changed its name to “The Elms,” perhaps in honor of the street on which it stood or the stately elm trees that boundary the property.
The new proprietor had learned the hotel business at the Block Island hotels in Rhode Island, where he worked for ten seasons, and was previously employed as a clerk at Hamilton Hotel in Washington D.C. The Elms became an integral part of the paper mill properties on the east side of the Little Androscoggin River and a highly regarded destination point for travelers through Maine.
A 1889 Boston travel journal gushes:
“It would be well if all our hotels were run on the same general principles that characterize the management of the Elms, for if this were the case, traveling would be robbed of half its terrors and life would be a hundred per cent more enjoyable…
“When you see travelers patronizing a certain house almost exclusively, you can make up your mind without further investigation that THAT is one of the very best hotels in that section, for Commercial men make a science of traveling and what they don’t know about the hotel accommodations on their routes, is not worth knowing. “
The publication also lauded the proprietor:
“The Elms is carried on by H.S. Jordan, who is one of the best-known and most popular men in Mechanic Falls. He is ever solicitous as to the comfort of his guests and is ever ready to heed any reasonable suggestion that will tend to enhance their enjoyment.”
The Elms accommodated sixty patrons and was known for furnishing large and elegant rooms. “They are conveniently and pleasantly arranged, and heated by steam, the various apartments being kept in most excellent condition, and everything in and about the premises showing prosperity and thrift,” the journal says.
The publication goes on to praise the dining services at The Elms and remarks that all food “of the freshest variety” was grown and sourced locally. It speaks highly of the grounds and livery stable, and remarks upon the hotel’s convenience to public transportation and the railroad depot.
“The Elms is, beyond doubt, one of the most deservedly popular public houses in this section of the State,” the travelogue boasts. “The terms are very moderate, and many a hotel charging much higher rates gives much less satisfactory accommodations. Mr. Jordan is a member of the Knights of Pythias.” The unbridled exuberance makes you wonder if perhaps this entry was “sponsored content” written and paid for by Mr. Jordan himself. Regardless, it inspires dreams of traveling back in time to see and experience The Elms at the height of its popularity!
In addition to its social and historical significance, The Elms also stands as an impressive monument to the late Greek Revival tradition in Maine and is considered an architectural focal point in the town. The building combines features of both the Greek Revival and Italianate styles, seen in its steeply pitched, gabled roof and classical fluted piers. The dominant facade features a central doorway for both the ground entrance and the second story porch, each framed by sidelights, transom, pilasters, and cornice, also classic aspects of Greek Revival architecture.
Its listing in the National Register of Historic Places draws special attention to the decorative features ornamenting the side elevations and the arched bay windows on the south side, typical of Italianate architecture. The building is also said to contain original interior features such as molded architrave trim around the doors and windows and marble mantelpieces.
A 1907 map of Mechanic Falls identifies the building as the Hotel Elms but, after that, the history of the structure is vague. In 1992, after being vacant for over 10 years, it was purchased by the nonprofit Mechanic Falls Development Commission headed by Joan Walton. “The primary purpose of the purchase is to preserve the appearance of the area,” Walton told Sun Journal reporter Howard Kany in October 1992.
Up until it shuttered its doors on June 25, 2016, the Elms was the home of the Falls Country Gift Shoppe which, according to its Facebook page, carried a large selection of jewelry and home indoor and outdoor decor. Let’s hope its next incarnation will be equally historic and inspiring!
Maine Memory Network Photos
Kany, H. (1992, October 22). No wrecking ball for former “Elms” hotel. Sun Journal, p. 13. Retrieved August 22, 2016, from https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1914&dat=19921022&id=aQogAAAAIBAJ&sjid=K2UFAAAAIBAJ&pg=3302,5416236
Leading business men of Lewiston, Augusta and vicinity: Embracing also, Auburn, Gardiner, Waterville, Oakland, Dexter, Fairfield, Skowhegan, Hallowell, Richmond, Bath, Brunswick, Freeport, Canton, Buckfield, Mechanic Falls, South Paris, Norway, Farmington and Winthrop with an historical sketch of each place, illustrated. (1889). Boston: Mercantile Pub.
Merrill, G. D. (1976). History of Androscoggin County, Maine. Salt Lake City, UT: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah.
Waterman, C. E. (1894). Historical sketch of the town of Mechanic Falls. Mechanic Falls, Me.: Ledger Pub.