By Bob Cowan
MHS Board President
West Branch Pond Camps is situated on First West Branch Pond overlooking the White Cap Mountain range, located in Township A, Range 12, about 10 miles southeast of the tiny hamlet of Kokadjo along the Frenchtown Road, and some 20 miles north of Greenville. Constructed, for all intents and purposes, on the remains of an abandoned logging camp, these rustic, traditional sporting camps are believed to be the oldest in continuous operation in the state, according to the Bangor Daily News.
The camp’s founder, Charles Randall of Milo, purchased the former logging camp circa 1880, and began a thriving business, known as Randall’s Camps, catering to sporting enthusiasts from throughout the Northeast. Mr. Randall sold the property, depending upon the source of information, between 1910 and 1914, to Lewis Chadwick, great uncle of future owner Carol Stirling. During the time Mr. Chadwick owned the camps, they were described in his advertising brochures as both Chadwick’s Camps and West Branch Pond Camps. In 1921, Mr. Chadwick sold the property to his brother, Fred, who was later joined by his new wife, Abbie Savage, and they operated the camps for three decades.
During the time the camps were operated by Fred and Abbie Savage, they advertised how to get to the site. “By auto: Splendid roads all the way to Kokadjo or parking place at end of road, and the routing from Portland, Maine, is by way of Augusta, Waterville, Newport, Dover-Foxcroft, Guilford and Greenville. Everyone in Maine (and thousands outside) knows about the splendid Great Northern Paper Company’s road from Greenville to Ripogenus Dam by way of Kokadjo. You can store your car at Kokadjo, jitney and buckboard will then take you to camp without delay.”
“By train: Buy your ticket for Greenville Junction (at the foot of Moosehead Lake) and this is reached from Boston and New York over the Boston & Maine to Portland, the Maine Central to Bangor, and the Bangor & Aroostook to Greenville Junction. From Montreal and all points on the Canadian Pacific R.R., Greenville Junction is right on line. We meet parties here with the ‘Jitney,’ and take them to camp, arriving late in the afternoon.”
Keeping the business in the family, the couple sold the property in 1950 to their daughter, Connie, and her husband, Cliff Kealiher. Twenty-three years later, in 1973, the reins passed to the Kealiher’s daughter, Carol and her husband Andrew Stirling.
In 2003, Eric Stirling, Carol and Andrew’s son, took over the reins and now operates the camps with his mother, and his wife, Mildred Kennedy-Stirling. Eric aptly describes the camps as: “In a bit of a time warp. We’re one of the few camps that have always had an American plan, so we’ve always had a kitchen. Most of them (old time sporting camps) had them back in the day.”
Customers inquiring about the camps are told upfront that the cabins are old and drafty, but cozy and comfortably furnished. Each has a wood stove, plenty of firewood, indoor plumbing with sink, shower, and flush toilet, a screened-in porch, and an eclectic assortment of homemade and antique furniture. The newest cabin was built in 1937 while the oldest, a small cabin next to the lodge, dates to circa 1900.
This undated photograph (circa 1920s) shows “Chadwick’s Camps. Kokadjo, ME.” From the Frances Bigney Collection.
And, despite the convenience of electricity for a few hours in the evening thanks to a diesel generator, the cabins are much the same as they were at the turn of the 20th century.
From its origin as a tiny lumber camp, reached only after long hours of travel by rail, boat, buckboard, and foot over unimproved roads, to a group of nine cabins and an inviting central dining room that can be reached easily from Greenville by either vehicle or floatplane, West Branch Pond Camps continues to offer traditional peaceful beauty, hiking, boating and fishing, and hearty home-cooked meals.
Bangor Daily News, Saturday/Sunday, June 27-28, 1998. Up North Magazine, November-December 2005. Down East Magazine, February 2007.