One of the new displays this year is of the Kineo Hotel, in its various constructs spanning some 142 years. The display of photos and text is mounted in the Carriage House, which is opened Tuesdays through Fri- days from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Over the years we have been asked about what’s happened to the grand hotel(s), so we decided to tell her story. It is a story of grand style for rusticators, and grand dreams that created a legacy that is still remembered today.
The first incarnation was but a small tavern built by William Hildreth in 1844. Improvements were continually made to the structure, until it became a two-story house with a porch overlooking Moosehead Lake. By 1868 it was functioning as a hotel, run by Shirley landlord Orrin A. Dennen. Guests were entertained and lodged in tents and a spruce-bark lodge, which included a dining room and kitchen. However, within six weeks it burned, as it did in all four of its reconstructions through- out its history.
The 1883 Mt. Kineo House was well constructed in grand style and included a sawmill, annex, store, and several outbuildings built near a spring. There were a reported 500 rooms, though according to guest registers, it never welcomed that many guests. Amenities included steam heat, gas and electric lights, hot and cold running water, elevators, electric bells, telephone, telegraph, and daily mail delivery. It also held a bowling alley, ornate ballroom, and dining room large enough to serve 400 guests. There were three steam yachts for daily outings. Visitors enjoyed horse riding or walking trails, fishing and hunting with expert local guides who were hired for the season. Grounds included golfing, tennis, baseball, and croquet.
In 1911 the Kineo Hotel saw a radical makeover. Maine Central Railroad had purchased the complex and hired Hiram Ricker Hotel Company to operate it. New construction included a wing five stories high, a fireproof kitchen, and 50 private baths. A steam operated elevator was replaced by two hydraulic lifts. Outside additions included a boathouse, a long pier and yachting crafts, and new dormitory for help. The Kineo Hotel had its own baseball team, a large number of guides were employed, and the 500-acre farm Deer Head Farm.
By the 1930s, the era of summer residency at the grand hotel had all but disappeared, partly due to the changing appetite of newly emerging modern travel and partly due to the ensuing wartime economy. The railroad to Rockwood landing had also ceased by the early 1930s. Local entrepreneur Louis Oakes purchased the property. One of the conditions of the sale was to raze the 425-room main hotel, which had fallen into disrepair. By 1938, much of the interior contents, including plumbing, had been removed.
Post World War II, an underwater cable brought electricity to Kineo and a new 36-room hotel was built. The golf course was also re-designed to create a nine-hole course. Still the hotel struggled. In the 1950s, C. Max Hilton and his wife, Edith, daughter of Louis Oakes, invested in the hotel and over the next 20 years sought to revive it as an American Plan resort. By the mid-1960s, the Kineo Hotel for all intents and purposes ceased to exist. Thereafter, it went through a series of sales and ownerships.
In 1966, it was sold to Rockwood- Kineo Corporation and run as the Treadway Inn until 1969 by R.H. Rines and H.A. Atherton. In 1971 it was sold again and by 1980, the mortgage was defaulted upon and the hotel put up for auction. Another attempt to make it a going concern was tried in 1986 but the multi-million dollar plan never came to fruition. In 1996, the annex was demolished and in 2016 the last building, the old dormitory, was dismantled and burned.
The halcyon days of the Kineo Hotel lasted a long time, with its pinnacle years roughly between 1883 and 1930. It employed many local residents and was a symbol of Ameri- can entrepreneurial wealth and stability prior to World War II. Today, the beautiful turn-of-the-last century Kineo Cot- tage Row, built by the Ricker Co. between 1910 and 1912 is now included on the National Register of Historic Places and are privately owned. The nine-hole golf course is still enjoyed, and a revival of walking — or hiking — keeps the trails to the summit of Mt. Kineo ever popular. The 360 degree views from the top are testament to the spectacular landscape that attracted visitors to the Kineo Hotel during its heyday, as it does today. The southerly side of Mt. Kineo re- mains privately owned; the northerly side with hiking trails is public, owned by the people of Maine, managed by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands as a state park.