The Chesuncook House was built in 1863-64 by Greenville business partners John H. Eveleth, Lindley H. Folsom and one of his brothers, likely Oliver E. Folsom. It burned to the ground 1:30 a.m. Saturday morning, March 17, 2018. Current owners David and Louisa Suprenant and their family escaped harm. The cause of the fire is not known as of this writing.
Many people will remember the decades it was owned and operated by Bert and Margaret “Maggie” McBurnie. Bert’s life at Chesuncook ran the better part of the 1900s, when his father came to trap and cut lumber for Great Northern Paper Co. He brought the boy down from Aroostook County to Chesuncook Lake c. 1934 and where, except for a stint in the Army and a brief stay in Alaska, Bert lived until his death in 1997. Maggie, originally from Paris, France, met and married the young serviceman. Together they moved back to Chesuncook and made a life there, purchasing the hotel in 1957, renaming it the Chesuncook Lake House, and operating it as part small inn and part sporting camp that could house 10 to 12 travelers. Maggie was known for her warm hospitality and simple, delicious meals with a French flair, while Bert introduced outdoorsmen and off-the-beaten path travelers to their way of life in the remote territory. The only way to get there was by small plane or canoe. A number of Greenville businesses serviced the McBurnies. Folsom’s Air Service flew travelers in. Harry Sanders of Sanders Store took special care when Bert needed supplies. Several years after Bert died, Maggie sold to the Suprenants. Now of advanced years, she continues to live here in Greenville.
According to a letter by Lindley Folsom saved in the Historical Society archives, a log camp was built by a person of unknown origin at Chesuncook in 1849. By 1853, woodsman Ansel Smith occupied it and built a log addition that measured some 80 feet long, where woodsmen could find room and board for $3.50 per week. Smith acquired hundreds of acres of forestland and built a considerable logging business there.
“Uncle Anse” as Smith was known, hired Lindley’s father, Joshua Folsom, to oversee his business accounts. At the time, the outpost was nothing more than what Lindley Folsom called “a shanty” – apparently not a derogatory term for the times, as these stations were referred to as such and built as a supply chain at regular intervals in remote areas to service logging operations. Lindley said the Chesuncook shanty was “a regulation logging camp with a large slate stone fireplace and a dining room and kitchen annex.”
Lumbering operators would rendezvous at the Smith compound at Chesuncook. All supplies were hauled from Bangor, either through Greenville or Katahdin Iron Works, with other shanty stops situated approximately 10 miles apart along the route, since that was about the distance a team of horses could travel in a day. These supply routes formed a junction at Grant Farm, located about 20 miles south of the Chesuncook shanty, with what Lindley describes as the Joseph Morris shanty established between Chesuncook and the Grant Farm to service patronage from both directions.
Ansel Smith became synonymous with the wilds of the West Branch of the Penobscot River into Chesuncook. He ran a tight business and was known as a quiet, unassuming man of timber, but one who was not to be messed with. At the time, Chesuncook was considered a pretty rough place. Lindley recalls many “skedaddlers” or “deserters” occupying the area. One Henry Milliken wrote in a first person account that the Chesuncook House was “lively”, filled with smoke, with 30 to 40 men filling the house. Three trappers were sitting on a deacon seat, recounting their trapline ventures. Many of the lumberjacks did not speak English, as many French-Canadians worked the woods. The lobby was a large room with a low ceiling, heated by a huge stove or “ram-down.” There was a clerk’s counter at one end of the lobby and a large sink for washing up at the other end.
When Eveleth and the Folsoms built the hotel, the original log shanty stood for several years, a place for laborers to board.
Lindley also references Henry David Thoreau’s description of the Chesuncook Hotel as being fairly accurate. Even then, the hotel included a large framed stable, a log hog house, a blacksmith shop, milk house and an outside potato and vegetable cellar. Lindley also remembers Peter Tomer, a well-respected guide from the Native-American family on Moosehead Lake, camping a short distance from the Chesuncook establishment, where he and his wife made bark canoes and baskets. The baskets were likely sold at the Mt. Kineo Hotel.
Chesuncook is typically remembered as a stopping place. The earliest settlers were Native-Americans who made their way from the coast to the Allagash, living for several weeks at Chesuncook Lake, which was considered a two-day trip from the stopover for flint on Mt. Kineo at Moosehead Lake. One article notes that the first known permanent settler at Chesuncook was a Tomah of Indian descent, who built a small cabin there and took in visitors, not long before lumbering operations went into full force by the mid-1800s. Thoreau was also guided to Chesuncook and wrote about it in the 1850s. While today Thoreau is oft quoted for his writing about the North Woods, a hundred years later, Bert of Chesuncook was not a fan.
In a 1987 interview, he called Thoreau a terrible learner because he could be close-minded about how things were done in the Maine woods and thought he was prejudiced toward the Indians who tried to teach him. In his time, Bert spoke about a cherished a way of life, which he saw as one that increasingly drew great curiosity for the experience from outside that tiny enclave. At the Chesuncook Lake House he wished to introduce visitors into that world, simply, and for all that it offered, as is.
Today, the Suprenants plan to rebuild the house, continuing to welcome visitors to this stopping place in the woods.
George Cripps worked as a guide on Moosehead Lake, as did his son, Alva Cripps, who is seen in a well-known photograph of a group of guides taken at the foothill of Mt. Kineo, circa 1912.
Except for the two photographs of George Cripps in the Moosehead Historical Society’s archives – one posed, one not – very little is known about his life story.
He was the maternal great-grandfather of Frances Cyr Bigney, who was born and raised in Rockwood, and grew up at the family’s set of sporting camps, “Cyr’s Camps” in Barrow’s Cove. Frances was a local historian and worked for many years at the Moosehead Historical Society. She donated many items of regional interest.
George Cripps married Mary Littlefield and had two children: Grace Cripps (1876-1955) and Alva Cripps (1877-1940). Grace married John E. Lamb, a prominent Rockwood businessman. John was born on Sandbar Tract on March 7, 1869, and lived in the Rockwood area his entire life. He died in 1957 at the age of 88 in Greenville.
Grace Cripps Lamb and John had a daughter, Violet Lamb Cyr (1902-1998). Violet was married to Leo Cyr and ran Cyr’s Camps while Leo worked as the Rockwood postmaster. Violet and Leo Cyr were the parents of Frances Grace Cyr Bigney (1925-2010). Frances married Frederick Hurd Bigney, the first couple to be married in the Log Chapel Church in Rockwood, in 1948. Frederick H. Bigney came from a long line of the Bigney family of Greenville.
George Cripps signed the Kineo House Registry in the early 1890s and also signed the Chesuncook House Registry at the turn of the last century, so he apparently remained an outdoors working man for most of his adult life, in the northern end of Moosehead Lake and its linked waterways.
Julia Crafts Sheridan was born February 5, 1891, the only daughter of Arthur A. and Rebecca W. (Eveleth) Crafts. She was a life-long resident of Greenville. She died in 1970 at the age of 79 in Sarasota, Florida. Private funeral services were held at her home in the Junction. She is buried in the family mausoleum in the Greenville Cemetery.
Julia Crafts Sheridan was her father’s daughter, outliving her only sibling, brother Oliver, who succumbed to illness when he was 16 years old. Julia was closely engaged with her father in family business matters. She is most remembered for overseeing the management of the Squaw Mountain Inn, which her father purchased when it was the shuttered Moosehead Sanatorium.
Her father had the sanatorium completely remodeled and re-opened in 1916. Julia was married to Rennie Philip Sheridan of Syracuse, New York there in a big gala ceremony in 1923. The following year, Julia and Philip began managing the inn. The couple went to the Princess Hotel in Bermuda to learn the hotel business, bought the inn from her mother after her father died, and Julia managed it until 1965, when it was sold to a group of investors.
Her interests were wide and adventuresome for the day. She was independent and career-oriented, maintaining a retail business, the family real estate, and participating in political and public affairs. She also was a great philanthropist, smartly contributing to many campaigns, both near and far. She and Philip had no children.
She owned and operated an antique business in Greenville Junction and made a name for herself in the region for her business dealings and philanthropic ventures. She was an active member of the Republican Party, and was often seen socializing in the circles of influential businessmen of the day. She was a member of the United Church of Christ in Greenville, and was a member of the Pine Tree Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
When she died, the Town of Greenville, and many local entities, including Shaw Public Library, C.A. Dean Hospital, The Ready Workers of the Union Evangelical Church, and lists of other organizations outside of Maine benefited from her charitable bequests. She was a driving force in the successful incorporation of the Moosehead Historical Society and became an essential benefactor, willing both her home and an endowment for its upkeep to the small organization, which continues to aid in its operations today. She also willed her waterfront property in the Junction to the Town of Greenville, for the purposes of creating a public park, and Red Cross Beach, near the Masonic Temple, is located on another portion of Crafts Sheridan land.
Pall bearers at her funeral included many names still recognized today: Wallace Ritchie, Irvin Murray, Hubert Templeton, Jack Morrell, Walter Crossman, Stanley Wilt and Ralph Bartlett. Honorary bearers were David Ward, Harry A. Sanders, Sr., Fred Lessing, Fred Sonier, and Archie Shirley.
On Thursday, August 17, at 6:30 p.m. Marilyn Gondek, director of the Old Canada Road Society in Bingham, will show the life and times of the unusual Moosehead Lake landscape photographer, Milford Baker. Marilyn has an extensive collection of photographs of and about Mr. Baker, which she will unveil for the first time at The Center for Moosehead History’s August program.