The story of Poland Spring begins in the late eighteenth century when Jabez Ricker moved his family from Alfred Maine to Bakerstown, present day Poland. Jabez had owned land adjacent to the Shaker community in Alfred and when they pressed him to acquire his land, he relented and made the land swap. Shortly after the Ricker’s arrival in Bakerstown, some travelers knocked on the door looking for a place to stay. In 1794 the family began operating an inn on the property and by 1797 opened a brand new building - the Wentworth Ricker Inn. Thus the beginning of a tradition of operating an inn on the grounds that continues today.
In 1844, Hiram Ricker, after suffering from dyspepsia for many years, went to the fields to oversee the men on the farm. For several days he drank only water from the spring on the edge of the property and after consuming the water for ten days, he became cured of his illness. While this is not the first time members of the Ricker family drank from the spring when they were ill, this was the first time that water was perceived as having medicinal properties. In 1845, the Rickers began sharing water and by 1859 made their first commercial sale of the water. In marketing the resort as a country getaway with recreational activities and having water with health benefits, the Rickers slowly grew their enterprise.
In 1876, the family opened the Poland Spring House which shortly became a popular attraction for the country’s social and political elite. The hotel, eventually comprised of over 350 guest rooms, a barber shop, dance and photography studios, pool room, music hall, bowling alley, dining facilities, fire sprinkler system and elevators, served as the crown jewel of the resort grounds. Its design and amenities were used to develop several other Hiram Ricker & Sons operated hotels, including the Samoset and the Mt. Kineo House.
The resort also took an unprecedented step in 1894 when it purchased the Maine State Building from the state. The building, constructed of granite, hardwoods, and slate from Maine, was originally constructed as the state entry for the Columbian Exposition or Chicago Worlds Fair of 1893. Designed by Lewiston native Charles Sumner Frost, the building was purchased by the Rickers, disassembled, transported to Poland Spring, reassembled and dedicated for use as a library and art gallery for the resort guests. It remains as one of only a handful of buildings left from the almost 200 that comprised the grand and historic fair.
In 1895, the family opened a nine-hole golf course, one of the first in the state, after commissioning Arthur Fenn as its designer. Fenn, considered by some to be the first American born professional golfer and course designer stayed on for many years as the golf pro at the resort. By the early twentieth century, the resort desired a modernization of the course and contracted with Donald Ross to redesign the course and expand it to eighteen holes. Ross is recognized as one of the most celebrated golf architects of all times and designed, re-designed, or expanded eleven courses in the state, the one at Poland Spring being the oldest.
In 1907, Hiram Ricker and Sons Co. opened a new bottling plant and springhouse on their property. This was perhaps the most modern bottling facility of its time, installed with glass and silver piping, non-porous Cararra glass for easy cleaning, and even showers for the workers to use prior to beginning their shift. The company was able to churn out over 450 cases of water per shift and continued their dominance in the water business.
The 1930s were not kind years for anyone, including the Ricker family. Eventually losing control over their empire, the resort and water company was owned by several iterations of business consortiums. In 1962, Saul Feldman purchased the resort and built a new inn on the grounds. He tried to attract a new clientele and offered modern amenities. In order to increase his profits, he leased the Poland Spring House and other buildings on the grounds to the US government for use by the Job Corps program. When the program opened in 1966, Poland Spring was the site of the largest women’s training center in the country. With several thousand individuals coming and going, the wear and tear took its toll and then the Job Corps left the grounds in 1969, the Poland Spring House was closed and not used as a hotel again.
In 1972, Mel Robbins came to Poland Spring to develop condominiums but instead fell in love with the historic character and the potential of the property and began leasing the hotels from Mr. Feldman. In 1975, the Poland Spring House burned to the ground and in 1977 the Maine State Building and All Souls Chapel were donated to the Poland Spring Preservation Society.
In 1982, Mel and Cyndi Robbins purchased the property from the Feldmans and have steadily maintained and preserved Poland Spring life over the course of the past three decades.