July means summer and summer means vacation time, which is the theme for this month’s Genealogy Blog Party with Elizabeth O’Neal on Heart of the Family.
Americans, in general, didn’t have much time for taking vacation time to travel until the patter portion of the 1800s and family travel didn’t really become a yearly event until the start of the 20th century.
My maternal grandparents, Vernon Tarbox Adams and Hazel Ethel Coleman, both born in Calais, Washington, Maine did plenty of traveling – because Grandfather worked for Western Union and got transferred every couple of years because of his job.
However, all vacation roads always led back to Maine!
The family started out at Western Union in Bangor, Maine, followed by frequent moves throughout Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey.
My mother hated that life. She said every time she and my aunt got settled in a neighborhood and school and made some friends, they had to move again. I’ve been able to document at least a dozen moves as she was growing up and I think that’s probably more than the average military family moved!
After Grandfather was transferred out of Bangor, the family never lived in Maine again with the exception of a couple of years during the Depression.
However, Grandmother and Grandfather loved Maine and had deep Maine roots. They were also the first of my ancestors to have the ability to vacation regularly, so where do you think they traveled? Yep, back to Maine.
When my mother was a little girl, they vacationed in Calais, visiting family and friends.
Grandmother, right, with best friend Clara Dwelley
The little girl looks like my Aunt Barbara, which dates this photo to c1927.
Mom, left, with Barbara
This photo with Mom looks to have been taken on the same trip.
One Calais visit my mother said she and Aunt Barbara always loved was visiting their grandpa, Hartwell Coleman, who ran a general store in Calais in the 1930s – and always gave them some candy!
By the 1940s, my Aunt Barbara and Mom were teenagers and had a little sister, my Aunt Carole. Grandfather was doing well at Western Union, but the older generation in Calais had passed away and the younger people were moving to Massachusetts for better economic opportunities.
Therefore, my grandparents didn’t see the need for yearly visits to Calais, but they weren’t about to give up visiting their beloved Maine.
The solution was to rent a summer camp on Little Sebago Lake, in the southern part of Maine, not far from Portland – one of the many cities in which the family had lived.
The camp they rented, built about 1939, was definitely rustic by today’s standards. The cottage was basically one room, with a small kitchen (heated with propane gas) addition on the side and a screened in porch with a beautiful view of the lake.
The property also had a guest cabin, which was a very small one-room cottage with no amenities – the “windows” were screened over holes with big pieces of wood that opened and closed using a rope to allow ventilation in or keep weather out of the room. There was a storage shed for fireplace wood at the back of the guest cabin.
Although there was running water, it wasn’t potable, the only heat source was a small fireplace and the outhouse was in the woods!
Side view of the cottage with the porch, above, left and boathouse below
Grandfather working on the steps of the guest cabin, 1940s
View of Little Sebago from between the trees
My grandparents loved this camp so much that they bought it in the early 1950s and it became a three-generation family destination by the time I was born.
Grandmother & Me, c1955
Friday morning was shopping morning and it also meant stopping at a spring near Gray, Maine to fill containers with water we could actually drink!
Swimming with Grandmother, c1953
Life at the cottage was very low-key. Days were spent swimming, sunbathing, picking fresh blueberries for Grandmother’s homemade pies, water skiing, walking in the woods and taking relaxing boat rides in Grandfather’s motor boat or the row boat.
Maine weather was quite variable and ranged from warmly comfortable for swimming to cold and stormy with hailstones coming down in August.
For those less hospitable days, I was supplied with coloring books, paint by number kits and lots of books to read. Although the cottage had electricity, there was only a radio – no television was needed when there were so many other fun activities to keep us busy.
The Little Sebago camp was a road trip to which the whole family looked forward. For my grandparents, it meant first driving up from New Jersey and, later, from Massachusetts after they had made the final move back to New England.
My parents loaded my brother and me into the car and we made the long trip – about 9 hours – to Little Sebago Lake every August.
The camp stayed in the family until the spring of 1969, as Grandfather died the previous December.
As long as the road trip was to get to the lake, I looked forward to the turnoff from the main road and we headed down to the cottage:
This was the view I lived for, as it meant we were almost there. My husband and went back to have a peek in 1980, but by then, the trees had grown so high that the lake couldn’t be seen anymore.
The road trips to Little Sebago Lake provided decades of happy family memories. Luckily, Aunt Barbara took tons of photos, of which I am now the proud caretaker.