In Her Footsteps: Vacation at the Rangeley Lakes

This camping experience had poured new spirit through her veins. Never had she known life as she had lived it in the past forty-eight hours. Two nights she had slept on balsam boughs with the fragrance of pines and the smell of a wood-fire stealing into the window to drug her to dreamless sleep.

A Certain Crossroad

Emilie Loring used real experiences to create her stories, so when I read this passage, I wondered, “Where was this?”

A row of log cabins with brand-new tin water-pails glittering like family plate on their porches rimmed the lake at a conservative distance from its pebbly shore.

A Certain Crossroad

In one of the Loring family albums, I found a collection of photographs, and one rang a bell–a row of log cabins with small porches.

I looked more closely. At the top of the photo was a sign… “BALD MT CAMPS.”

“BALD MOUNTAIN CAMPS”

This was the information I needed. I reminded myself that “camps” are what I grew up calling “cabins.”

The Bald Mountain Camps were–and are–in the Rangeley region of Maine. They lie along the shore of Mooselookmeguntic Lake, “a sportsman’s paradise brimming with big landlocked salmon and trout.” Then as now, Maine guides showed visitors the best places to fish and the best tackle to use.

Victor Loring and Maine guides

Victor Loring is pictured here with three such guides. If you look closely, you can see that the man seated on the ground is Herb Welch.

Herb Welch arrived at nearby Haines Landing in 1903, a skilled guide but not yet the legend he would become. In a season, he might catch over 250 fish, all of which he released, but his fame was secured when he created the Black Ghost streamer fly in the 1920s and guided celebrities like Ted Williams and President Herbert Hoover.

Victor fished from a boat with his guides, but he and his sons, Robert and Selden, fished from a T-shaped dock. (I walked up and down the shore but failed to find one like it.) This was a family vacation, so the boys had their dog with them, as well as their nurse.

The famous “Rangeley Boat” is a wooden boat with swiveling seats to allow guides and fishermen to adjust their positions as needed. But for women from Boston, proper chairs and a man to row the boat served as well.

Hardly “roughing it” on Mooselookmeguntic Lake

The Lorings enjoyed their vacation so much that they returned several times to the area. I must see it for myself, I decided.

I drove up on Highway 17, the “Oquossoc Road,” stopping along the way at “Height of Land,” a scenic overlook. From early postcards, I was somewhat prepared for the view,

Mooselookmeguntic Lake from Oquossoc Road (Highway 17)

but in full color, it was spectacular!

“Height of Land” overlook, in full color

The last portion of my drive ran along the abandoned rail tracks (in yellow below) which once brought the Lorings to the area. When I reached tiny Oquossoc (pop. 119), I turned west, toward the lake, then took one more turn, south, to arrive at the Bald Mountain Camps.

To Bald Mountain Camps

Of course, I knew my destination, and I followed the route as planned, but still, it was a thrill to see the sign, “Bald Mountain Camps.” I was really here. What would it be like? Would I recognize anything that Emilie had seen? Would anything be left, well over a hundred years later?

The lake was calm and the exact same blue as the sky. The gravel path crunched underfoot as I walked. To my left was a modern dock with motorboats, kayaks, and canoes at the ready. On my right were the cabins–“camps,” I must remember to call them.

Mine was “Prosperity,” and I smiled. “Patti of Prosperity Camp!”

“What shall I name the place which has a lift to it? I know! Prosperity Farm! Grand!

… Prue of Prosperity Farm salutes you!

Hilltops Clear

I ate a carryout dinner from the Oquossoc Grocery, then enjoyed a glass of wine on Prosperity’s porch as the sun sank beyond the western mountains. In the morning I would investigate!

I awoke to a change in the weather. The air was chilly, and a stiff wind whipped the lake to white peaks. I walked directly to the water and tested it with my hand–yes, most definitely “icy cold.”

In the early morning she had plunged into the icy water of the lake. The cold had set her teeth chattering, her eyes shining, the blood leaping and glowing through her veins. 

A Certain Crossroad

By morning light, I could see the name of the camp next to mine: “Camp Sturtevant.” The twig sign looked a lot like the one in Emilie Loring’s photos… no, wait. It looked exactly like it.

It was the same sign. After more than a hundred years, a hundred Maine winters, a hundred summers of renters, the twig sign remained.

I stepped to the side and took another photo, which I placed side by side with Emilie’s original.

Not only had I come to the same resort, I had found the same camp. Maybe some of the Loring party had stayed in Prosperity, too. The interior has been renovated with heat, electricity, and real mattresses–no more balsam boughs–but I still had that “in her footsteps” feeling.

Twin-trunked birch

Several of the Lorings’ photos were taken at a particular place on the shore, in front of some small birch trees. I could tell it was the same place because of the slim, twin-trunked birch to one side. I scanned the shoreline… In front of the camp to the other side of Prosperity, there it was, thick, tall, and strong. I double-checked the lake and mountain background against the photos. Exact.

I found myself feeling proud of it. Good little tree, you made it.

The double birch is still there.

I retreated to Prosperity’s warmth and set up my computer in front of a small window, but I didn’t feel like working. I watched the waves, watched as chilled fishermen arrived at the dock and hurried to their camps, looked through Emilie’s photos again, and smiled with satisfaction.

Too excited to work
O.G., a local tradition

It was chilly again the next morning, but I bundled up and had my hot coffee and Oquossoc Grocery donut on the front porch. The lady next door walked by with her dog and said good morning. The fishermen to the other side of me came out with their to-go mugs and ambled toward the dock. Reluctantly, I packed my bag, left my key on the desk, and closed Prosperity’s door for the last time.

At the first corner, I was supposed to turn right, toward Oquossoc and the highway, but I couldn’t resist one last glimpse of Mooselookmeguntic. I turned left.

Hey, wait! I recognize those. They’re the Haines Landing camps.

And… oh, no, could it really be? One more discovery on this last day?

Haines Landing dock

Yes. It was the T-shaped dock, the mountains in the background perfectly aligned, as they were in the Lorings’ photos. Why hadn’t I thought of it before? Herb Welch’s shop was at Haines Landing; how natural, that Victor would have brought the boys there to fish. And with that last discovery, I turned back toward the highway, still smiling.

Happy landings!


19 thoughts on “In Her Footsteps: Vacation at the Rangeley Lakes

  1. Hi Patti!

    I’m a bit late to the party, a busy week! I appreciate these photos so much. It is exciting to see the places where Emilie lived and camped, and about which she wrote. It’s so exciting. I love those cabins–or camps. When I was a child, our family, with 6 children, vacationed at Kentucky Lake, where an uncle had a fishing cabin. So, half the family slept on beds. We younger kids slept on the floor in sleeping bags. It was one big square room I recall. Maybe curtains around the beds like in a hospital room. We could walk down to the lake or to the small general store by ourselves. We knew our neighbors who were regulars at the lake. We had to use an outhouse for the first few years, I remember! Before the indoor bathroom was added, mom bathed us smaller children in the large kitchen sink. I love the slam of a screen door in summer! I love being outside in the summer evenings, on the screened porch that was added with the bath. Some of us slept out there on those summer nights. That’s what these pictures remind me of, in my life. I enjoy sharing that with Emilie, though her experiences were probably a bit more like what is called “glamping” today.

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    1. I am enjoying the connection this post has made. Outdoor experiences can have such positive associations. I’m also glad for the extra dimension it adds to the perception of Emilie. Her camp was more rustic than otherwise, and you can tell that she loved it. It’s so different from the image of her serving an elegant tea in a stylish gown. I am saving some of the Bald Mountain photos for the book, and I think you’ll enjoy seeing her in “hiking” clothes and carrying a walking stick. Your mention of the general store is why I mentioned the “O.G.” Special summer places seem to always have something like it. We walked to the “Trading Post” when I was a kid. Thanks for sharing your memories!

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  2. That’s just what I was thinking – an excellent writer’s retreat! The scene that really sticks in my mind is your picture of the desk and your work right in front of the window with that beautiful view. It’s amazing how many actual locations you’ve tracked down – still faithfully offering a lovely experience!

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    1. Thanks for your kind words, Suz. I love to write with a water view! Over the years, I’ve written in some really nice places. Maybe that would make a nice post. I am already putting together a little guide book, “Emilie Loring’s New England,” so everyone can visit her locations.

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  3. Thoroughly enjoyed your article on Mooselookmeguntic.
    Having grown up at Bemis, on the southern end of the lake, in the 1940’s and having spent many hours fly fishing under the watchful eye of Herb Welch, I read with great nostalgia. We still summer in Oquossoc because, that is where are hearts always are. You captures the mage sty of Mooselook perfectly. Thank you.

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    1. Jim, thank you for writing. Connections like this are what make research and writing most satisfying. I imagine places and times, but it’s not until I get a message like yours that I am sure I’ve captured it.

      The Lorings returned several times between 1898 and 1908. A brother-in-law fished every summer with Frank Thorpe of E. Madrid, and the Lorings contemplated building their own summer homestead nearby. Now that I’ve been there, I’m sure to go back, too. I planned too short a visit, and I didn’t get a chance to get on the water or hike up Bald Mountain. Next time, for sure!

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  4. That was so much fun to read. I could taste the donut! Loved the photo verifications! I’ve been gathering all of Emilie’s Kindle books, and re-reading past loves and adventures. So much fun. I think I have all but one, now; Love With Honor from 1969. I have the paperback, but not the Kindle version.

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  5. How nice to go on a Maine vacation with you and Emilie. The only time I had vacationed was my honeymoon forty seven years ago. Thank you for not only me remembering that but to re-read Ms Loring again. Funny, I have been reading her novels again. Thank goodness I have had her books for over fifty years. Right now I’m reading Gay Courage. I should have kept count the number of times I’ve revisited her wonderful adventures!

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    1. I’m glad you enjoyed coming along with me! I grew up in the desert Southwest, and Emilie’s books, with their clambakes and lighthouses, were dreamy vacations for me. What skill she had, to write books so well that we would read them over and over again across the years. Enjoy Gay Courage (again!). I like the brook and bittersweet scene, and best of all, “Strangely potent, this thing we call, for want of a better name, ‘attraction,’ isn’t it?”

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