Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village

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The Sabbathday Lake Shakers and
The Rickers of the Poland Spring Hotel:

A Scrapbook History

Above: A view of the Poland Spring Hotel taken by Brother Delmer C. Wilson around 1910. Collection of the United Society of Shakers, Sabbathday Lake, Inc.

The Land Swap: 1794

During the 1780s, the Shakers established two settlements in Maine -- one at Sabbathday Lake (West Gloucester) and the other in Alfred. Jabez Ricker and his family were neighbors to the Alfred Shakers. The Shakers were interested in converting Jabez Ricker, since his property contained the only millstream near the Shaker Village. After several unsuccessful pleas, Elder John Barnes went to Jabez and said: "Jabez Ricker, God says you must give the Shakers your farm." The story continued "Jabez … had the fear of God before his eyes. He answered quite humbly, "Well, if God says so it must be so." Then with little more spirit, he added, "But you shall pay me for it.""

Above: A view of the Wentworth Ricker Inn as pictured in "Poland Spring Centennial: A Souvenir," copyright 1895 by Hiram Ricker & Sons, South Poland, Maine. Collection of the United Society of Shakers, Sabbathday Lake, Inc.

In exchange for his Alfred property, the Shakers provided Jabez with a homestead in Poland, Maine that once had belonged to a Shaker convert. Jabez moved his family to the new property, just north of the Sabbathday Lake Shaker settlement. The Rickers’ new home was situated on a major thoroughfare that led into the Portland area and beyond. In 1797, the Rickers opened the Wentworth Ricker Inn and offered lodging to the farmers and herdsmen who traveled back and forth to the markets.

The Birth of the Poland Spring Hotel

Trains during the 1840s began to interconnect commercial centers in Maine, making it feasible to ship goods to and from market. The Ricker Inn had few guests so it was closed for several years. When trains offered passenger service to the seacoast and other scenic destinations, Hiram Ricker, Jabez’s grandson, saved the family inn by promoting to early tourists and excursionists the curative properties of a mineral spring on his property. The Ricker’s Inn reopened in 1861 with a steady flow of guests from June through September.

Above: A view of the Poland Spring House in the year 1876, as pictured in "Poland Spring Centennial: A Souvenir," copyright 1895 by Hiram Ricker & Sons, South Poland, Maine. Collection of the United Society of Shakers, Sabbathday Lake, Inc.

The Shakers’ Church Family Journal, beginning in 1872, sheds insight upon the relationship that developed between the Shakers and the Rickers. The Shakers were visiting a number of mineral springs in the area; however, the Rickers’ "Poland Springs" was their preferred destination. When they entertained their leaders and fellow Shakers, they often visited the North Family of Shakers (Poland Hill) before spending the rest of the day at Poland Springs, where they enjoyed the attractive grounds, as well as the renowned mineral spring.

As public appeal for the Poland Mineral Springs increased through the 1870s, the Shakers witnessed an increase in the number of spectators attending their Public Meeting (worship). In 1875, Elder Otis Sawyer recorded: "There probably never was so many attended our services take the season right through, nor such intelligent minds and respectful attention as there has been this season and there has been a good gift and powerful ministration in all our Meetings." In the years to follow until 1887, the Shakers might have as many as 200 and 300 spectators at the Meetinghouse from the Poland Springs and nearby hotels.

In April of 1876, Elder Otis wrote to the Ministry leaders at Mount Lebanon, "the Poland Mineral Waters have become so celebrated for their curative properties, and the place so popular as a summer resort, that a big hotel has been put up and … the contractors agree to have it ready by the first of July." The Poland Spring Hotel was ready for occupancy on July 21, 1876. The following day, Elder Otis recorded, "Elder Joseph Brackett and Brother William Dumont took fifteen Sisters to the new Hotel at Poland Springs. The proprietors __ Ricker and __ Youngs politely escorted them through the whole establishment, which is in the form of an ell, each part a hundred feet in length and four stories high. A very lofty dormitory rises high at the northwest corner above the top of the building."

Above: Members of the Ricker Family, including from left to right, Edward Payson Ricker, Alvin Bolster Ricker, Hiram Ricker, and Hiram Weston Ricker as they appeared in "Poland Spring Centennial: A Souvenir," copyright 1895 by Hiram Ricker & Sons, South Poland, Maine. Collection of the United Society of Shakers, Sabbathday Lake, Inc.

Hiram Ricker’s three sons, Edward, Alvin, and Hiram, Jr., emerged as the masterminds behind the hugely successful resort. The environment was one of utmost exclusivity – local excursionists and sightseers were not permitted upon the grounds. The Poland Spring Hotel offered all the comforts of modern convenience among a beautiful pastoral landscape. The guests were treated to a bounty of food and were quenched with a limitless supply of Poland Spring water. Concerts, dances, special entertainments, trips, and outings were regularly scheduled. Their hotel became a popular gathering place for political and military leaders, successful business-people, professionals, and socialites. The Shaker Village at Sabbathday Lake was among the guests’ favorite destinations. "A team of four horses from the Springs brought a large company to see and be seen …" was a regular occurrence at Shaker Village.

The Shakers were among a select group of local residents allowed past the guarded gates of the resort. Infirm Shakers traveled from other Villages as far away as Connecticut, New York, and Ohio in order to partake of the Poland Spring Mineral Water treatments. In addition, Elder Otis was sending barrels of the water to sick and elderly Shakers at other Communities. In 1884 the Ricker brothers consented to charge no more than $1.50 a barrel for any water that was ordered for Shakers -- a discount nearly three-quarters the market price.

An Era of Enterprise: 1876-1887

For the first twelve years after the construction of the Poland Spring House, the relationship between the Shakers and the Rickers seems to have been one of mutual benefit, convenience, and respect. The attention received by the Shakers bolstered morale, and also generated financial and social opportunities for the Shakers.

The struggling North Family of Shakers at Sabbathday Lake sold their poplarware and fancy goods as souvenirs to the guests at the hotel. This outlet provided a reliable source of income for this small group of Shakers. In fact, for nearly 30 years Eldress Elizabeth Haskell of Poland Hill specialized in the production of hexagonal poplarware boxes for the Poland Spring market.

The Sisters at the Church Family were paid handsomely for the quantities of currants, apples, and eggs that they brought to the hotel’s kitchens. Every few days during peak season, the Sisters supplied as many as 48 quarts of blackberries, and on occasion throughout the season, as many as fifty-one dressed chickens. For modest fees, the Sisters also offered specialized laundry services to the Rickers and certain esteemed guests. Despite the disapproval of the Ministry Eldresses, who thought it unfitting to engage the Sisters as "washer women," the Shakers offered laundry service over the course of ten years.

Above: A view of Shaker Meeting from 1885. A photographer from the Poland Spring Hotel took this image. The Shakers are seated in the front benches. The spectators and guests from the Poland Spring Hotel are in the back rows. Collection of the United Society of Shakers, Sabbathday Lake, Inc.

The following account regarding the aftermath of President Garfield’s assassination, bears early evidence that the Shakers were regarded as spiritual ministers at the hotel. "September 26, 1881 – Elder William took the large carriage and both orders of the Ministry to Poland Spring, as it was National Fast Day when President Garfield was to be buried. The Parlor of the Hotel was draped in mourning and the Ministry were invited to hold a short service, which they accepted. Sung an appropriate song, then knelt, and sung a song beginning ‘Our Father in Heaven.’ The guests of the house kneeling with them …"

During Colonial Revivalism, when ‘noble’ interpretations were created of the past, the Shakers held great appeal among those at Poland Spring. On September 20, 1885 the Shakers recorded: "Sabbath Day ... A new thing under the sun – During the services this morning, a photographer came into the Meeting House with Edward Ricker and took a view of the Meeting House interior and all of the people there assembled. A little disturbance was made by a woman having a fit, but we survived both scenes." The Rickers used this photograph in several publications to promote the local attractions near their resort.

A New Relationship Begins in 1887

In 1887, the North Family was closed and the membership was consolidated at the Church Family. The Church became the sole means of contact with the Rickers. Interaction with people from the Poland Spring resort became a regular part of daily life for many of the Sabbathday Lake Shakers.

Just one week after the North Family’s closure, "Edward Ricker with a company of fourteen from Poland Springs, including Ben. Butler of Massachusetts called at our Office and Aurelia Mace walks around with them and they enjoy it very much." During his visit in 1888 "General Benjamin Butler and a large company come to the Office this forenoon. Edward Ricker proprietor of the Poland Spring House with them. Maggie Butler a noted Spiritualist medium also in the company. General Butler makes Sister Mary Ann [Hill] the present of a cane. We have quite an interesting visit with them." In a short time, Civil War General Benjamin Butler and his family became dear friends of many years with Sister Aurelia and some of the other Shakers.

Later in the summer of 1888, the Shakers recorded: "Sabbath … we [at the Trustees’ Office] are honored with a visit from [American statesman and political leader] James G. Blaine and family … and Edward Ricker. Sisters come up to sing to them. He presents us with $5.00 with which we intend to buy books for the family library, placing his name in them … They are treated to lemonade and return to take tea at the Springs. This is one of the pleasures of life that we can never forget."

Sales Trips & Business Arrangements: 1887-1930

The Shakers sold their goods at many hotels and resorts throughout Maine, as well as parts of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and even Rhode Island. However, the Poland Spring Hotel became the most frequently visited by the Shakers since it was only four miles north of their Village.

In 1887, the Sisters began to take to the hotel plush rugs, brushes, fir balsam pillows, poplarware, sugared peel and maple candy, as well as lemon syrup. By 1888, the Shakers began to hold several sales weekly at the Mansion House, as well as the Poland Spring Hotel. Meeting with success, the fancy goods production steadily increased. In response to the eager Poland Spring market, Shaker-dressed dolls, oval sewing carriers, and ladies’ cloaks were added to the line of fancy goods. Poland Spring emerged as the most profitable of the Shakers’ destinations for fancy goods sales.

The Sisters also sold flowers twice weekly at Poland Springs. One wagon, and sometimes two, hauled to the hotel dozens of bouquets and arrangements made from sweet peas, roses, or lilies. The Shakers often failed to supply the demand. In time, the Sisters financed two-fifths of the expenses of a Shaker-built greenhouse, in which "pinks," carnations, and other hothouse flowers were raised. The twice-weekly flower sales from the 1880s into the 1910s generated fifteen to fifty dollars income.

Above: A view of the Rickers’ Mansion House around the year 1895. The original Wentworth Ricker Inn was contained in the front, left corner of the building. This image appeared in "Poland Spring Centennial: A Souvenir," copyright 1895 by Hiram Ricker & Sons, South Poland, Maine. Collection of the United Society of Shakers, Sabbathday Lake, Inc.

The Shaker Brethren at the Church Family also conducted businesses with the Rickers beginning in the 1890s. From the gardens, the Brothers supplied the hotel kitchens with products, such as cream, potatoes, apples, and pears, among other seasonal produce. On a semi-seasonal basis, the brethren prepared for the Rickers as much as 700 cords of firewood at $2.50 a cord, as well as, sawn lumber in quantities upwards of 100,000 board feet at a time. In 1898, Elder William Dumont struck a contract to furnish wooden shipping crates for Hiram Ricker, Jr., overseer of the Poland Spring Mineral Water business. The Brethren and their hired help constructed on average 1200 to nearly 2000 water boxes every season from 1898 until the year 1930. Despite the 28-year production, the Shakers continually commented that the water crate business was a loss!

For twelve years, the Sabbathday Lake Shakers attempted to dispose of the North Family Shaker property. They developed the Crystal Spring on the land with the hopes of attracting hotel businessmen. After many unsuccessful deals, the Shakers sold the property to the Rickers in 1899 for $7500.00; approximately one-quarter the value originally estimated by the Shakers.

Friendships & Privileges

From the 1890s into the 1910s, the Sisters made at least four sales trips to Poland Spring each week from June through September. Sales lasted many hours, if not the entire day. For years, Eldress Harriet Goodwin and Eldress Elizabeth Haskell (Ministry Sisters) sold twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. A team of two among Sisters Aurelia Mace, Ada Cummings, "Prudie" Stickney, or others shared trips on Wednesdays and Saturdays. These Sisters became widely known at the resort and formed the bridge between the Shakers, the Rickers, and their guests. Personal, individual friendships soon developed.

Above: Eldress Elizabeth Haskell (left) and Eldress Harriet Goodwin (right) pictured in their fancy goods workroom at the Ministry’s Shop at Sabbathday Lake in the year 1899. Collection of the United Society of Shakers, Sabbathday Lake, Inc.

When some of the Sisters formed a singing quartette, and others took up musical instruments, the Rickers sent the hotel’s musicians to teach and drill the Shakers. Scattered evidence from journals also indicates that the Rickers with little treats, such as ice cream, flowers, and small gifts, surprised "favored Shakers". Likewise the Shakers expressed similar affections toward members of the Ricker family – a quart of fresh berries here and there, a lovely bouquet, a Christmas gift of handmade fur gloves, or a fancy box as a birthday gift.

In September of 1892, Sister Ada, the caretaker of the little girls, submitted the following article to the Shaker Manifesto, which bears evidence of the generosity extended by the Rickers to their Shaker friends. "A special invitation was sent to our leaders, by the proprietors of the Poland Spring Hotel for our little girls all to come there and take dinner, and liberty was granted. So they sent one of their coaches named the James G. Blaine to take them there. They were accompanied by their teachers, and made very happy by the notice they received. Before dinner was announced a concert was given them in the music hall, and they also went up on the elevator to the tower, which commands a view of all the surrounding country. They were then taken through the domestic departments. When they were called to dinner, such a floral display! Flowers everywhere! The girls selected what they wanted from the menu and "tarried long o’er the Poland Water." After dinner, they visited the famous Spring and bubbl’ing house, rested under the shady trees in the park where they sung and recited pieces to the many guests who gathered around them. One piece, which they sung to the proprietors, gave quite an effect; "Inasmuch as ye have done it to the least of these, Ye have done it unto me &c." Then they visited the Indians, and admired their pretty baskets. At 4:30 pm the James G. Blaine took the happy company home, made none the worse for the day’s outing…"

The Rickers especially remembered the Shakers nearly every Christmas season from the early 1890s through the 1910s. In 1904, for example, Sister Aurelia recorded, "Cora Ricker sent a Christmas cake to the children. There was enough for supper for the whole family. The Rickers are all very kind and noble. God bless them. Alvin and Cora Ricker make Eldress Lizzie the present of a beautiful spring rocking chair. So, this is a very happy Christmas."

When the Rickers entertained elite friends, Shaker Village was regularly part of the agenda of activities. On Sunday afternoons Mr. Edward Ricker, and sometimes his wife, escorted guests to be entertained in the Shakers’ Chapel in the Dwelling House. The Shakers enjoyed these opportunities to visit. "October 12, 1902 – Sunday. Usual Meeting a.m. In the afternoon, E.P. Ricker came down with a large company of railroad men. They are entertained by singing. E.P. Ricker always wants to hear the old fashioned Shaker songs. We have a very pleasant time." For many years, a large framed photograph of Mr. E.P. Ricker hung in the Music Room, just outside the Shakers’ Chapel.

The Shakers enjoyed many opportunities and privileges through their relationship with the Rickers. On July 17, 1895: "Eldress Elizabeth and Aurelia at the Springs this evening. A Negro – Booker Washington, spoke in the hall. The guests contribute to him about $200.00 for the education of Negroes in the South. Henry Spaulding of the firm of Tiffany and Company, New York City, gave Aurelia the present of a beautiful box lined with light blue satin, in it six heavy silver table spoons, six tea spoons, and six large forks. "Sterling Silver." Eighteen pieces. Her initials on each "A.G.M." It is a very beautiful and costly present and we are very thankful to the generous donor. He also offers silver medals as first and second prizes to the [children] who will do the best and next best in the fall term of school…"

Shakers from other Communities also enjoyed the favors extended by the Rickers. In 1897, the Canterbury, New Hampshire Shakers Quartette held a concert at Poland Spring. They raised over $76.00 in contributions for their home. As a frequent visitor to Poland Spring, Elder Henry Green from the Alfred Shaker Society became a dear friend of the Rickers. For decades, Elder Henry attended the Rickers’ Washington’s Birthday gala celebration.

The Ambassador: 1887-1910

Sister Aurelia Mace (1835-1910) was perhaps the greatest friend among Shakers to the Ricker family and the hotel guests. For nearly 30 years, she made twice-weekly sales trips to Poland Spring. The Ricker family held Sister Aurelia high regard, as evident in an article that appeared in the Rickers’ weekly magazine for their guests, "The Hill-Top." The article states "One of the best known faces to be seen … at the Poland Spring House is undoubtedly that of Sister Aurelia…Her sweet and kindly face seems to give assurance of all that is hospitable and gentle in human composition and looks out from the simple bonnet or cap, beaming with absolute good nature."

Sister Aurelia was regularly among honored guests at the Poland Spring resort. In 1895 she attended the one-hundredth anniversary of the Rickers in Poland, which coincided with the dedication of the Maine State Building that the Rickers had relocated to the grounds of the Poland Spring resort from the World’ Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Sister Aurelia was presented to the key speakers, including U.S. Senators Hale and Frye, Congressmen Dingley and Boutelle, and others. On that occasion, she wore for the fist time a Shaker-style dress that had been made for her by one of her friends from the Springs, Mrs. Sturtevant of Jamaica Plains, Massachusetts, the benefactress of the Shakers’ Water Tower in 1903.

On August 9, 1897, Sister Aurelia recorded "About 4 o’clock, Eldress Elizabeth and Aurelia and Chellis went to the Springs. Aurelia is to read from her manuscripts in the Music Hall this evening… We make our arrangements … assisted by Mr. E. P. Ricker and Mr. F. W. Carpenter. A small table is placed about half way down the hall to hold the manuscripts…We face about 500 people and there are more for the windows are full of the people outside…Aurelia read five chapters of her manuscripts… This evenings episode came to an end with many good wishes from our friends present and some little contributions towards defraying the expense of a book which we hope will sometime be published." In 1899, Sister Aurelia published "The Aletheia," an explanation of Maine Shaker history, including mention of the Rickers and their Poland Spring resort.

Above: A photograph of Sister Aurelia Mace at the Trustees’ Office with her birthday cake from Mr. Edward Ricker in 1905. Collection of the United Society of Shakers, Sabbathday Lake, Inc.

In her diary from 1896, Sister Aurelia wrote: "In the service of the Society, I have been at the Poland Spring House many time during the past ten years. I have received great kindness and consideration ... I have taken note of the grandeur and beautiful life that fortune bestows upon her favored ones … I have never heard a coarse expression, nor profane word in that house, which causes me to have great respect for the noble class of people that I have met there … and it has been with great joy that I have received many favors on behalf of my people."

Sister Aurelia struck a deep, personal rapport with Mr. Edward Payson Ricker, the manager of the hotel. He often referred to himself as Sister Aurelia’s brother. She was greatly moved by his affection. On the event of Sister Aurelia’s 70th Birthday, E.P. Ricker sent her a large birthday cake with the inscription: "Many happy returns of this day, from Brother Edward." As the years passed, their friendship ever-increased.

An Era of Transitions: 1899 - 1950

In 1903, Eldress Harriet Goodwin became the first of the salespeople to Poland Spring to pass away. The Shakers and the Rickers had lost a dear friend. For the funeral, "the Rickers bring down beautiful flowers. Cora and Nettie attended the service … a number of the guests also came down. We had a sweetly spiritual Meeting …"

During Sister Aurelia’s final illness, the Rickers made every attempt to bestow comfort and concern. In November of 1909 Sister Ada noted: "the Ricker family have been very kind ever since Sister Aurelia was taken sick. They are sending everything they can think of to tempt her appetite viz. broths, steak, grapefruit, oranges, figs, costly wines, etc. and tonight they send down an Invalid’s Reclining Chair but poor Aurelia was too weak to use it …" Sister Aurelia died only months later in 1910. Several members of the Ricker attended her funeral. In fact, Hiram Ricker, Jr. was one of Sister Aurelia’s pallbearers. Mr. E.P. Ricker, absent from the funeral while on a business call, sent a large tribute of lilies marked from "Brother Edward."

In 1913, Brother Washington Jones died prematurely. During his 15-year tenure as the Sisters’ driver to Poland Spring, he built a deep bond with the Ricker family. Brother Washington’s obituary stated that, "He made many friends among the Poland Spring people and was greatly beloved by all who knew him."

Later in 1920, Eldress Elizabeth Haskell went to her heavenly home. She was the last of the first Shakers to have regular contact with the Rickers and their guests. An entire generation of the Rickers’ Shaker friends was fast passing.

The 1910s marked a time of great change and transition in tourism. The burgeoning use of the automobile encouraged people to make shorter excursions to a number of destinations. As a result, the Shakers enjoyed an increase in sales at the Shaker Store; however, sales at the Poland Spring Hotel throughout the 1910s accounted for nearly half the annual income generated by the fancy goods industry.

Above: Eldress Prudence Stickney (left) and Sister Ada S. Cummings at the Rickers’ Mansion House around the year 1920. Collection of the United Society of Shakers, Sabbathday Lake, Inc.

The automobile changed tourism but the Rickers were successful in maintaining widespread public appeal. In 1921 the Poland Spring Hotel attracted perhaps its most famous guest. President Warren G. Harding paid a brief visit to the Hotel, where he enjoyed a nice meal as well as a round of golf. Several Shakers went to the Springs to see the President, and that day lived forever in the memories and scrapbooks of those present.

Few people were immune to the effects of the Great Depression. Tourism was permanently affected. The Poland Spring Hotel would never recover. The Shakers’ fancy goods industry was nearly crushed. Compounding the strain, the Shakers lost several people from their membership. Eldress Lizzie Noyes and Sister Ada Cummings both died in 1926, soon followed by Elder William Dumont in 1930. In a five-year period from 1928 to 1933, all three of the Ricker brothers died; namely Edward, Hiram Jr., and Alvin. Although they left behind many relatives, the hotel would never again be the same.

Above: Sister Eva M. Libby holding a Christmas Sale of fancy goods and other Shaker handiwork at the Poland Spring Hotel around the year 1940. Collection of the United Society of Shakers, Sabbathday Lake, Inc.

In 1931, the Shaker Society at Alfred was disbanded and the remaining membership consolidated with Sabbathday Lake. A new generation of sales people was brought forth. Sisters Eva M. Libby, Olive Dobson, and Mildred Barker – all formerly from Alfred -- joined forces with Eldress Prudence Stickney, Sister Iona Sedgley, and others, to continue their business at Poland Spring and the friendship with the Ricker family. The Shakers entertained company, and the Rickers hosted special programs and offered treats to their Shaker friends, including band concerts and picnics. However, without the Ricker brothers at the helm, and their long-time friends among the Shakers, the relationship between the two groups began to change.

In 1940, the Rickers sold the Poland Resort. Nettie and Sadie Ricker continued to take summer residence at their old home each summer for a number of years until the ends of their lives. Despite the Rickers’ absence, the Shakers continued to hold sales of candy and fancy goods at Poland Springs through the 1950s.

Lifelong Friends …

Eldress Prudence Stickney (1860-1950) was a life-long friend of the Ricker brothers and their families for more than sixty years. Sister Frances Carr, leader of the Shakers today, recalls that the Ricker family looked upon Eldress Prudence as their spiritual advisor and confessor.

Eldress Prudence was deeply saddened by the deaths of the Ricker brothers, particularly Mr. Edward Ricker. On the cover of an issue of "The Hill-Top" commemorating Edward’s life, Eldress Prudence simply wrote. "Edward P. Ricker. My dear friend of many years." Surely, she missed the many friendships that she recalled from the heyday of the resort.

From childhood memories, Sister Frances remembers Jane Ricker (wife of Alvin) as an "intelligent, cultured person." Through the 1940s, Jane visited the older Sisters on Sunday afternoons, bringing them a treat of ice cream. Sometimes she invited the Sisters to her cottage on Range Pond at Poland Spring. Sister Frances recalls that Jane visited two or three times a week during the summertime to purchase garden produce. The Shakers would fill up a bag at a time and never charged her for the vegetables.

Sister Frances believes that the "real connection" between the Shakers and the Ricker family may have ceased when Eldress Prudence died in 1950 at the age of 90 years; thus ending a relationship that had begun over one hundred fifty years before.

Prepared for the Ministry’s Shop Exhibit, Summer 2001
Written by Michael S. Graham, curator.

© The United Society of Shakers, Sabbathday Lake, Inc.
707 Shaker Road
New Gloucester, Maine 04260
(207) 926-4597


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