Borestone Mountain Lodges
In Elliotsville Plantation, Maine Audubon continues a family’s legacy of North Woods hospitality
Under a canopy of golden leaves, the pickup truck lumbered up the rocky mountain road, its bed loaded with duffle bags, totes, and coolers. The October weekend was the last that the Lodges at Borestone, part of the Borestone Mountain Audubon Sanctuary, would be open for the 2019 season, and my colleagues and I, along with photographer Christina Wnek, had been invited to visit by Maine Audubon, which offers the property for rent beginning each season in mid-June. At the edge of Maine’s North Woods in Elliotsville Plantation, the historic lodges sit on a moss- and lichen-carpeted parcel of land between two clear, spring-fed ponds, surrounded by 1,629 acres of woods dominated by craggy Borestone Mountain. The lodges are accessible via a hiking trail, but overnight visitors reach them as we did, by truck and boat, both operated by property manager Dan Simons. The road ends at Sunrise Pond, where we loaded our gear into an aluminum outboard, clambered aboard, and set off across the water. We motored quietly through a narrow, boulder-strewn channel and into Midday Pond, soon awed by our ﬁrst sight of the Adirondack-style lodges through towering trees on the far side. Before we had even arrived, Borestone had begun to work its magic.
Philadelphia businessman Robert T. Moore ﬁrst experienced the region’s allure at his father’s nearby camp and, determined to have his own piece of the Maine woods, purchased 1,200 acres, including the mountain, beginning in 1908. At the time, the land had been clear-cut and wasn’t considered especially valuable, but Moore saw something in the remote terrain that inspired him to create a family retreat where he could also entertain friends and business associates. The ﬁrst building was a rustic log cabin on the far shore of Sunset Pond opposite where the lodges now stand. In 1909 construction began on the main lodge, designed by prominent Bangor architect Wilfred E. Mansur, who was also responsible for the Penobscot County Courthouse and many historically signiﬁcant buildings in the Queen City.
As a Philadelphian, Moore would have been familiar with the Adirondack Great Camps, built in the late nineteenth century by wealthy Gilded Age industrialists. Along with every creature comfort of city life, these sprawling compounds with multiple cabins and lodges separated by function were designed to blend into their wooded surroundings using readily available local materials. While this aesthetic reﬂected the era’s interest in naturalism, it was also practical. According to the National Park Service publication Presenting Nature, by Linda Flint McClellan, “Their architectural forms and functional designs…were derived from the pioneer building traditions of a region with a severe climate and an abundant local supply of logs and boulders…Log structures were therefore set upon foundations of stone built up around the ﬁrst story and battered to shed rain and snow.”
Consistent with the Adirondack style, Borestone’s main lodge has wide porches on three sides. The hipped roof’s deeply overhanging eaves are supported at the edge by heavy timbers, providing shade as well as ample shelter on rainy days. Inside, the design shows Craftsman inﬂuences also common to the vernacular: a stone inglenook ﬁreplace ﬂanked by high-backed wooden benches, window seats, and built-in storage for books and collections. In one window seat, a slotted rack holds vintage vinyl records that visitors can play on the wind-up Victrola. Moore’s ﬁrst wife, Selma, was a concert pianist; her Steinway grand piano, brought over the ice one winter on a sled pulled by a team of oxen, still dominates the main living space. Down a few log steps is a small library, and a hallway leads to a bathroom and two bedrooms, furnished now, as are all the bedrooms at Borestone, with new, peeled-log beds and bunk beds. The main lodge sleeps eight; the dining lodge, built in 1926 and connected to the main lodge by a covered porch, sleeps nine. The Guide’s Cabin across the pond sleeps six, and has its own kitchen and bathroom facilities, while the Cliff Cabin, perched on a hill above the dining lodge, is a cozy spot for one or two. It was built as an office and a retreat for Moore when the lodges were full of guests, as they often were. In his day, all of the buildings were connected by telephone, including a boathouse on the shore of Midday Pond added in 1933.
One of the beneﬁts of spending time at Borestone today is that the property is blissfully out of cellphone reach. A satellite phone in the dining lodge is available in case of an emergency, and Simons is in residence at the boathouse when guests are on-site. Affable and multiskilled, Simons will lead hikes, help light ﬁres, or provide extra blankets, and he has a wealth of knowledge about the lodges and the area. Shortly after we arrived, he suggested that we take advantage of the good weather to hike up the mountain, a rugged climb aided by stone steps and steel bars embedded in the rock at several points. We reached the top (well, almost the top, according to Simons) as the sun was beginning its descent, casting a mellow glow over the spectacular view, which included Lake Onawa to the east and, beyond it, the 100-Mile Wilderness, the last and most remote section of the Appalachian Trail. Simons, who has looked out over this remote landscape many times, appreciates being able to see it afresh through visitors’ eyes. “I’ve developed an intimate, intuitive relationship with this place in terms of the air, the forest, and the water,” he says. “I get used to my surroundings, but when I bring people through that channel on the ponds, or up here to the summit, and see their amazement, I get to renew that feeling.”
We hustled to make it down the mountain by dark and arrived, slightly breathless and beaming, to ﬁnd that the two in our group who had stayed behind had a roaring ﬁre going in the dining lodge ﬁreplace. The octagonal dining lodge has a spacious kitchen and butler’s pantry complete with pots, pans, dishes, glassware, and ﬂatware. Next door, a room with ﬂagstone ﬂoor once used for cleaning ﬁsh has a propane-powered refrigerator as well as an insulated ice cupboard, which during our visit stayed cool even without ice and worked well for storing produce. At the 12-foot-long dining table made from California redwood, we tucked in to salad and chicken pie picked up on the way at Abbot Village Bakery (a recommendation from Simons) before settling in with glasses of wine in front of the ﬁre. Snuggled into my ﬂannel-sheeted bed on the second ﬂoor (sheets and comforters are provided, but guests bring towels), I browsed through some of the books detailing Borestone’s fascinating history, including its years as one of the country’s most prominent fox ranches.
The mountain access road we had traversed in Simons’s truck was cut in 1915, and a year later Moore went into business with his father-in-law to raise silver-black foxes—the fur was then in fashion as trim on women’s coats and other clothing. The foxes were kept in pens near Sunrise Pond, overseen from an observation tower; remnants of the pens can be seen from one of the mountain’s public trails. Borestone Mountain Fox Ranch, which eventually included a second ranch in southern California, produced a number of champion foxes, and Moore became known as the country’s top breeder. The channel between Sunrise and Midday Ponds was blasted so he could easily travel between the lodges and the ranch. So that his guests could ﬁsh, he also started a ﬁsh hatchery and stocked the ponds with brook trout. Since they are spring fed and have no streams ﬂowing into them, the three ponds are now ﬁshless; however, they do harbor frogs, newts, and a variety of insects. With the Great Depression, the demand for fox fur declined precipitously, and the fox ranches closed in 1931. However, Moore and his family continued to spend summers at the lodges enjoying many of the same quiet pleasures we experienced during our weekend: reading, wandering the moss-covered trails (the lodges have their own private trail network), or paddling canoes around the ponds. And, of course, eating and drinking. On Saturday evening, we bundled up in jackets and hats for wine and cheese on the porch facing Sunset Pond, where a row of Adirondack chairs invites lounging. As night slowly descended, Simons serenaded us, ﬁrst with his ﬁddle, and later by the ﬁreside with his mandolin and guitar. It was easy to imagine Moore and his friends in the same spot, perhaps enjoying Selma’s piano playing wafting through the open windows.
When Moore died in 1958, he willed 970 acres of the property to the National Audubon Society, leaving 50 acres and life tenancy of the lodges to two of his three children, son Terris Moore and daughter Marilynn Ridland. It was this generation of Moores that opened the mountain trails up to the public, and in 2000 the entire property was transferred to Maine Audubon. Hikers now enter the sanctuary from Elliotsville Road and hike 0.8 miles up the access road to the Robert T. Moore Visitor Center on Sunrise Pond, which is staffed from Memorial Day to mid-October. From the center, the trail to the summit continues for another mile to reach Borestone’s 1,927-foot rocky peak. The hike draws up to 6,000 visitors a year, and by renting the lodges to groups of up to 25, Maine Audubon also continues the Moore family’s legacy of hospitality in the Maine woods, providing a deeper experience of this enchanted place. Solar roof panels with a generator backup now provide power, and a bathhouse accessed via a short path lit with solar lights has two full bathrooms with hot and cold running water.
Among the many return guests is Maine Audubon Executive Director Andrew Beahm, who has been visiting with his family for nine years. “Our mission statement says that we connect people to nature, which is important because it’s through that experience that people will step up when conservation decisions are being made,” says Beahm, who came to Maine Audubon in 2016 after a long career at L.L.Bean. “For me, Borestone Mountain Sanctuary is one of the most important places I’ve been to in Maine that makes that connection. It’s where my family can focus on nature and on each other, and even though we have a tradition of going back year after year, it never gets old. The experience is always unexpected, unique, and therefore completely delightful.”
Lugging our bags to the boathouse late the next morning for our departure, we noticed three small stone towers near Midday Pond, which Simons explained were once electriﬁed, with lamps on top lit to guide Terris Moore’s Piper Cub ﬂoatplane into shore. In 1983, when the tenancy rights were signed off, Moore and his wife Katrina ﬂew out for the last time, the scene detailed in the research publication Vaughan’s Elliotsville, by Kermit Colson Bennett and Marilyn Temple Bennett. “Over 66 years of memories went through his mind in those last days of thinking of the place as ‘his mountain.’ He remembered his mother playing the piano at the lodge, all the distinguished visitors his parents and family had entertained there over the years, and all the hikers who had taken advantage of his allowing the public to make the trek to the summit of Borestone’s peak after he took over from his father.” Even after only two days, we felt some of the same reluctance to leave this magical place. But thanks to the careful stewardship of Maine Audubon, its magic will remain, and we can always return.