Gilmore Camps History
Gilmore Camps on Kezar Lake is a very special place. When you spend a week at Gilmore Camps you become part of a beautiful piece of Maine history that your whole family will feel.
A hidden treasure on the shores of Kezar Lake
By Dorothy Gilmore and Thomas Rendal Gilmore, Jr
Gilmore Camps owes its origin to the Great Depression of the 1930’s. At that time, Thomas Rendal Gilmore, Sr. was a young man totally frustrated that the world had no work for him or other budding young engineers. Also, his Aunt Maggie (Margaret Dresser) was retiring after a lifetime of teaching. Her hobby was gourmet cooking. They decided to pool their resources and open a business in Maine, if they could find suitable real estate.
Why Maine? Margaret Dresser and her sister, Grace Dresser Gilmore, always returned to Maine for vacations with their children. Their Dresser ancestors had been among the pioneer settlers in Lovell, Maine. In fact, Lot #1, on old Lovell maps, was deeded to a Dresser in the mid-1700’s. To the Gilmore children, Maine was Utopia. For a short time in the early twenties, Grace Gilmore and her boys lived at what had been Uncle Tom’s farm in North Fryeburg. While there, Tom finished his high school days at Fryeburg Academy and he loved every minute. Old scrapbooks are filled with school newspaper clippings citing his athletic achievements at the Academy. The achievements were real, but the news coverage was incredible. You see, Tom was also editor of the newspaper!
Aunt Maggie and Tom looked for property on Kezar Lake. They found the present Gilmore Camps acres that were owned by a distant cousin, Ed Huchins. Ed was a prosperous, well known entrepreneur in the area. In the latter part of the 19th century he owned what is now the property of Dr. & Mrs. Heinrick Wurm, adjacent to Gilmore Camps. After selling that in the early 1900’s, he built the former Wigwam and Lodge. He spent his winters in hotels in Portland and Boston, an easy and entertaining life since he had many friends involved in “show biz”. But in the summer, he loved to entertain on Kezar Lake. The Lodge housed buggies and a horse or two. Every winter the present “Wash House”, next to the garage, was filled to the roof with ice cut from the lake. No one had electricity in the Maine woods. In fact, the Wigwam was considered really posh because it had an indoor bathroom. Later, Sweet Sixteen was built to make a home for Ed’s first car.
In the early thirties, when Aunt Maggie and Tom began their adventure, the world was very different from today. Some main roads were tarred, but most roads were dirt. It was common to see teams of oxen pulling heavy loads on these roads. No one had ever heard of a motel. They didn’t even plow snow in the winter. They packed it down with giant rollers. The acres at Gilmore Camps were heavily wooded. It has taken two hurricanes, a tornado, lightning, heavy winds, numerous bulldozers, and lots of trimming to open the grounds so that the lake is visible from anywhere in camp. The beach was carved out of the swampy shoreline with the help of dynamite and bulldozers. Every grain of sand was trucked in from outside. Today, such activity is strictly forbidden.
At first, adults and families with children came to stay at Gilmore Camps. Three enormous meals were served daily. The meals were prepared on an old wood stove in the Wigwam kitchen and were served on the porch, later on an enlarged dining porch. This porch was moved in 1997 and is now the “Pool House”. A warning bell heralded mealtime and fifteen minutes later the final bell rang. The bell still sits next to the Wigwam deck and is still occasionally used to summon family to dinner. A jersey cow furnished rich milk and heavy cream, without which no dessert was complete. Fresh vegetables were served daily, picked from whatever was available in the large garden, now a lawn between the Lodge and Schoolhouse. In 1932, it was possible to share a room, have three meals a day, have your bed made and light housekeeping, and be entertained at a weekly rate of $17.50 per person. Entertainment was offered to those interested – mountain climbs, boat trips, picnics, scavenger hunts, and in the evenings there were games, music and local square dances.
During the second summer of operation, in 1932, two new guests arrived at Gilmore Camps from Attica, NY, Dorothy Marley and her grandmother, Alice Cogswell. Dorothy was 23 at the time, a beautiful young woman who taught high school English in Buffalo. Alice had friends who had visited camp the summer before and came home to Attica raving about the place and its handsome young owner. Upon their arrival, it seems, Thomas Gilmore was immediately taken by Dorothy and on their first date promised “I’m going to marry you!” Her response: “Like hell you are!” Five years later they were married.
This chance meeting had tremendous implications for Gilmore Camps, many which still echo today. Without Tom’s passion and Dorothy’s willingness to carry on during the tough times – as well as her later role as owner/manager after Tom’s death – Gilmore Camps would simply not exist today.
The period during the thirties held happy memories for many vacationers. Their comments about food (cooked by Aunt Maggie), Tom’s entertainment, or just the joy of friends are preserved in several logs kept over the years. Even now, at least once or twice a summer, a strange car will arrive and people will say that they stayed here years ago. Some even spent their honeymoon here. They just had to see if it is as beautiful as they remembered. Over the years Gilmore Camps has changed, but not as fast as the rest of the world. We like it this way.
As the clouds of WWII gathered in Europe, Tom could no longer spend long months in Maine. Engineers were needed. Aunt Maggie’s failing health and the war forced the temporary closing of Gilmore Camps. The family did manage by hook or crook to visit occasionally during those hectic years. After the war, a series of managers carried on. When the last manager was no longer free to spend summers in Maine, a major change occurred. Dorothy offered to try to help if the larger cottages could be converted to housekeeping cottages. It was supposed to be a five-year trial. That was in 1954! Fate took a hand, at this time, because Tom was transferred from the Cincinnati area to New York. This meant that he could spend most of his weekends with his family in Maine. Since the mid-1950’s Gilmore Camps has been essentially the same family oriented vacation spot that it is today.