Lamb’s Hill (aka Westbrook Ski Slope and Deer Hill) 5-23-2014

Lamb’s Hill, in Westbrook, Maine, was an exemplar of the many tiny rope tow-powered ski slopes that proliferated in the 1950s.

Opened in February, 1954 by local ski enthusiast Ray Letarte, it ran approximately a decade. Earlier today I visited the site and talked with Norm Wedge, who was one of the operators.

Norm Wedge, 78, was a ski tow operator at Lamb's Hill in the 1950s.

Norm Wedge, 78, was a ski tow operator at Lamb’s Hill in the 1950s.

In the photo above, Norm stood on the site and explained how he was stationed at the bottom of the slope when he worked the tow while a high school student. One of his jobs was to make sure the rope stayed on the pulley wheels. He said that the power was provided by an automobile engine, and that it was located at the bottom of the hill. (Due to the inherent physics of rope tows, most of the larger ones had the power at the top.)

An article in the Westbrook American from February of 1954 recounts the basics:

Westbrook Ski Slope Proves Popular

More than 150 skiers have tried their luck at the Deer Hill Ski Slope, Main Street, owners Ray Letarte and Gene Hague report.

The 300-foot-long slope, which pulls skiers aloft by means of a rope tow, was ready for use last year, but was not operated for lack of snow. So far, it’s been running more than five nights and on week ends.

Flood-light skiing at night has been enjoyed mostly by adults.

One week ends, it’s been children.

Letarte said the slope, now about 75 feet wide, will be widened to 200 feet for the 1954-1955 season.

At only 300 feet in length, it was one of Maine’s most modest ski areas. But it also boasted three different names. Norm called it Lamb’s Hill, named for a William Lamb, who owned the house at the top and granted Ray permission to operate the tow. The article in the American refers to Deer Hill, its actual geographic name. And in the advertisement below, which appeared on the same page of the American as the article, it is Westbrook Ski Slope.

This advertisement, appeared in a February, 1954, edition of the Westbrook American.

This advertisement, appeared in a February, 1954, edition of the Westbrook American.

As noted in the ad, Ray also ran a ski shop out of his Mobil gas station, opposite the old Westbrook High School. Norm also worked there. Today the building has been recycled as Angelone’s Pizza.

Ray told me that rising insurance rates caused him to close the tow, but he’s not sure exactly when. Ray is certain that when he moved the ski shop out of the Mobil station in 1963 that the ski tow was already closed.

Larrabee Heights, a senior citizen housing complex, currently occupies the site of the former Lamb's Hill ski slope.

Larrabee Heights, a senior citizen housing complex, currently occupies the site of the former Lamb’s Hill ski slope.

The site today, pictured above, is a senior citizen housing complex called Larrabee Heights, reached via Liza Harmon Drive. Part of the hill was excavated in order to construct the housing, and everything else is totally overgrown. Simpson’s Grove, used for parking at the ski slope, was located on the site of today’s Westbrook City Hall.

This photo, provided by the Westbrook Historical Society, shows Lamb's Hill ca. 1900.

This photo, provided by the Westbrook Historical Society, shows Lamb’s Hill ca. 1900.

Donna Conley, of the Westbrook Historical Society, provided the above photo of the Lamb house and farm, ca. 1900. Although pre-dating the ski slope by many decades, this photo clearly shows the hill as open farm field.

Among its significant points, Lamb’s Hill was the closest ski tow to Portland, being located less than half a mile west of the boundary between the two cities.

Norm recalls that no other facilities were available, such as a snack bar or warming hut.

“It was a Tinkertoy outfit,” chuckled Norm. “It wasn’t meant to be profitable. It was about having fun.”

Evergreen Valley 3-6-14

Evergreen Valley, in the towns of Lovell and Stoneham, Maine, is an exemplar of failure in the ski industry.

It’s also a mecca of sorts for enthusiasts of “lost” ski areas. Yesterday I spent some time at Evergreen Valley with seven students and two teachers from the White Mountain School in Bethlehem, NH. They were spending a week exploring the physical remains of a number of lost and still-going-strong ski areas, as part of a school project. The concept involved physical exploration — plus some skiing and snowboarding — as well as lessons in the economics of the snowsports business and its myriad interrelationships with federal, state and local governments.

White Mountain School students flank Cathy Stone, president of the Lovell Historical Society

White Mountain School students flank Cathy Stone, president of the Lovell Historical Society

I met the group at the Lovell Historical Society, where president Cathy Stone and I spoke about how the sad saga of Evergreen Valley began in 1961 and was largely played out by the mid-1990s. The most complete exposition of this story is contained in an essay I wrote some years ago for Cathy’s newsletter and later published in the Ski Museum of Maine‘s Snow Trail.

The whole article is also available online, under the title “Shooting for the Moon,” at the New England Lost Ski Areas website. Click here to call up the page and article.

Evergreen Valley base lodge, ca. 1970s

Evergreen Valley base lodge, ca. 1970s

White Mountain School students and teachers pose in front of the Evergreen Valley base lodge on March 6, 2014

White Mountain School students and teachers pose in front of the Evergreen Valley base lodge on March 6, 2014

Then we piled into the school’s bus and drove the half-dozen miles or so to the site of the ski area. The base lodge (two pix above) is the largest and most visible of the remains. We also found the concrete pedestals for the lift terminals. When Evergreen Valley opened, on Dec. 16, 1972, three chairlifts were spinning, the most at any one mountain in Maine.

Two skiers pose for a postcard photo near the summit of Evergreen Valley, ca. 1970s

Two skiers pose for a postcard photo near the summit of Evergreen Valley, ca. 1970s

Evergreen Valley operated for three seasons, beginning with 1972-1973, then closed for a year (one of the resort’s numerous bankruptcies and financial reorganizations) before opening for nine more seasons. Then it was defunct for good. I skied there twice while in college, and generally liked the place.

White Mountain School teacher Brent Detamore poses before hiking and skiing a trail at Evergreen Valley

White Mountain School teacher Brent Detamore poses before hiking and skiing a trail at Evergreen Valley

Brent Detamore, one of the teachers, joined by several students, hiked up one of the old trails and snowboarded down.

After lunch back at the Society, we got back in the bus and did a whirlwind tour of historical ski sites in nearby Fryeburg.

Photo credits: Base lodge ca. 1970s and summit photo ca. 1970s are from the collections of the Lovell Historical Society. Both pix are scanned postcards. The other pix are mine. SA.

A number of other Evergreen Valley photos can be viewed online by visiting the Lovell Historical Society’s website.

Alden’s Hill in Gorham, Maine

Whenever I head west of Portland to ski, I drive past a defunct rope tow hill just outside of Gorham village. There was skiing at Alden’s Hill, as it was known, in three periods, from the 1920s into the 1950s.

Alden’s Hill is located on Route 25 about a quarter-mile west of the University of Southern Maine campus, behind the Edgewood Animal Hospital. See photo below.

Alden's Hill today, viewed from Route 25

Alden’s Hill today, viewed from Route 25

The skiing history of Alden’s Hill divides into three distinct stages:

Stage 1: Before any lifts were built (or even dreamed of), Alden’s Hill was the site for the winter carnivals of Gorham Normal School, a state teachers college that was the predecessor to today’s University of Southern Maine.

Here’s a little ditty from the 1923 edition of the school’s yearbook, the Green and White:

Winter Carnival on Alden’s Hill (dated Feb. 12)

“Toboggan slides, and skiis and races,
Contestants tumbling and scratching their faces;
Everyone laughing and happy and gay,
Throughout this livelong, glorious day,
At the Winter Carnival on Alden’s Hill.”

Edna Dickeys book title page

Title page of Edna F. Dickey’s book

Stage 2: Lift service arrived at Alden’s Hill just prior to World War II, as recounted in Edna F. Dickey’s local history book, titled Fifty Years of Gorham: 1936 to 1986.

“While John B. Alden was in high school, he and his father, Austin, who financially backed the enterprise, built a ski tow on their land. They erected a structure at the top of the hill to house the mechanism that operated the rope tow. It ran down the hill beside a hedgerow in a fashion perpendicular to the highway. This was operated in the winters of 1939, 1940 and 1941. It closed during the war. The charge was twenty-five cents a day! John says now that sometimes he shudders when remembers that they carried no insurance.”

Stage 3: A second rope tow was built about 1950, again quoting from Dickey’s book:

“Following World War II, skiing was becoming increasingly popular. Before he was through college, John Files was interested in building a rope tow in Gorham. As a little boy he had skied at the Alden tow. He and Robert Mountain completed the trail, with all the work involved, on a slope at Alden’s Hill leading to about the middle of the edge of Alden’s Pond, making a run of about six hundred fifty feet. An old automobile engine provided the power to operate the rope. Electricity from a gas-powered generator provided lighting for the area. The tow was open evenings and weekends when snow conditions were suitable. This whole project got into operation about 1950 and lasted perhaps for five years. In the latter part of the time, Robert Mountain sold out to Richard Huff.

“Charges for the tow were a dollar a day. A serious accident at another Maine ski tow sent insurance rates skyrocketing, and the partners discontinued the venture.”

Files would later help build and operate the Gorham Kiwanis Ski Slope, which opened in January, 1964. It is the best-known of Gorham’s several long-defunct ski areas. But that’s another story for another day.

Staff and archives of the Gorham Historical Society provided information for this post.

Bauneg Beg

About a year and a half ago, Dave Dutch, a local history buff from North Berwick, wrote a wonderful article about the Bauneg Beg ski hill.

Dave DutchLocated in North Berwick, Bauneg Beg operated between 1938 and the late 1950s.

It boasted a rope tow that was about 500 feet long, with a vertical drop of about 250 feet. There were two trails. An open slope dropped straight back down to the rope tow base, and a three-quarter mile trail, called Devil’s Den, snaked and undulated down through the woods. The ski slope was located on the Bernard Quint farm, and the family operated a snack bar at the base.

This evening I spoke with Dave (pictured above) and obtained his permission to publish the whole article on this website. Here it is:

There are a few pix and some narrative concerning Bauneg Beg in the celebrated New England Lost Ski Areas Project website. Click here to visit.


Poland Spring (lost) 11-23-13

On my way to Sunday River today, I stopped to explore the remains of the old Poland Spring ski slope, located near the site of the old, and long-vanished, Poland Spring House.

The ski area opened with much fanfare in December of 1964, and folded sometime in the 1970s. Can anyone help pin down the exact date and circumstances of its demise?

I took a stroll around the top of the defunct ski area. It’s part of the Poland Spring Preservation Park and open to the public. A few remnants of the T-bar are all that remain of the once-bustling slope, which was located on the east side of the hill. I took some pix of the area.

Above is a view of the concrete pedestal for the upper terminal of the T-bar.

You can walk down the T-bar line today. It’s part of Oscar’s Trail, which is used for hiking and cross-country skiing.

Along the side of Oscar’s Trail there’s a pair of sheave wheels (above) rusting away in the woods.

Jeremy Davis’ celebrated website on lost ski areas has an interesting page on Poland Spring. Click here to view it.

To clear up some confusion, let’s note that the 1964 ski slope (the one pictured here) is not the same as an earlier rope tow that opened about 1947. That operation was on the northwest side of the hill, on the slope that runs down to Middle Range Pond. (And, of course, it was on the opposite side of Rt. 26.)

Members of the Poland Historical Society have some info on that rope tow, but that’s another story for another day.