SOUTHWEST HARBOR, Maine — For a century and a quarter, the Claremont Hotel has welcomed guests to its spot overlooking the entrance to Somes Sound on Mount Desert Island.
This weekend, the hotel marked the summer celebration of its 125th anniversary with a tea party, which hotel manager Joseph Madeira said was a chance to thank the many guests, present and former employees, and island residents who have been a part of the hotel’s history over the years.
The tea party is in keeping with the history of the hotel, where tradition is paramount, and marked the conclusion of the Claremont Croquet Classic, a popular event that was started by Allen McCue. His family still owns the hotel, which now sports three croquet courts for guests. The tournament has become another tradition at the hotel, which, despite changes and additions over the years, has managed to maintain the atmosphere of a bygone time.
“The guests have changed,” Madeira said. “We used to have people come and stay all summer. People can’t do that anymore. They can’t afford it.”
Now people come for two or three days, or families may spend a week, he said.
But they still can sit on the veranda and enjoy the view over the waters of Somes Sound.
Just three families have owned the hotel since it was built, according to Madeira, who began working at the hotel as a bellboy when he was in college and has been the manager for the past 30 years.
The hotel, which is one of only two late 19th century summer hotels on MDI, was built in 1884 by a Rockland sea captain, Jesse Pease, who married Grace Clark of Southwest Harbor. Her family owned the area known as Clark’s Point, and when Pease retired, he built the hotel, siting it so guests would have a view of the sound. The couple ran the hotel together until Pease’s death in 1907.
The next owner of the hotel was Dr. Joseph Phillips, an Orland native. He and his family owned the hotel until 1968, when it was sold to Allen and Gertrude McCue of Yarmouth. The McCue family continues to own and operate the hotel today.
“My parents were very fortunate to inherit the fine traditions and values of the two families who ran the hotel before them for more than eight decades,” said Bill McCue in a prepared statement. “We have simply tried to continue those traditions that are so vital to the Claremont’s unique atmosphere.”
The hotel has undergone changes over the years, according to Madeira. In the 1930s, for example, the owners moved another hotel, the Pemetic, down the road on railroad ties and attached it to the Claremont. In 1977, that section was torn down and a new dining room was built in its place.
The owners also have upgraded the facilities, moving from the original outhouses to shared bathrooms to modern plumbing in the rooms. In the 1990s, Madeira said, the hotel underwent a major renovation, bringing it up to code and adding all new plumbing. At the same time, he said, the owners made sure they maintained the old atmosphere, saving sections of the original moldings and keeping the wider hallways that remain a meeting place for guests.
“The McCues have been very good about putting money into the property to keep it attractive,” Madeira said. “People ask us what we do in the winter. We tell them that we work; we’re doing building projects and getting ready for the next season.”
The Claremont now has 24 rooms in the main building, 14 housekeeping cottages and two annexes with additional hotel rooms. The next major project for the hotel includes work on a private shorefront home the hotel purchased recently. It has been rented as a single unit, but Madeira said the owners plan renovations to adapt it so that it will have four separate units.