By Shelagh Talbot
BIG MOOSE TOWNSHIP — There’s nothing like a group of passionate and like-minded people getting together to make things happen. The Big Squaw Mountain Resort just north of Greenville was just such a dream made a reality. The ski area officially opened fifty years ago, on December 28, 1963, to a large and enthusiastic crowd, and this article celebrates this achievement as well as the history of a ski resort that had been in the works for a long time.
“The Stockholders meeting held at the mouth of the access road on Rte. (sic) 15 on June 4, 1963,” proclaimed a 1963 spring edition of the local Moosehead Gazette. Incorporated on September 29, 1961, the Squaw Mountain Corporation set out to sell 15,000 shares of common stock with the value set at $20.00 each, with the understanding that a minimum of $100,000 be raised to start the project. The group’s decision to begin work was decided at a stockholders meeting in May of that same year. Corporation directors at the time were Louis Hilton, Tony Bartley, Jr., Dr. Lightbody, Llewellyn Wortman, James Durham, Forrest Whitman, Arthur Hathaway, Philip Bartram, John P. Richards, Jr., Wallace Ritchie, Harry (Brud) Sanders III, Donald Templet, William Wallace and Robert Winslow. Louis Hilton was President, James Durham, Vice President, William Wallace Treasurer and Forrest Whitman, Secretary.”
Let us travel back to that day when Squaw Mountain Ski Area officially opened – December 28, 1963. John H. Reed, Governor of Maine made an appearance before a crowd of more than 250 skiers and ski fans who braved below zero temperatures to applaud the ceremonies. According to an article in the Gazette, “After congratulating directors of the Squaw Mountain Corporation for their accomplishments, and predicting great benefits for the Moosehead region in offering all-year-round recreation, the Governor cut the blue ribbon which stretched across the porch of the chalet-style Base Lodge.”
President Louis Hilton, who was Master of Ceremonies on that special day, “drew appreciative response when he remarked that he never thought the day would come when all Greenville, usually afflicted with too much snow, would be praying for more of it.” Hilton introduced representatives of two companies that played a large part in making the area possible – George Blessing, New England division manager of the Scott Paper Company of Waterville and John T. Maines, Vice President of Great Northern Paper Company, from Bangor. A big birthday cake was brought out and pieces passed around for all to enjoy. If you were there, you might remember Kathy Cantara, Dorle Kurth and Suzie Sanders passing pieces of the celebration cake to all.
“Greenville is as lively as never before!” exclaimed a headline from a January 1964 Gazette. “ Squaw Mountain officially opened December 28 and it was instantly very popular – one day late in January more than 160 cars in the parking lot with nearly 500 skiers on the trails and slopes! Ski school has been booming as well as the Lodge Restaurant. The T-Bar has been full to capacity and a Rope tow was installed.” The reporter was effusive. “Squaw Mountain now presents one of the most attractive areas that a skier could ask with all the fringe benefits, plus the bonus of a breathtaking view of Moosehead Lake and the surrounding mountains. The area is on the northeast slope of Big Squaw Mountain with the well-built access road leading to the mountain.”
The ski area boasted a 3000-foot Hall T-Bar lift, which served two broad trails, each with a 600-foot vertical descent and each three quarters of a mile long. One trail, the Kennebec, was for novice and intermediate skiers, while the trail to the left of the lift, called the Allagash, offered plenty of action for the intermediate and more advanced skiers. Along with two smaller trails, all had been carefully cut and planted with rye and ladino clover to encourage wildlife during the warmer months.
There was a broad open slope near the base lodge. According to the same article, “The ground floor, entered directly from the parking lot, houses the ticket office, the Sanders Ski Shop, the office of area Manager Kirk Ellsworth, ski patrol room, and rest rooms. On the upper floor, with picture windows giving a view of the trails, is the spacious warming and dining area and the kitchen corner manager by Cliff Kealiher. The ticket office is handled by Mrs. Joyce Crossman Mondays through Fridays and by George Irving on Saturdays and Sundays.”
The following December, miles of trails were added including a new expert trail– the St. John, and a second T-Bar installed giving the mountain the ability to transport as many as 1700 ticket-holders per day up the mountain Other trails were widened and lengthened, much to the delight of returning skiers. Once again Governor John H. Reed congratulated the folks at the mountain by including his greetings in the Moosehead Gazette: “I will be visiting your glorious mountain,” he wrote “We are all privileged by nature in this four-season Vacationland. I am sure that many who visit Squaw Mountain Ski Area for the first time will return again not only to participate in winter activities but to enjoy your section of Maine in other times of the year.”
Nationally syndicated columnist Bill Geagan loved the mountain from the start. “Its strange that a man can fall in love with a mountain,” he wrote. “I did just that as a boy many years ago. Big Squaw Mountain, the towering granite-crowned brooder with its forest cloak is a thing of wild beauty. Now it is entering its second season as a playground for the many who enjoy the white outdoors on skis. Everything possible has been done for the skiers sport, pleasure and comfort outdoors and in.”
Area businesses rallied in the Moosehead Gazette to congratulate the mountain on its first anniversary. A Swiss village comprised of cottages and A-Frames (a popular ski chalet design of the 1960s) popped up, according to the paper – a sure sign of the growing popularity of the area. Folks couldn’t get enough of this new mountain with its delightful trails and fantastic view. By 1967 plans were made to expand and Sel Hannah designed the upper mountain trails. A new double chair lift would whisk skiers to the top, and a spacious base lodge was constructed, with plans for hotel, tennis courts and a swimming pool. The vision was for a four-season destination. Duane Lander, General Manager of the ski area in 1975 felt the mountain played an important role in the economy of the Moosehead area. The skiing alone brought in over 50,000 skiers, ramping up revenues for local restaurants, hotels and the real estate industry. “With a yearly payroll of over $200,000, Greenville residents always have first priority when job openings occur,” Lander said.
Otis and Kay Bacon, along with their children, were typical of the families that frequented Squaw Mountain during the 1960s and 1970s. Otis was elected the first Mayor of Squaw Mountain on the campaign slogan, “Bring your Beef to Bacon”. He also promised lots of foolishness – seatbelts for barstools, the swimming pool filled with root beer, etc. It was a wonderful time culminating in the Mayor’s Ball when Bacon would ride around in a snowmobile with a noisy siren as he randomly “arrested” skiers for such infractions as “moguling with a minor” and “snowplowing without a license”. In a 2003 interview, he recalled that he and three other men, Jim Durham, Tom Greenquist and Bob Chase all chipped in to put on a cookout at the top of the mountain. It was a huge success and became a regular event. Sometimes Bacon would set himself up at the top of the mountain with hot cocoa and marshmallows. “I would send up some signals so all the children skiing on the mountain knew it was time for a tasty, tummy-warming break. It truly was a family mountain,” he said. “We never had to worry about our kids – everyone watched out for each other.” As mayor, Otis and his wife had a special chair on the lift. It was boxed in, top and sides, with plywood and had “Mayor’s Office” emblazoned on it. Children would come to him all the time asking for permission to ride “the number one chair”.
During the 1970s, Squaw Mountain was busy, not only as a ski area, but as a four-season resort, offering fishing, hunting, swimming, sailing, golf, tennis, and arts and crafts. Artists came to spend time in the summer honing their skills painting landscapes. The main lodge touted itself as Maine’s best convention site with cocktail lounges, comfortable lodging elegant dining, a heated pool and saunas, nursery, meeting and banquet rooms and gift shop –“all under one roof”. Bands and orchestras played to packed lounges on weekends.
The 1980s was an uncertain time for the mountain, culminating in its being placed on the auction block by mid-July 1990. After years of managerial “musical chairs”, the mountain’s upper slopes were closed and by 2010, the current owner, James Confalone offered to lease the mountain to the Piscataquis County commissioners for $1 a year for 30 years. It did not work out and the mountain was idle for two seasons.
Fortunately for the mountain, in 2011, a grass roots movement had began – many people were dedicated to keeping at least the lower part of the trails open. So in December of 2012, this enthusiastic group, Friends of Squaw Mountain, after many donations and countless hours of volunteer labor, took Confalone up on his offer to lease the mountain to them. They incorporated as a non-profit in February 2012, and reopened the Borvig Triple Chair on February 10, 2013 to the delight of skiers and snow boarders alike. The group operated the mountain for only 33 days of skiing, right up until Easter Sunday, but serviced 2000 ticketed riders, and a ran a very busy lunch counter in the lower lodge.
The Directors and Officers of this all-volunteer group of local folks share the same desire of those developers of fifty years ago: to keep the slopes of Big Squaw Mountain open to skiers and snow boarders alike. This group, which includes Amy Lane, William Fling, Michell McMahon, Noel Wohlforth, Kevin Springer and Rodney Folsom, share the same vision of a ski area for families – a place where once again, everyone watched out for each other. The Friends of Squaw Mountain has the mission “to promote, preserve and protect the future of downhill skiing and racing at Big Squaw Mountain and provide affordable outdoor winter recreation opportunities for area families and youth.” On their website skibigsquaw.com, they state, “Squaw is a community mountain for youth and families to ski and ride affordably, as well as learn to ski, ride and race.”
The Friends of Squaw Mountain voted unanimously to pursue an extended lease arrangement, with Elton Burky as their Registered Agent, for the 2014 and 2015 ski seasons and hope to double attendance with a full season of skiing ahead. “We are hopeful to be open for all of Christmas Vacation Week,” said Amy Lane. “We also plan our first public event at the lodge on the evening of Saturday, December 28th and invite all sponsors and the public to attend.” Fifty years – and things have come round once again. It is a very exciting time! Learn more about the Friends of Squaw Mountain by visiting their website or on Facebook – The Friends of Squaw Mountain. Happy Anniversary Squaw Mountain! Welcome back! Once again, you have a group of passionate and like-minded people getting together to make things happen.
f you would like to learn more about the history of Squaw Mountain, the Moosehead Historical Society has a trove of information at their offices in the Carriage House at the Eveleth-Crafts-Sheridan campus on Pritham Ave. in Greenville Jct. They are open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tues. through Fri. all year long and can help you with general history of the area and genealogy requests, in addition to a nice assortment of gifts and souvenirs. Visit mooseheadhistory.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also call them at 207-695-2909.