FARMINGTON, Maine — Throughout the 1940s, local insurance man and photographer Richard Bell chronicled the hard-working volunteers building Titcomb Mountain, a ski slope just outside of town. Shooting 35mm Kodachrome color slides, Bell captured them clearing trees, picking stones and building the first lodge.
Then, at some point, the pictures went into storage. That’s where they remained until discovered again last year.
In March, the Farmington Historical Society’s Jane Woodman will show 40 of the pictures as part of a public presentation. The slideshow and lecture will follow a potluck at the mountain on March 23.
The slides had darkened over time and Woodman asked local photographer and educator Mike Burd to scan them. Burd agreed and spent long hours in front of a computer, coaxing details out of the vintage transparencies.
Titcomb Mountain is, and always has been, a nonprofit, community-owned public ski slope. It operates two t-bars and a pony lift, taking skiers to the top of its modest 350-foot peak. Today, Titcomb Mountain has 16 downhill trails and many miles of Nordic skiing.
The first tow rope began whirring in 1941, making it the third oldest organized ski area in the state.
Maine’s first ski area was Pleasant Mountain in Bridgton. Now called Shawnee Peak, it opened in 1937. Next came Powderhouse Hill in South Berwick in 1939. The town recreation department still operates the 175-foot hill, using the original 1938 Ford rope tow.
This week, Woodman shared some of the pictures with the Bangor Daily News and talked about them, along with her own Titcomb Mountain memories, over the phone.
Q: How did the Bell family re-discover these pictures?
A: [They were] cleaning out their parents’ basement, and came across this box of slides. It had a hundred or so slides in it. They got to looking at them and recognized they were of Titcomb back when their dad was first involved. So they gave them to the Historical Society.
Q: These pictures show early construction at the mountain. How did it get started?
A: The Farmington Ski Club started in 1939 and in 1940 they decided they needed a hill. They started on Voter’s Hill [next to Titcomb]. They’d go over there and walk up the hill and ski down. Mrs. Voter would make a pot of soup and sell them soup. They decided they wanted a rope tow to get up the hill but the Voters didn’t want [a permanent structure] because it was their cow pasture and hayfield. Eventually they bought [Titcomb] from the Knapp Family and put in the first tow.
Q: Was there more to it other than the rope tow?
A: They used a chicken coop from the Bell Farm as a [warming hut] and commissary. When the fire would get roaring, and it would get warm, some people complained about the odor.
Q: How did it come to be called Titcomb Mountain?
A: John Abbott Titcomb was a member of the ski club. He was killed in the last few days of WWII. He was killed by a sniper in the Philippines. The club decided to name it the Capt. John Abbott Titcomb Memorial Ski Slope. That was in 1948. In 1949, the Titcomb family went a step further. They built a lodge in John’s name.
Q: Is it true they used beams from Capt. Titcomb’s great-grandfather’s house in Farmington?
A: Yes, that’s what they used.
Q: Are those still there?
A: They are — and there’s still the huge stone fireplace, too. Until they built an addition sometime in the ‘70s, there was a door [between the fireplace and the lunch counter] where you went to the outhouse.
Q: So, you remember that outhouse?
A: I do. And I remember I didn’t go very often.
Q: I suppose it was excellent motivation to go before you left home. Other than the bathroom facilities, it sounds like you have fond memories of skiing there.
A: I learned to ski at Titcomb, like most people in Farmington. I can’t remember when I started but I’m going to guess it was 1963. My grandson will be starting there next week. He’s a kindergartener. Back then [in the ‘60s] it was all volunteers. Nobody was paid. The moms made the soup and the chop suey. The dads shoveled the tow line and tinkered with the mechanics. This was all before snowmaking.
Q: What do you think Titcomb Mountain has meant to the local Farmington community over the last 80 years?
A: It’s been called “The Babysitter.” Parents drop their kids off, they ski for the day, then come and get them. It’s for all ages, really, all levels. Everybody has the opportunity to ski. They call it the friendliest mountain around.