An 1893 world’s fair pavilion is an enduring showcase for Maine industries.
By Julie Senk
On July 1, 1895, a large crowd gathered at the Poland Spring Resort for the dedication of its newest attraction — a balconied and turreted library and arts building nestled in an oak grove near the grand hotel. The occasion celebrated a rescue of sorts: the structure was originally erected on the shore of Lake Michigan in Chicago as a pavilion for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, and it had faced an uncertain future when the world’s fair ended. The city of Chicago didn’t want it, but a number of other parties did, among them Poland Spring owner Hiram Ricker, who saw an opportunity to add a cultural centerpiece to his famous leisure-class spa.
Aptly named the Maine State Building, it was designed by Chicago architect (and Lewiston native) Charles Sumner Frost as a tribute to the state’s history, culture, and development — and as an advertisement for its construction products. It was built of granites from Addison, Biddeford, Calais, Freeport, Hallowell, Norridgewock, and Vinalhaven; slate from Monson; and hardwoods from the North Woods. Liberal Queen Anne–style flourishes include second-story porches, cone-roofed turrets, and intricately carved wood paneling. Its most distinctive characteristic, its octagonal form, was Frost’s response to the irregular-shaped lot it had been assigned at the exposition.
Ricker paid $30,000 (the equivalent of nearly $900,000 today) for the building and spent more than $3,000 to send a 19-man crew to Chicago to dismantle and transport it to Maine on a 16-car freight train decked out in Poland Spring Resort advertisements. At the grand opening nearly a year later, Maine congressman Charles A. Boutelle said, “In visiting this building, we can be carried back in memory to the wonders and emotions of that period.” Today, thanks to the efforts of the Poland Spring Preservation Society, which operates a museum and art gallery in the structure, we still can.