Framingham has a large Poland Spring distribution plant on New York Ave. As a good neighbor, Poland Spring often donates bottled water to local non-profit organizations. Many Poland Spring employees collect Poland Spring memorabilia.
America's first bottled water company was born over 150 years ago on a rocky hillside in Poland, Maine. The first sale was a 15c stoneware jugful of "Poland Water." At the time selling water was a novel idea. The Portland Maine Herald scoffed at "selling something that God gave everyone for free." Today the Poland Spring Bottling plant is the second largest bottled water plant in the United States and the third largest in the world. During the long history of Poland Spring water, the owners of the spring, the Ricker family, made and lost a fortune as they built an internationally known company and elite Victorian resort. The Ricker men were master publicists. They churned out publicity pieces about their "wonderful water" and elite resort. They designed distinctive bottles to ship their water all over the world and welcomed presidents, nobility, and tycoons to their elegant Maine inn.
While most of the original Poland Spring House resort is gone and the bottling company is now owned by Perrier, a significant amount of ephemera and memorabilia is available. A building made for the 1893 Columbia Exposition houses a Poland Spring museum. Some newer collectibles associated with the museum and some issued by Perrier are now on the market.
The success of the Poland Spring Bottling Company rested on two things: an unusually fresh tasting mineral water and the ingenuity and the drive of the Ricker family.
The Rickers settled in what was to become Poland, Maine in 1793 when Jabez Ricker traded his land in Alfred, Maine, for land owned by the Sabbathday Lake Shakers. The land, which included a spring, bordered the Portland to Maine coach route. The location, fresh spring water, and Mrs. Ricker's cooking were the foundation of the Ricker's new livelihood as innkeepers.
Over the years, several of the Rickers, neighbors, and farm animals appeared cured of digestive ailments after drinking the spring water. The Rickers' doctor bought a barrel and began dispensing it to his patients with positive results. He shared his experiences with his colleagues in Boston. Through word of mouth Poland Water gained a reputation as a medicinal drink of high quality and purity. Hiram Ricker, grandson of Jabez, became an entrepreneur, shipping water to Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. Barrels went west by wagon and to sea on ships because of the water's ability to retain its freshness.
Advertising booklets were printed in Spanish as the Rickers expanded shipping to Central and South America. Testimonials streamed in, including from Presidents Grant and Garfield, attesting to the writers' enjoyment of the water and return to health.
The Rickers capitalized on the popularity of their water to increase their hotel business. In 1860 they advertised room and board and "all the Poland Water you can drink" for $ 2.50 a week. The humble Ricker Inn evolved into a Victorian summer resort rivaling the one in Saratoga Springs, New York. By 1890 their water sales exceeded those at Saratoga.
The largest resort building, The Poland Spring House, had 300 rooms including a 200 foot dining room, a large music room, and several card and recreation rooms. It accommodated 450 guests and all their servants. The design inspired over sixty replicas around the country. Guests enjoyed the music of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, fresh food and milk from the Rickers large farm, horseback riding, croquet, tennis, elaborate gardens, and in the winter, skating and sleigh rides. The complex included a Western Union office, photography studio, dance studio, library, bowling alley, and billiards rooms.
The nine-hole golf course, opened in the summer of 1896, was the first in Maine and the first built for a resort. An 18-hole course, still considered a top course today, opened in 1915. Teddy Roosevelt, Babe Ruth, and other notables played it.
The neighboring Sabbathday Lake Shakers contributed to the resort's growth and popularity. They provided labor for building projects and produce and herbs for the kitchens. The guests bought Shaker-made cloaks, dressed dolls, carriers, baskets, and other goods at stands set up at the resort. The popular Shaker cloaks became an unofficial uniform for the female guests.
As the guests relaxed at the resort, the industrious Rickers continued the expansion of their nearby bottling company. They opened an office in New York City and Poland Water was consumed from Cairo to Melbourne. The Rickers sometimes bottled their water in specially designed Moses bottles, inspired by the story of Moses smiting a rock to get water.
After the end of Prohibition, the Lawrence Co. of Boston made Poland Spring Gin Sloe Gin, and Whiskey using Poland Spring water and selling them in Moses bottles. While competitors spring up Poland Water was the acknowledged standard and favored brand. It received a special award at the 1893 Columbia Exposition in Chicago.
While in Chicago, Hiram Weston Ricker bought Maine's exposition pavilion, known as the "State of Maine" building. He had it dismantled by Maine workers and shipped back to the resort. Reassembled, it opened with great pomp and celebration in 1895 and served as a library and art museum for guests. It's one of two Columbia Exposition pavilions still in existence.After the Turn of the Century, the automobile made travel easier and society's tastes and habits changed. The resort began a decline although it retained some allure for the famous, such as John Barrymore, Gene Tunney, and Babe Ruth, who used the resort to escape the public eye, train, and golf.
Through various business ventures the Rickers became overextended and bankrupt. The resort passed through several owners. Celebrities Jack Paar, Joan Crawford, Robert Goulet, and others enjoyed a modernized retreat in the 1960s. The older buildings eventually succumbed to arson in the 1970's.The once elegant marble, bronze, and glass Poland Water Spring House where the water was piped up to be bottled is still standing but not open to the public. Perrier may donate the building to the Poland Spring Preservation Society, which takes care of the State of Maine Building and its museum of Poland Spring artifacts.
Paper ephemera associated with both the bottling company and the resort include postcards, menus, photos, brochures, art catalogs from art exhibits, labels, sheet music, and posters. "The Mansion House March" was dedicated to the resort building of the same name and sheet music was printed for it.
The library and many resort treasures were auctioned in the late 1960s. Books from the library may have a Poland Spring mark. There are paintings with the resort in the background. These kinds of items turn up now and again on the antiques market and on eBay, the Internet auction web site.
The Rickers kept a constant photographic record of the resort, its expansion, guests, neighboring Shakers, and events. The on-site Poland Spring Studio, managed by Notman Photographic Co. of Boston, produced quality, now collectible photos for the Rickers and guests. The label on the back features a collage of pictures of the interior and exterior of the Poland Spring House.
As a luxurious Victorian resort Poland Spring used a huge selection of hotel ware. The Syracuse hotel china carries the Ricker coat of arms and motto. Green on white Wedgwood plates, once used as service plates and sold in the gift shop, are a real find. Tumblers, mugs, plated serving dishes, and other china have either the Ricker crest or the Poland Spring Mineral Spring seal. A Moses handled spoon for dipping water, made in sterling or gold, is quite rare.
Another prime area of collecting interest is the courtesy items: bottle openers, soap, matches, golf pencils, tees, shirts, and so on.
The current Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community still has examples of the goods once sold at the Poland Spring resort, some early, some contemporary, for sale at its gift shop. A stack of three measures, circa 1880 was priced at $ 700. A circa 1930 sewing carrier was $ 395.
The Palabra Shops, once located at Poland Spring, now in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, are "home of the world's largest collection of Moses bottles." Moses bottles are figural, showing a seated man with a long beard and cane. The earliest were colored and had stoppers. The shop's founder, Pal Vincent, bought her first Moses bottle in the late 1930s. Her book, The Moses Bottle, gives details of each edition, reproductions, and includes a periodically updated price list. Bottles from recent decades are under $ 100, earlier versions can run several hundred and upwards.
Poland Water was originally bottled in bimal olive green 2-quart bottles and aqua applied top wicker covered demijohns. Gray stoneware jugs had the blue lettering "Poland Mineral Spring Water, Hiram Ricker & Sons, Proprietors, South Poland, ME." The first cork lined metal crimped cap appeared in 1910.
During the centennial celebration of the State of Maine building in 1995 the Poland post office issued special first day covers to commemorate the occasion. The Poland Spring Preservation Society created a video and published a centennial history of the building.
To see Poland Spring bottles and memorabilia, visit the State of Maine Museum, Rt. 26, Poland, Maine. It's open Memorial Day through September. Summer hours are Monday through Thursday 9 a.m.-4 p.m. closed Friday, Saturday 9 -4, and Sunday 9 -1 through September 2. Donation $ 1. Postcards, books, labels, videos, and Poland Spring water are sold in the gift shop.
A new Poland Spring Museum with a coffee shop has opened in the former spring house and bottling building. Hours are Tues, Wed., Thurs. 7 a.m. - 4 p.m., Fri. 7 -11 a.m., Sat. and Sun 7 - 5 p.m.
For further information contact Poland Spring Preservation Society, Box 444, Poland Spring, Maine 04274, (207)998-4142.
To see more Poland Spring memorabilia, click here: Poland Spring
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