Thursday, April 24, 2014
SACO — Those who want a last glimpse of roadside history on Route 1 near the Scarborough line should know that demolition day is drawing near.
The Cascades Family Restaurant served its final lobster dinner this past summer. Earlier this year, the kitchen equipment was sold off at auction and buyers have since carted away most of the Cascades cabins.
In the next couple of months, what remains of the roadside resort, a diamond-shaped array of three dozen cabins surrounding a central lodge-style restaurant, will be flattened and hauled away. Developer Elliot Chamberlain said he expects to begin building a corporate office building in its place on the corner of routes 1 and 98 by fall.
The demise of the Cascades, a Route 1 landmark for nearly 80 years, was entirely foreseeable, and perhaps inevitable, given the development pressures along this busy coastal highway. But many people who knew the seasonal restaurant in its heyday, when 100,000 lobsters were served there each summer and tables were set with real linen, say they cannot drive by the gutted building without the sense that a piece of local history is being lost.
''That's a real landmark of Saco,'' said Dan Blaney, a historian and shop owner from Old Orchard Beach. ''It's going to be a sad day to see that go.''
While many locals note the loss of the Cascades, others with no connection to the restaurant are finding new uses for the small cabins that surrounded it. Originally built to provide superior accommodations to early generations of Route 1 motorists, several of the cabins are now being set up as rustic but affordable housing.
The complex originally known as the Cascade Inn and Cabins was built in a hay field off Route 1 near the Saco-Scarborough line in 1929. The new resort catered to tourists who had recently begun driving to Old Orchard Beach each summer.
Many other establishments along Route 1 offered accommodations in cramped roadside cabins at the time, said Will Anderson of Bath, who has written several books on popular Maine history. The Cascade stood apart, he said, with its spacious, country club-like setting and the quality of its facilities.
''That place was a cut above all others in the state,'' he said.
An excerpt from an early promotional brochure for the Cascade Inn provides a sense of how the establishment marketed itself.
''Each cabin is a separate, self-contained and privately situated domicile, offering accommodations unexcelled anywhere,'' it read.
Besides food and lodging, the Cascade offered 100 acres of groomed lawns and woods. In a pine grove behind the lodge, Cascade Brook tumbles over a 40-foot terraced waterfall. The proprietors kept a bear in a cage there for guests' entertainment in the restaurant's early years.
As part of Chamberlain's development, a 50-acre commercial and residential project, Cascade Falls has been protected for public use. The site lies outside Saco's historic district, so the city did not place any protections on the buildings. Chamberlain said he looked into reusing the Cascades restaurant but found that the building's outdated systems as well as its location and poor condition made it impossible to preserve.
''Every time we turned around, it was just not realistic to save that building,'' he said.
Chamberlain said the Maine Historical Society signed off on the building's demolition. At the group's request, though, he had a photographer document the Cascades before he began tearing it down.
During its peak years from the 1930s to the 1980s, the Cascade was one of the most popular restaurants in southern Maine for tourists and locals alike. The restaurant boasted of serving 1,000 people on Sundays, and countless wedding receptions were held there. Among older residents especially, nearly everyone marked some life event at the restaurant, and many either worked there or had relatives who did.
Joe Lothrop of Pine Point, 95, a clam digger for 50 years, sold shucked clams to the Cascade during the first 20 years the restaurant was in operation. He remained a regular customer at the Cascades until last summer, when he went there for a baked haddock special weeks before the restaurant closed.
Though it was best known for traditional Maine seafood dishes, Lothrop said the Cascade was always run with a sense of propriety and formality. ''You didn't go in your rubber boots,'' he said.
Dorothy Bell of Scarborough, 90, who started waitressing at the Cascade in 1949 and stayed for 35 seasons, recalled the restaurant's highly polished floors and the strict dress code that staff members were required to follow. ''It was white uniforms and white aprons and your shoes better be white, too,'' she said. ''You never went to work without stockings.''
Some locals have tried to collect scraps of Cascade history before they are gone. Retired dairy farmer James Leary, who lives on Flag Pond Road near the Cascades, had one uncle who worked as a contractor on the facility and another who worked there as a chef. He received permission to fill his truck with dishes from the restaurant earlier this year. He said he plans to put them up for sale at a benefit for the Scarborough Historical Society this summer.
Leary has also scoured Internet auctions for old menus, postcards and other memorabilia from the Cascades. A menu from 1938 lists a meal of Maine lobster stew, Maine pickles, Maine potatoes, crackers and Indian pudding. A lobster and clam dinner sold for $1.35.
Leary, 78, said he has learned that times, like menus, always change. ''It's kind of sad to see it go,'' he said. ''But on the other hand, it kind of served its purpose.''
When the three dozen cabins, each with a porch and brick chimney, went up for sale, buyers purchased all but a few that were too big to move, Chamberlain said.
Some of the cabins may have been acquired out of nostalgia. But at a cost of $1,000 apiece, including delivery, several buyers said the cabins were the best housing they could find for the price.
''It was a deal,'' said John Bliss, who runs an organic farm in Scarborough. He bought three cabins that he intends to set up as summer housing for people who work on his farm.
Bliss spread word about the cabins with friends at other farms, several of whom were interested.
In Thorndike, east of Waterville, Chris Buchanan is awaiting delivery of a Cascades cabin that she intends to equip with a wood stove and live in year-round.
Buchanan, 25, belongs to a community of 10 people who grow their own food on 60 acres. Although she was unfamiliar with the Cascades restaurant and its history, she said she was excited to find a space of her own that she could afford. She said she preferred recycling an existing building to constructing a new one because of the lesser effect on the environment.
As the cabin owners put foundations under their new homes, others will try to adjust to not seeing the Cascades on a stretch of Route 1 that it put on the map.
''It just doesn't seem possible that after all these years they would tear that down,'' said Dolly Tripp, 78, of Saco, who waitressed at the Cascades for 40 years. ''But things change and you have to go with the change.''
Staff Writer Seth Harkness can be contacted at 282-8225 or at:
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