December 9, 2012

Historic lodge at crossroad

Forest Lodge in Upton has both sporting and literary significance, but owner Aldro French, 70, says 'It's time to sell ... I want to go.'

By Deirdre Fleming dfleming@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The Rangeley region has enough historical landmarks and fishing heritage haunts to make it a special outdoor destination. The fact that century-old Forest Lodge in Upton is up for sale won't change that.

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Forest Lodge, originally built as a sporting camp before the 1900s, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008 because of its link to author Louise Dickinson Rich, who wrote “We Took to the Woods” when she lived there in the early 1900s.

Courtesy Photos

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Aldro French, the owner for 23 years, said: “It’s hard to make a deal with somebody who will pay a reasonable amount of money to keep it as a museum and maintain it.”

Additional Photos Below

But Forest Lodge's owner putting it up for sale once and for all has some locals worried that this unique, remote Maine sporting lodge will be lost.

Built first as a sporting camp before the 1900s, the lodge became the home of author Louise Dickinson Rich, who wrote the best-selling book "We Took to the Woods" there. Much of the lodge remains how Rich left it in the 1930s. Her books, desk, photographs and typewriter are still there.

In 2008, Forest Lodge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of its literary significance.

"It's the fact he's kept it the way it is. Most of the people who go there are there for the fishing. But there is the whole history of Louise Dickinson Rich," said Steve Wight in Newry, president of the Friends of Forest Lodge.

Then there is the Rapid River, home of one of the Northeast's most celebrated wild brook trout fisheries, once famous for 10-pound trout.

"Sports from Boston, New York and Philly came up because the fishing was phenomenal. It's still managed for trophy wild brook trout," said Steve Smith, who owns land beside Forest Lodge.

However, the camp's owner of 23 years, fishing guide Aldro French, wants to sell it as best he can.

"I've been there a long time. It's a beautiful spot, a historic spot. It's time to sell. I'm 70 years old. I want to go," French said. "Hopefully, we can preserve one of the buildings. Hopefully, some people will see it my way. It's hard to make a deal with somebody who will pay a reasonable amount of money to keep it as a museum and maintain it."

French put the two buildings up for sale last spring, and still is looking for the best price. The smaller Winter House, which is not listed, he'd like to sell as a museum. The main house, which is Forest Lodge, he hopes will fetch a fair price. It is listed at $1.3 million.

"There was a lot of interest at first. Mostly tire kickers. I haven't had any genuine buyers come forward. I'd just as soon to have some good people who want to do this. It's a touch of old Maine in the woods," French said.

There was some talk several years ago the state might buy it, said Wight, who served for 23 years on the Land Use Regulations Commission.

But the talks went nowhere.

The best possible solution for Forest Lodge would be an owner who wanted to keep it what it is, an historical sporting lodge and living museum. But Wight, the owner of a Newry inn, realizes in this economy another outcome could put an end to Forest Lodge.

If Forest Lodge becomes someone's summer home, Rich's historical artifacts could be housed in the Rangeley Outdoor Sporting Heritage Museum, Wight said. But the living history museum that exists on the Rapid River would be lost.

"That is all hanging in the balance right now," Wight said. "In the best of all worlds, someone will come along and want a really unique fishing camp and also understand the value in maintaining the literary heritage there."

Smith is hoping, too. He drives five hours from Hancock, N.H., to reach his camp next to Forest Lodge, which he calls the most amazing place on earth.

The Rapid River stretches just over four miles from Umbagog Lake to Lower Richardson Lake, a short burst of rapids and deep, crystal-clear pools.

It's not an easy trip to get to -- a one-mile hike or five-mile boat ride. But it's gotten easier. In the 1840s and 1850s, wealthy sportsmen would come by train, steamship and buckboard.

It's history the locals haven't forgotten. "I like to think someone will buy the property and have the right mindset to take care of it," Smith said.

But one way or another, Forest Lodge will change hands when French finds a willing buyer.

"Time passes on. I'd like to get it done. I need to sell it, and hopefully preserve it," French said.

For more information on Forest Lodge, go to www.rapidriver flyfishing.com.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

dfleming@pressherald.com

Twitter: Flemingpph

 

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Additional Photos

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This photograph shows the lodge in 1930. Much of the lodge remains as it was when Louise Dickinson Rich lived there, including her desk and typewriter.

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