February 25, 2013

End of an era looms for family lodge in Windham

The Aimhi Lodge has been closed since 2007, and now may be subdivided and sold.

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WINDHAM -- On the same week each summer, the same families would convene under the pines on the shore of Little Sebago Lake year after year and, in some cases, generation after generation.

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Susan Bennett, whose family owns Aimhi Lodge on Little Sebago Lake, says it is time to sell the property. The family tried selling the business but found no takers, so now propose to subdivide the land into eight lots.

Photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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A stack of brochures and maps describe Aimhi Lodge and offer a guide to exploring the once-popular family lodge on Little Sebago Lake that featured two dozen cabins and a main lodge on 25 acres of waterfront land.

Additional Photos Below

They each had their own cabin and their own slice of the shore. But they ate together in the lodge, swam together in the lake and formed lasting friendships -- for the teenagers, sometimes more.

Those summers of lobster bakes and puppy love are well documented in a pile of photo albums that sits on an end table in the Aimhi Lodge, now cold and full of cobwebs. No new memories have been made there since 2007, when the owners of the 25-acre rustic resort in Windham didn't think the business could recuperate from damage sustained during the Patriots Day storm in time for the start of the season.

Now, they want to knock down all but five of the two dozen cabins, subdivide the property into eight lots and sell the land -- bringing a permanent end to the traditions built there over nearly 90 years. The plan goes before the Windham Planning Board on Monday.

"We all just decided it was time," said Susan Bennett, who ran the family business with her brother, Stephen Holdtman.

It's a story that Greg Dugal, executive director of the Maine Innkeepers Association, has heard before.

"A lot of the time, it's a family thing," he said of the decision to shut down a business like Aimhi and sell the land.

Although there's still a market for the lodge-and-cottage type of vacation and several such facilities in the state that are thriving, he said, "there's not a tremendous amount of (resale) value."

An Associated Press story on these family-oriented resorts in the woods, published in 2007, attributes their decline in popularity to a shift toward shorter vacations and more plush accommodations.

Dugal agreed that standards have moved toward luxury, but said he believes people are still interested in the family camp-style getaway.

"People are still looking for that vacation, but are looking at it at different levels," he said. "They want to go back to their youth, but they may not want to sleep on a lumpy mattress."

Those that have been successful, he said, have adapted.

At Migis Lodge on Sebago Lake, which offers a higher-end version of the Aimhi vacation, there's a bathroom for nearly every bedroom -- a change owner Tim Porta said he and his wife made when they took over the business from his parents.

Wireless Internet is accessible throughout the resort and there's cable television in every cottage.

"Going to Migis is definitely not roughing it," Porta said.

At Aimhi, the cabins didn't have telephones and the one television at the resort was almost always kept out of sight of the guests.

Bennett said the point was to keep it a place to relax and get away from the rest of the world. But there was no one in the next generation of her family who was interested in carrying on the tradition and, when they tried to sell the business, there was no one interested in taking it over.

The lakefront land it sits on, however, is a hot commodity.

Dave Sawyer, assessor for the town of Windham, said the values of the nicer lots along Sebago Lake have risen faster than others in town when the housing market is good and gone down more slowly in harder times.

"Even in the recent downturn, there has been little, if any, loss of value in the better Sebago Lake properties," he said.

The temptation to give up the family business and cash in on the more valuable land beneath it isn't anything new.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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A colorful door leads into the main lodge’s playroom at Aimhi Lodge, once a popular family lodge on Little Sebago Lake.

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One of the camp’s cabins sits on the shore of the lake.

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The dining room table in the lodge, where families gathered to share meals.

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The front of the main lodge of Aimhi Lodge faces the lake shoreline.

  


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