Looking back, I’ve written about the Cloyester on two different occasions and we learned new information about the boarding house/hotel each time. We’re in that same position again and, this time, the new information is arising in part due to the pandemic.

There is usually some silver lining to be found in most things and, in this case, it’s a woman in Maryland who decided to use her isolation time by transcribing letters that have been in her family for over 100 years. Luckily for us, some of these letters were written by her ancestors who were vacationing at the Cloyester in the summers of 1902 and 1903.

With this new information made available to us through the transcriptions, with my own time available for research, and with volunteer Jackie Dunham’s assistance, we’ve really started opening up the history of this summer resort that once existed in Loveitt’s Field, on what is now called Cloyster Road.

The Cloyester was a large summer hotel in Loveitt’s Field. South Portland Historical Society photo

Deed research on the property helps us to learn that Ellen W. Cloyes was the property owner at the time the giant building was constructed. She bought the land in September of 1895 and the boarding house/hotel was built in 1896.

It was a very large structure with a wrap-around porch that they called “the piazza.” It was 180 feet long and 9 feet wide, providing spectacular views of the ocean from three sides. We can see from old photographs that the guests would sit out on that porch enjoying the view and the ocean breezes. With a big fireplace in the reception area, the hotel would feature 35 rooms for rent in the summer.

Guests would often arrive by train and then use a local express service to make their way to the hotel.

While Ellen Cloyes and her husband, Granville, lived at the home in the summer, we have no reason to believe that Granville was involved in the daily operation as he had his own business interests to attend to. We also now know that Granville’s mother, Lydia, had moved to Portland, after her husband’s death, to live with Granville and Ellen.

From the transcriptions of the Brune letters, we learn that “Mrs. Cloyes” was very much involved in the operation of the Cloyester in 1902, and that she was about 98 years old so we know they are talking about Lydia Cloyes. It seems most likely that the Cloyester at that time was being run by the women of the Cloyes family. Even at 98, Lydia would do what she could to look after the comfort of the guests, including the “work” of playing games of whist.

The timing of the opening in the late 1890s brings another interesting element of history to the Cloyester story. In 1898, when the 1st Connecticut Volunteers were assigned to coastal defense in the Portland area during the Spanish-American War, they set up their Camp Burdett on the hill next to Fort Preble and, as it turns out, news articles show that some of the wives of the officers came to South Portland that summer and stayed at the Cloyester.

From the Brune letters, we get a feel that the quality of construction was perhaps what one would expect from any summer cottage, or perhaps a little less than that. In one letter, Agnes Brune writes, “The only thing we mind especially now is the noise – We’ve only little wooden walls – and so can hear every sound and as there is another bath-room being added to this floor – the hammering and banging are rather trying – Emily and I have a very comfortable room on the second floor – and Mamma I fear a very uncomfortable one immediately above us – The planking is not altogether of the tightest so we can talk to each other as if we were in one room – Also pass things up or down – ‘as the case may be’ – through our ceiling and her floor.” Aside from the quality of construction, the location of the Cloyester was idyllic, as one feels in comments like this from one of the Brune letters, “My room is full of the sound of the breakers tumbling on the rocks below us.”

The Cloyester’s guest base seemed to lean toward mostly elderly women, often widows. While we know that in the hotel’s later years, the guests were often elderly French-Canadian women, that demographic may have been a change from the hotel’s earlier years, as most reports around the turn of the century seem to show a larger percentage of American guests from around New England and beyond.

There were several people who owned and operated the Cloyester over the years; some not so profitably. Ellen Cloyes sold it in 1921 to Edith Smith. In an interesting transaction, Smith sold it to Edna Boyd on June 21, 1939, and Boyd sold it on the same day to Hilda (Thacher) Rogers. Both deeds specifically state that in addition to the building, the sale included “all furniture, furnishings, beds, bedding, mattresses, springs, table cloths, napkins, towels and all other linen, cutlery, dishes of every kind, glassware, rugs, curtains, draperies and all other personal property of whatever kind or description now in said buildings.”

In 1964, Hilda Rogers sold the hotel to its last owner/operator, Barbara Lucey. Toward the end of its existence, the Cloyester was operated not as a hotel, but as a restaurant/bar serving lunch and dinner each day. Oral history tells us that local residents weren’t particularly appreciative of having a bar in the neighborhood, so when the property was foreclosed upon and sold to the Blackwood family, it was perhaps a relief to have the building torn down and replaced with a residence.

According to Bob Blackwood, who grew up in the neighborhood, his recollection of the hotel rooms is of curtains hanging in the bedroom doorways where one would expect to have a door. The construction of the Cloyester perhaps worked as a summer retreat at the turn of the century, but without major renovations, the hotel fell behind the standards that the traveling public grew to expect.

Do you have information, photographs, or artifacts to share related to South Portland’s history? Please contact the South Portland Historical Society by email at [email protected], phone at 207-767-7299, or mail at 55 Bug Light Park, South Portland, ME 04106.

If you have items to donate, please call to arrange for a contactless drop-off. Thank you.

Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo is director of the South Portland Historical Society.

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