“When can you start?” asked the manager of the Asticou Inn in Northeast Harbor.

I had just applied for a summer job as the front desk switchboard operator. It was 1976, and I had followed college friends to Mount Desert Island after graduation, lured by the promise of abundant seasonal employment and a chance to postpone the start of adult life. It turned out to be a pivotal moment in time for the inn as well as for me. 

Memories of that summer were rekindled recently by the news that the historic inn was sold to Tim Harrington, a real estate developer who has transformed several old hotels in Kennebunkport, where I now live.  

The Asticou Inn has perched majestically at the head of the harbor since 1883. The original inn was destroyed by fire in 1899 and rebuilt in 1901. It has been welcoming guests ever since, having survived the Great Fire of 1947 that ravaged most of the island.  

An important part of the inn’s history, as described on its website, is that over the years it “lodged some of America’s greatest social and political leaders. These high-profile guests would stay for not just several days, or a week, but often for an entire summer.”  

Stationed in the elegant lobby, I was able to witness the last vestiges of those glory days, observing the daily routines of guests with prominent last names who ensconced themselves for the season. Soon a new era of more transient visitors would fill the guest registry.  


I quickly learned that by jiggling the phone plugs on the antiquated switchboard, I could eavesdrop on conversations – a fact I am now somewhat ashamed to admit. A Mrs. Astor called a friend down the hall every morning to work out the New York Times crossword together from the comfort of their beds. 

Many guests were wealthy widows of the well-known, and they arrived with their maids. I once answered an early-morning call from a resident dowager: “Can you connect me to my maid? I believe it’s Mary Blake in room 46.” “How about Mary Boyle in room 44?” I asked gently. “Yes! That’s her!” came the reply. I found this more appalling than amusing. 

One Mrs. Mellon, always immaculately dressed even when striking out alone for her daily hike, would stop by the desk to leave a detailed itinerary of her path should she not return in time for tea. Thankfully, she always made it back, and we didn’t need to send a bell hop to rescue her. She came from hardy stock. 

I recall formal parties with musicians from New York City; attendees arriving by chauffeur; afternoon tea service by the lobby fire; elaborate lobster buffets; even the death of a guest whose body was secreted down the kitchen stairway like something from “Downton Abbey.” 

I kept a journal during my summer at the Asticou, capturing the names and nuances of a time on the cusp of change, as I was. I wish it well in its next life, catering to the evolving needs of future generations of guests while hopefully honoring the stories of its past. 

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