The history of Wiscasset Woods starts approximately 100 year ago.
In the 1910’s the idea for the Atlantic Highway was developed as a way to bring more tourism into Maine. Along with the construction of what is now Route 1, many people built small cabins alongside the road to house the influx of tourists. This is how Moody’s Diner got its start.
In the early 1920’s an open air dance hall was built on the southwest corner of the property. It was called the Ox Horn Corner Dance Pavilion. A nearby road was named Oxhorn Road because the entrance to the road marked by a pair of ox horns hanging in a tree. The dance hall adopted that tradition and hung ox horns on a pole in front of the pavailion – until they were “disappeared” one too many times. When the dance hall was first built it was one of the few buildings in the area and was surrounded by apple orchards. Montsweag Road House – a nearby restaurant – was originally built as a cider house to press all the apples grown in the area.
The dance hall was the only one between Wiscasset and Boothbay and so it was a popular spot. They were busy enough that for a while they rented land across the street (where North of the Border greenhouse is now) for extra parking. This was before Route 1 became the busy road it is today.
At around this same time 10 cabins, an office and an owner’s quarters were built on the northern part of the property. They were scattered in the trees parallel to the road. This photo circa of the cabins is circa 1930’s and 40’s was published in the book Around Wiscasset: Alna, Dresden, Westport Island, Wiscasset, and Woolwich . The cabin on the far left was the original office, now room #19.
At the time of the photo the property was called the Steakhouse Inn and Motor Court. Several people have told me that the dance hall eventually had walls, a kitchen, and six guest rooms built into it. There was a large sign on it that said “Steakhouse” so we are guessing that was the “Steakhouse Inn” in the name given to the motor court.
When motels became a fad the cabins were made to look like a motel. Wood screening was put between the cabins to make them look like a single building. If you peek through the vertical wood slats between rooms 14, 15, 16 and 17 you’ll see there’s actually two feet of space between the original walls of the cabins.
At some point the two properties were broken apart and the inn sold separately. In the 60’s a famous Maine wrestler, Jackie Nichols, purchased the inn and renamed it “Forest Inn.” His wife nicknamed it “The Bloody Bucket” and that’s how many of the locals still know it. The nickname may have come about because of the paid and unpaid boxing matches held at the inn. It could also have earned the nickname because of how rough the place was. While Jackie was known as a really nice guy, people that frequented the inn say that it could be wild. It was the only place to hang out at night, so most people went anyway. One person told me he had a lot of memories here and not all of them were good ones.
While the bar and dance hall were in full swing, the motor court was expanding. Bill and Bernice Whitfield purchased the property in 1970 and quickly built onto it. In 1971 they built the first floor of what is now the two story motel building. They didn’t want to take on any debt and so they only built what the could afford to pay for in cash. They built the ground floor and put a roof on it and rented it out for the summer. Then in 1972 they had enough money to build the second floor. The second floor was built in three sections and lifted on top of the first floor, then the original roof was placed back on top. This explains the slight differences between the two floors, for instance the first floor has wood wainscoting whereas the second floor has paneling. The first floor rooms can turn their outside light on and off, but on the second floor those lights are controlled from a master switch.
In 1973 The Whitfields built what is now the dining room as a restaurant and bar called “The Hearth.” It featured the pretty brick fireplace still used today on cold mornings. On the second floor they built new owner’s quarters. It was a relief for the family of three to move out of the one room cabin they had been living in (now room #18). The new building also housed the front desk to the side of the dining room, this is now our office.
During all of this, the Bloody Bucket was a raucous place right next door to the cabins. Workers from the nearby power plant, the Maine Yankee, stopped in every night after work. Jackie Nichols no longer ran the place, he’d purchased several other inns in Maine and rented the building out to others. Because he owned so much property, he was unable to pay for all the repairs and upkeep. I’ve been told it was in poor condition when, one night in 1975, the inn burned to the ground. The apparent cause of the blaze was arson. Many people I’ve spoken to believe that their mother or wife set fire to the building themselves, that’s how unpopular it was with the women in town.
Two years after the inn burned down, the Whitfields purchased the land. In 1975 they bought six more cabins and moved them onto the land. The cabins they purchased were originally built in Newcastle during the creation of Route 1. The owners used to purchase their towels and sheets out of the back of Reny’s station wagon back when he was a door-to-door salesman before he built his now successful chain of Reny’s stores. In the 1950s they were sold and moved across the street from Foster’s Auction house, if you look you’ll see one of the old motel buildings still there. In 1975 they were moved here.
At around that time the two car garage and the one bedroom apartment above the garage were built – what we call the carriage house. The Whitfield’s son and daughter-in-law, Stephen and Janet Whitfield, were running the hotel and it was obvious that the owner’s quarters upstairs were not big enough for both families. The parents built the garage for their collection of classic cars and moved into the apartment in the summers. We now use this as staff housing. The carriage house was built in what was the back parking lot to the inn. The three pine trees in front of it – next to Route 1 – are where the inn once stood.
In 1990 the Whitfields sold the property to Bill and Nancy Gillies. The Gillies renamed it the Wiscasset Motor Lodge. They gutted and remodeled the cabins often expanding them by adding on bathrooms outside of the original footprint of the cabins. They also moved the cabins onto shared foundations with a common roof line. Bill is an avid woodworker and when trees fell on the property he milled them himself to create the beautiful pine interiors. The Gillies also built the two story wood and glass addition where the lobby is located.
While Bill loved wood work, Nancy loved landscaping. She planted the vegetation around the grounds so that no matter when you stay here, something is in bloom. Guests often comment on the lovely landscaping as they walk around. The Gillies owned the motor lodge for 25 years.
Our names are Saundra and Eric Neperud, we are most recently from Missoula, Montana. We ended up in Maine because of the lodge. We knew we wanted to purchase a hotel and looked in eight states (Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, New York, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine) for just the right one. While we had hoped to stay in the West, there’s not the same tradition of mom and pop hotels. Most were too large, part of a chain, or too unprofitable to purchase. We fell in love with this place on sight. We purchased it on December 11th, 2015 and renamed it the Wiscasset Woods Lodge to focus on the eight acres of woodlands surrounding the buildings.
During our first winter here Eric built a ½ mile hiking trail around the perimeter of the property and we installed fire pits and picnic tables. Saundra oversaw the work on the kitchens. The Maine health code now prohibits serving food out of a personal kitchen, in order to so to serve a hot breakfast we had to convert the only kitchen in the building into a commercial kitchen and build a personal kitchen upstairs in our living quarters.
During our second winter we focused on remodeling six of the cottage rooms that had stood empty for 20 years. They are now some of our most popular rooms.
When we renamed our hotel the Wiscasset Woods Lodge we didn’t realize that we were following in a long tradition. The inn had been called Forest Inn and the cabins were named The Pine Breeze in the 50’s. We have trees on the property that are over 200 years old so it makes sense that so many of us have focused on the woodland setting.
We are very happy to be living in Midcoast Maine and are working hard to make this a lodge we would want to stay in ourselves.