The History of Rock Gardens Inn

This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of Rock Gardens Inn’s existence as a haven for those who wish to spend a part of their summer away from their ordinary lives, in a place of beauty and peace. Everything started as the vision of a man named Merritt. Freeman H. Merritt, a postmaster and contractor from White Plains, New York, began spending his summers in Maine late in the first decade of the last century. He bought a summer home on Horse Island, now known as Harbor Island, and fell in love with the area. He envisioned a place where people could come to spend a part of their summer on the Maine coast, eating freshly caught fish, dancing, socializing with other guests. He began to buy land, originally owned by the Lowell family, on the mainland across from his island home.

By 1911 he was ready for his first summer as innkeeper. He had built a number of bungalows for the guests to stay in, as well as a clubhouse for dining and relaxing, and a general store. By the end of that first summer he had added a water system, drawing from a wellspring that had been used by native inhabitants, and is still used to this day. In addition he had stocked the pond on the property with trout and salmon for the following year’s guests.

Over the next few years he constructed more bungalows and cottages, as well as an elaborate sewage system that allowed for complete indoor plumbing in all of them. He created areas for different activities, such as a dancehall and an area for clambakes. Additions to the clubhouse included a second floor, a new dining room, and a huge fireplace. He mainly used materials from the property itself in construction of his new buildings, employing workers from the town in droves.

Construction, however, was not Merritt’s only priority. He strove to bring a wide variety of experiences to his guests. Dance instructors came up from New York to teach and lead the guests in dances all summer long. And a tradition that had a seventy-two-year hiatus began in the summer of 1913. That summer a group of artists from New York took up residence in Merritt’s lodgings, and artists would continue to return during Merritt’s time as owner. The current management resumed the artists’ workshops in 1985.

What Merritt created in the early years of the twentieth century continues to thrive today. Rock Gardens Inn maintains Merritt’s vision of a place where people can come to get away from their everyday worries, and lose themselves in the crash of the breakers, or the rhythms of the dance floor. There is a communal feeling that has been retained since Merritt’s time, so that even if the guests don’t know each other when they arrive, it is almost certain that they will leave as friends.