The octagon building is called the Maine State Building, and it was built in Chicago for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Maine’s Legislature had decided to showcase the state’s “material resources and industrial development” at the ambitious world’s fair.
Everything about the building came from Maine: The granite came from 10 different Maine quarries, the slate roof came from the Monson Slate Company of Monson, Maine. The wood came from Maine forests. Maine craftsmen built the entire thing, inside and out. Even the architect came from Maine: Chicago architect Charles Sumner Frost was a Lewiston native and MIT graduate.
The building was filled with displays about the state of Maine (including Poland Spring water, which won the Medal of Excellence) for fairgoers to enjoy. There were plenty – an estimated one in four Americans visited the World’s Columbian Exposition. The spectacularly successful fair influenced the arts, architecture, urban planning, sanitation and the country’s self-image as an industrial behemoth. Maine, no doubt, felt good about itself as well.
After the fair ended, a tragic fire swept through the fairgrounds, destroying nearly all of its 200 buildings. The Palace of Fine Arts became the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. The Norway Building was moved to chewing-gum magnate William Wrigley’s estate in Wisconsin, then became a museum. The Dutch Building moved to Brookline, Mass. And the Maine Building moved to Poland, where its three floors held an art gallery, a library and four bedrooms.
The Ricker family, owners of the Poland Spring resort, bought the building for $30,000. Hiram Ricker brought a crew of 19 Mainers, led by the resort’s head carpenter and civil engineer, Forrest Walker, to dismantle the structure. In Chicago Ricker watched as they carefully took apart the building and loaded it onto 16 freight cars.
When the building arrived in Danville Junction in Maine, oxen hauled it to Poland Spring in carts. A pamphlet called “Poland Spring-America’s Leading Spa” reported, ‘”This undertaking was conducted with so much skill and care that not even the immense polished columns were scratched in the operation.”
The cornerstone was laid on Aug. 14, 1894, and the building was dedicated a year later. Adornments and another floor were added to enhance its appearance. For years the Maine State Buiding was a popular attraction for the guests at the Poland Spring Resort. Hiram Ricker’s daughter Janette, “Miss Nettie,” directed the well-attended summer art exhibits. Every year her father’s company, Hiram Ricker & Sons, bought art for the resort’s collection from its annual budget of $1,000.
The building’s allure faded over time, and in in 1966, its contents were boxed up and stored, according to the Poland Spring Preservation Society. In 1968, they were auctioned off. The Preservation Society then took ownership of the Maine State Building and began to restore and preserve it. Today, it is now part of the Poland Spring Preservation Park, which gets high marks from visitors on Tripadvisor.com. Visitors can see a display of the furniture and art that remained with the Maine State Building.
We are indebted to Daniel C. Purdy, who brought this story to our attention, and to Paul Lessard who brought the Maine State Building website to our attention. [optinrev-inline-optin2]