Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Where Are The Hotels? The Continuing Story of History

If you read yesterday’s posting you might wonder what happened to the 3 hotels on Campobello Island. Sadly, they all met the same fate. After tourism declined, one burned and the others were dismantled with the materials, most of them elaborately chosen and formed, recycled into private residences throughout the island.  Why did tourism decline after Campobello had risen to the status of a fashionable tourist resort?

There is a host of reasons for that.
1. Structures in society changed with the growing  industrialization.
2. World War I started in 1914
3. The automobile had come into more common use making people more mobile.
4. A fish oil factory in Eastport,ME spewed out bad odours drifting with westerly winds across Campobello

The hotels were built in the early 1880s. By 1910, tourism had declined to the point that the hotels were empty shells.  Surrounding grounds grew over quickly and the stately grand buildings fell into disrepair. Paint was flaking off rapidly and harsh winter storms knew no mercy. The drifty businessmen
with the grand plans had left the island and let Campobello deal with this problem.

Yet, to this day we are looking back to this remarkable period of early tourism with a certain pride and summer residents have again purchased buildings reveling in the former flair of elegance and history.

But that is not all. There is something solid left from those days of grandeur. Materials were recycled into private residences…..
Our house is from 1903. Around 1915 substantial upgrades were done to the building. Costly materials from the hotels were used.
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We discovered quite nice door-and window trim, our staircase rails were not common standard for a simple farmhouse from 1903, and the same is the case for a stained-glass window and the interior doors, several showing small holes after the room numbers, and one even showing the shape of a 5….or is it a 6?
But even the Roosevelt Cottage profited from hotel materials. The 1915 addition of the original 1895-building is sporting the same door and window trim as we enjoy in our simple farmhouse. Of course, we love the history of our house and this island, which has been taken care of through hard-fact materials but also through the spider- web of stories. You hardly find a square-foot of this island where history isn’t present. While Franklin D. Roosevelt met British Prime Minister Winston Churchill at high seas off the coast of Newfoundland, to discuss how to deal with Nazi-Germany and Adolf Hitler, his wife Eleanor was staying on Campobello with the children. She didn’t even know what was going on. Franklin’s mission was top secret.

In 1960 a Hollywood movie about the Roosevelts and Campobello appeared. “Sunrise at Campobello” was partly produced on the island. Starring actors were Ralph Bellamy (Franklin D Roosevelt) and Greer Garson, (Eleanor Roosevelt) Hume Cronyn (Louis Howe) Jean hagen (Marguerite “Missy” Lehand)
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It was a big event for the islanders. Actors and technicians needed accommodations and food. Famous people were on site. Another part of history.

But history didn’t stop there either. On September 11 2001 Campobello was in danger to become the most isolated part of Canada:

Park staffer Ron Beckwith was in his office here at the Roosevelt Campobello International Park when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center. A bus tour full of tourists from the New York City area had just pulled into the visitor’s center. By the time the second plane hit, everyone was in shock and the New Yorkers were desperate for information about their city, friends and loved ones.

The Roosevelt cottage, built in 1887, has long been the centerpiece at Roosevelt Campobello International Park on Campobello Island, New Brunswick.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt at a picnic on Campobello Island on July 30, 1936. Their guests were Allison Dysart, left, premier of New Brunswick, and J.B. McNair, right, attorney general of New Brunswick.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt at a picnic on Campobello Island on July 30, 1936. Their guests were Allison Dysart, left, premier of New Brunswick, and J.B. McNair, right, attorney general of New Brunswick.

Below: The same spot today


“We have poor cell reception now, and it was even worse then, so we were starved for information,” recalls Beckwith,  “We set a portable television up in the visitor’s center and did our best to get everyone a chance to use our (landline) telephones.”

“We’d hear rumors about how the border was going to close, so we all scrambled around to get all the tourists back over the border before that could potentially happen,” he says. Rangers fanned out over the park’s 2,800 acres of forest, beach and rocky headlands, looking for visitors, telling them what had happened to the Twin Towers and Pentagon and advising them they might consider getting back to their cars and heading back to Maine.

The visitors back on their own side of the border, the park turned eerily quiet. After all, if the borders are sealed it’s extremely difficult to get to the island from the rest of Canada — and impossible to drive here outside of high summer, because the tiny passenger ferry to the rest of New Brunswick stops running and the only bridge leads to Maine. “At the time we didn’t think too much about what the long-term impact would be,” Beckwith adds. “And it turned out to be a very big impact.”

Because of its peculiar geographical location — on an island isolated behind border posts from both the U.S. and Canada — the Roosevelt Campobello park was hit particularly hard. Like the president whom it honors, the park was partially paralyzed, and has had to shift and refocus its energies in the wake of an unexpected catastrophe.

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