In 2007, I was one of the last people ever to stay at the Brooks Bluff Cottages in Robbinston, Maine. While planning a short trip to Maine, I naturally looked up where I used to stay, knowing full well that the 20-plus acre property was mostly unused for nearly a decade before it eventually sold. But, I was quite upset to realize that there is little to no mention of the history of Brooks Bluff Cottages, outside of a smattering of mentions about its origins in 1920.
Thomas and I were able to visit Calais and nearby Eastport in spring 2023. So, of course, we had to pass by the former Brooks Bluff Cottages on the way. How does everything look now?
Here’s the one sad, sorry photo I took from U.S. Route 1. Suffice it to say, this was sadly what I expected to see, as the property remained on the market for many years, left to the elements to decay. To see it in this state, though, obviously was upsetting; but after sixteen years, I’ll leave it to your imagination to what happened here.
What Remains Online of the Brooks Bluff Cottages?
The only photographs you can find online are some old postcards from around the 1940’s, like this one of the Comfort Lodge that sold on CardCow. One of the very few mentions of Brooks Bluff Cottages was that it was mentioned in The Negro Motorist Green-Book, first published by Victor Hugo Green in 1936, and annually published until 1967. This was a very important book in that it painstakingly researched where Black travelers could safely visit and stay across the United States. Apparently, it was one of very few travel houses open to Blacks at that point in history. Here is the excerpt from the Portland Monthly:
“Overlooking the St. Croix River with Canada’s border in the distance, Brooks Bluff Cottages was owned by Ernie Brown, since deceased, in 1920. Located in Robbinston, the cottages were listed in the Green Book as being ‘just 12 miles east of Calais.’”
From the St. Croix Historical Society on Facebook, there’s a little bit more history of the Comfort Lodge, one of the cabins that formerly served as the dining room.
“Brooks Bluff Cottages in Robbinston had a great view, very nice cabins and a dining room second to none especially for lunch. For a buck you could have coffee or milk, a bowl of fish chowder, two crabmeat sandwiches, a piece of angel food cake and lemon meringue pie and still have a nickel left over.”
By the time even my father was a child in the 1960’s, the Comfort Lodge was converted into a three-bedroom cabin, one of the bedrooms being a two-bed loft. In that loft, many visitors wrote their names on the roof. I never left my name there, and I don’t regret it, because the remnants of that cabin are likely at a landfill somewhere anyway. I can’t tell you in words just how immensely sad that makes me.
Just as those excerpts suggest, Brooks Bluff Cottages were indeed started by Ernest Brown, and were maintained for many years after his death by his daughter Barbara and her husband Ernie Barnes. Here’s some information directly from Barbara Barnes’ obituary when she passed away in 2018.
There’s also Barbara Barnes obituary, when she passed away in 2018:
“Barbara A. Barnes, 90, of Robbinston, Maine, died April 13 in a Bangor healthcare facility. She was born August 7, 1927 in Robbinston to Ernest C. and Princess (Wilson) Brown.
“Barbara graduated from Calais Academy in 1945. There she met Ernie (Ernest) Barnes, and the two were married in 1948. After time spent in Pittsburgh, PA and Portsmouth, NH, Barbara and Ernie returned to Robbinston in 1965 with their son, (Ernest) Jeff Barnes. After attending business school in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Barbara began working at the Calais branch of the 1st National Bank of Bar Harbor in 1967, where she worked until her retirement 23 years later. Except for winters she and Ernie spent in Florida, Barbara called the family property in Robbinston, named Brooks Bluff, home.
“Barbara and Ernie ran Brooks Bluff Cottages – the family cottage rental business which was started by her father in 1920 – until 2007. Barbara took great pride in running the business and will be remembered as a welcoming and attentive host. She particularly enjoyed getting to know the families who would come each summer to the cottages, sometimes over generations, and still received letters and calls from past guests, which she enjoyed immensely.
In her retirement, Barbara kept busy running the business with Ernie and, after the cottages were closed, returned to sewing and embroidery as a pastime.”
My Photographic History With Brooks Bluff Cottages
My family and I went for ten-day to two-week summer trips every year since my birth in 1987, missing only one year (2006, I believe) until the business ceased operation in 2007. In fact, my parents went there for years before that; my very existence began on one of their vacations there, and I try hard not to think about it.
There were 15 cabins in total, although one cabin was split into two separate numbers for a total of 16 units. Most of them were overnight cabins with just a bathroom and a bed or two. A few others had small kitchens. None of them were winterized, although it seems at least one was properly converted into a house sometime between 2007 and 2018; it appears to have been cabin 14, the only proper two story cabin on the property.
My family typically stayed in cabin number 11, a little white cottage down the hill that had a small kitchen, bathroom, and back bedroom with a bunk bed and a regular bed on opposite ends. This is where I spent most of my summers until my little brother was born, after which we spent time in cabin number 8, the only one with two bathrooms, and number 9, which was originally the Comfort Lodge. My father had stayed in Cabin 9 many times in his own youth, so it was a part of his childhood he shared with his children.
Fortunately, I have photos of all of the cabins and many shots of the property, including the private beach below the bluff. I’m extremely grateful that I had the presence of mind at age twenty to document what I could with my little point-and-shoot digital camera, which was a fairly impressive consumer-grade device for the time. In fact, Brooks Bluff is where my most cherished memories were made.
These photos were taken in August 2007 when my family was staying in Cabin 9 for the last time.
Overnight Cabins 1 & 2: these units had one bed and a small bathroom
Overnight Cabins 3 & 4: same as above
Overnight Cabin 5: This cabin had two beds and a bathroom, and I do believe was once located next to Cabins 1 & 2 before being moved near the woods.
Cabins 6 & 16: If I remember correctly 6 was two beds and a bathroom, and 16 was two beds with a fair-sized kitchenette and a bathroom.
Cabin 7 – This overnight cabin also had a kitchenette
Cabin 8 – The only cabin with two bathrooms, in which I spent a few summers
Cabin 9 – Formerly the “Comfort Lodge” and where I spent many summers; our 1997 Saturn station wagon is out front.
Cabin 10 – This cabin was always very popular; two bedrooms, a full kitchen, and bathroom.
Cabin 11 – The one which I have the most history; it has two beds in the back, with a pullout couch in the living room, a small bathroom, and a small, but complete kitchen. It used to be located in the field next to Cabins 12 & 13 but was moved down the hill for a better view.
Cabin 12 & 13 – I’m fairly certain these both had one bedroom, a kitchen, and a bathroom; they were very popular.
Bridge through the woods from Cabin 13 to Cabin 14
Cabin 14 – The only cabin with a proper second floor; it had a couple beds downstairs and a few upstairs. This was perfect for extended families, and the plan I was told was to convert it into a proper house. I’m thinking they did this before selling the property, but I have no idea.
Cabin 15 – This was much like Cabin 5, except it additionally had a kitchenette. If I remember correctly, the same family stayed in 15 every summer for many years.
Old Homestead – The Brown farmhouse was mostly used for storage and the office (which was the former mudroom at the right) by the time I was born.
Old Barnes Residence – the “red house” I’m fairly sure had 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, plus an attached garage, but I don’t remember actually ever going inside so I don’t know for sure.
New Homestead – built in 2002, this had 3 bedrooms, and 2 bathrooms, including a pretty big master suite upstairs. This was the Barnes retirement home, down by Cabins 8 and 9 for the view, but unfortunately, Barbara’s husband Ernie fell ill not long after this was built and was for sale just a few years later. This is the house that served as the centerpiece for the entire property when it was eventually sold.
It was bittersweet, but necessary closure for me to see just what had become of my once beloved vacation spot. At least I have these photos to remember it by, and I will do my best to ensure the memory of this wonderful place is preserved for posterity. If you ever stayed in downeast Maine, I’d love to hear your stories. After all, history is important; with all of the sad, abandoned buildings I saw on our Maine trip, too much is soon going to be forgotten forever.