History of Bearnstow

The Lodge — the only building shown on Parker Pond on the 1880 U.S. Geological Survey

Bearnstow is located on sixty-five acres of wooded land on Parker Pond in Mount Vernon, Maine, at the headwaters of the west branch of the Forty Mile River, part of the Androscoggin water­shed. The property includes 2,400 feet of unique, rocky shoreline and twelve rustic buildings tucked away behind the treeline. Most of these charm­ing houses are nearly a century old. Our old­est structure, the Lodge, was the only building on Parker on the 1880 U.S. Geological Survey.

Since 1994 Bearnstow has been protected by conservation ease­ment held by the Kennebec Land Trust. In 2007 Bearnstow was recognized for its historic significance and is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Founded in 1946 by Ruth Grauert and Frances Reid, Bearnstow has had a rich history of arts-related activities linked to a prac­tice of environmental responsibility. Throughout its history the resonance of place in all activities has been a critical part of its mission. Bearnstow’s unspoiled environment provides an alterna­tive freedom for aesthetic expression away from the demands of daily life. This attention to the care of place, land, and spirit is central to the daily practice.

Click image for enlarged view.
A History of Bearnstow ~ by Ruth Grauert

According to Mount Vernon town records, it was in the spring 1864 that Ebenezer Bean measured off a 12-acre parcel of his land (on which the camp buildings now sit) for sale to Harriet Wentworth. In 1866 Wentworth sold the parcel to Daniel L. Folsom, who by 1880 had built the main portion of the Lodge. Back in 1945, Carrie Gordon, then in her 70s, told me that she used to play in “Uncle Danielís Brook” as a child. She told me that her uncle had built the Lodge as his honeymoon cottage.

In 1914 (after a number of other sales) the property was sold to Charles E. Stevens who built Cabins 58, and later 9 and 10, and established a fishing and hunting camp called “Stevens Camps.” Every house was equipped with a Franklin stove and a real ice box. Each winter, ice was cut from Parker and stored in an ice house, which sat near the shore at what is now the Kitchen Landing just north of the Main Hall. Capped drains for ice boxes still exist in some of the cabins. Stevens also added an addition to the Lodge.

In 1922, Stevens Camps was sold to Webster Chester, a biology professor at nearby Colby College. By then the camp had be­come known as Spruce Point Camps (the name under which it is listed in the National Register). Chester built the Main Hall for central dining using local labor in the manner of a neighborhood barn rais­ing; a barrel of beer was provided in lieu of pay. He also built the remainder of the cabins as they exist today, continuing to provide stoves and ice boxes in each cottage. He put in the bathrooms and showers, the water for which was hand pumped from a spring just south of the parking lot to a water tower

The original hand pump, still on the property, used to pump water (before electricity) from a spring near the parking lot to a water tower beyond Cabin 10

Steel cables that once secured the wooden staves of the water tower still rest on a boulder near Cabin 10.
beyond Cabin 10 (the camp had no electricity at the time). As a biology professor, he nourished and preserved the unique natural environment that we see today.

In 1938 the property was sold to Muriel R. Dunham. The Dunhams saw that the 1936 Rural Electrification Act under the WPA extended to camps and wired the camp with elec­tricity. By combining two smaller buildings, they built what is now Cabin 3, and the building we call the Lab was built for servants’ quarters, partitioned off into six cubi­cles with black wall­board. The camp was shut down in 1942 when the country’s war effort became a priority. (See a slide show of Stevens and Spruce Point Camps between 1914 to 1938 of postcards from the Penobscot Marine Museum.)

Come 1945, Frances Reid and I had decided we wanted to run a summer camp that was, in our minds, ethical. It was to be interracial, interreligious, and co-ed, and offer the arts and non-competitive sports. With Pauline Faretra, we saved our gasoline coupons (WWII was still waging and fuel was carefully rationed), and the three of us drove to Maine where we situ­ated ourselves in a tourist cabin on Cobbosseecontee Lake and called real estate agents. We were escorted through all kinds of propertieswith neighbors too near, poor lakefronts, no vistas, or too swampy. I finally asked one agent to find me the property on Parker Pond that my principal (I had been teaching Junior High School) had told me was for sale. The agent found it and brought us to the top of the hill. “It was just recently sold to the Leighton Lumber Company, but they might consider selling.”

We had to walk in over downed timber, for it had been closed since 1942 and the road was blocked with logs. In the Main Hall were about fifty empty liquor bottles, left by ice fisher­men who had come in from the cold to warm up by the fireplace. In the Lodge was every mattress from every cabin in the camp, stored for all those war years, and every rodent for miles around had found it a cozy home.

But we went to The Ledges, looked over Parker Pond, and saw the sand beach and point beyond. “Is that property available, too?” “I don't know. I'll find out.” It wasand we had found our camp site.

View of The Ledges overlooking Parker Pond

We sat there and discussed naming our camp. How about “Crossed Quartz” for the veins in the granite? Nah, awkward. We saw men in a rowboat out on the water fishing for bass. How about “Camp Basshole”?  ♫“We are cheering Camp Bass——”♫?  Nah...  Esoteric as we were and rebels to the end, the name became Bearnstow, the early West Saxon word for child and place.

That was July 26, 1945. For the rest of that summer we worked on rehabbing the placefrom the dismantled plumbing to the leaking roofs, from the decaying mattresses to the accumulated dirt. We got enough done, including the acquisi­tion of our peg-leg piano, that in summer 1946 we opened our camp. From the late 40s through the 60s, Janet Erickson, Bobbie Gottschalk, Suzanne Dalton Jones, and Bebe Miller were campers, and all have served on the Bearnstow Board of Directors. Read this news clipping to learn about the activities at Bearnstow in 1960. (PDF)

In the 70s and 80s we offered swimming lessons to the town children; as many as 40 young people over a decade were taught to swim here. That program was no longer needed when the town acquired its own beach and swim program. How­ever, we did continue to offer dance classes for children and adults and opened our Day Camp program. Previous board members Nicolaus Bloom and Vernon Dunn were day campers, swimmers, and dancers in those programs. In the 90s we insti­tuted weeklong, residential workshops in the performing arts as well as a two-week Day Camp session for local children of school age that concentrate on nature and the arts.

In 1994 custodial conservation of Bearnstow was accepted by the Kennebec Land Trust in the form of a conservation easement that protects the property in perpetuity, ensuring that Bearnstow’s 65 acres of forest and 2,400 feet of rocky shoreline will remain forever wild. In keeping with our mission to promote education and research in the natural sciences, we have initiated a Natural History Week at Bearnstow, which presents naturalists who give public lectures and tours of the forest. Our facilities are available to scientists and science educators and their students for applicable research programs.

Map of deglaciation showing ocean transgression (blue shaded area) of Maine (MGS 2010). Red dot indicates location of Parker Pond. Click image for englarged view.

Our Geological History, from 20,000 Years Ago
By Julie Brigham-Grette and Daniel Miller, Department of Geosciences, University of MassachusettsAmherst

Around 20,000 years ago, the Laurentide Ice Sheet covered a vast area of northern North America, including almost all of New England. In Maine, the timing of glacial retreat can be can be estimated from various land­scape features and through the use of radiocarbon dating of certain rem­nants of marine shells. Through this work, scientists have estimated that glaciers retreated from southern and central Maine roughly 14,500 12,000 years before present.1

The glaciers had scoured the land and pro­duced basins that would eventually become the many ponds and lakes we enjoy in our region today. Furthermore, since the land was de­pressed from the weight of the ice, the ocean moved inland with glacial retreat. There is evidence that the ocean reached far­ther inland than Parker Pond, meaning that this area was likely sub­merged underwater for a brief time period.2 (See the red dot on the map to locate Parker Pond.) The Presumpscot Formation is the name given to the marine muds that were deposited during this time (the clay in the bed of our own Uncle Daniel’s Brook was layed down at this time)3.

After this brief period of time, most likely less than 2,000 years, the land started to rebound and rise above sea level. Following this, vegeta­tion slowly migrated northward, shifting from tun­dra to a heavily forested landscape from roughly 10,000 to 7,000 years before present4. Since then, the landscape has undergone compar­atively little change until modern times and European settlement of the region5.


1. Borns Jr., H.W., Doner, L.A., Dorion, C.C., Jacobson Jr., G.L., Kaplan, M.R., Kreutz, K.J., Lowell, T.V., Thompson, W.B., Weddle, T.K., 2004. The deglaciation of Maine, U.S.A., in: Gibbard, J.E. and P.L. (Ed.), Developments in Quaternary Sciences, Quaternary Glaciations-Extent and Chronology Part II: North America. Elsevier, pp. 89109.
2. MGS, 2010. Evidence for a Calving Embayment in the Penobscot River Valley, Bangor Mane. Maine Geological Survey. Evidence for a calving embayment in the Penobscot River Valley, Bangor, Maine.pdf.
4. Davis, R.B., Jacobson Jr., G.L., 1985. Late glacial and early Holocene Landscapes in northern New England and adjacent areas of Canada. Quaternary Research 23, 341–368. doi:10.1016/0033-5894(85)900407.
5. Anderson, R.S., Jacobson, G.L., Davis, R.B., Stuckenrath, R., 1992. Gould Pond, Maine: late-glacial transitions from marine to upland environments. Boreas 21, 359–371. doi:10.1111/j.15023885.1992.tb00040.x.