A Lobby That Holds History: The Story of Samoset Resort’s Salvaged Wood
(Above) While a dated photo (the furniture and furnishings were completely updated during the 2019-2020 reno), you can clearly get a sense of the massive beams and showstopping timber that call this lobby home.
Thirty foot, 18-by-18-inch square vertical columns that once supported millions of bushels of grain and wooden tiles cut to show the interior growth rings of the trees – here’s the story of the recycled lumber and reclaimed wood that lines every crevice and corner of the lobby at Samoset Resort.
There’s plenty to gawk at when you walk the grounds and property of Samoset Resort. For one, it’s perched on 230 waterfront acres that overlook Penobscot Bay in Rockport, Maine, offering jaw-dropping views of the harbor, the Rockland Breakwater and its lighthouse, and the islands of Vinalhaven and North Haven. And two, its 178 guest rooms and suites underwent a renovation over the course of 2019-2020, bringing in nautically fresh details like white-and-navy striped upholstery on headboards, white shiplap on the walls, plush navy carpeting, decorative wooden paddles, and stunning Midcoast Maine photography.
But the feature that perhaps serves as the resort’s biggest conversation piece among guests? The lobby. “I remember walking into that space on my first day back in 1999,” says Cornelius “Connie” Russell, general manager of the property, “and just saying ‘oh, wow…you don’t really see anything like this anywhere.’” He’s referring to the floor-to-ceiling wood and timbers that completely cover the expansive lobby. So why all the fuss over wood? Let’s just say they aren’t just your traditional two-by-fours. What you see here is something special.
Out of Tragedy Comes a Treat
This pre-renovation photo shows the gleaming wood-tile floors and massive 30-foot tall vertical timber columns.
After Samoset’s original 1889 building was destroyed in a fire in 1972, it was rebuilt and reopened in 1974. But the original owners didn’t opt for just any old building materials for the lobby, which, naturally, serves as your first impression of the resort. Rather, they went the route of seeking authentic Maine memorabilia by purchasing nearly one million feet of pitch pine board and timbers from the Grand Trunk Railroad grain elevator #2 in Portland, Maine, which, at the time, was being demolished. It required 32 railroad cars to transport the salvaged wood – which ranged in size from 2-by-5 to 18-by-18 inch pieces – to the South End Train Station in Rockland, where they were inspected, cut to size, then trucked to Samoset Resort by 40-foot trailers. To eliminate grain dust and protect against insects, all wood was soaked in some sort of solution (the exact solution is unknown) prior to being installed. It was – and has never been – stained. In fact, the patina of all wood seen in the lobby today is totally natural.
A New Lease on Lumber
The boards used in the ceiling of the lobby previously served as the floorboards for the grain elevator, while the vertical columns reaching up to 30 feet high and 14 inches square were the exact beams that supported the crushing weight of 1.5 million bushels of wheat on the elevator (when it was built, the grain elevator was the largest east of Detroit). But the most unique feature, by far, is the flooring, which at first glance, might resemble gleaming tiles. It is, in fact, purely wood that has been cut into tiles roughly four inches by four inches in size, and up to three inches thick.
The Heart of the Wood
(Left) This loose tile on display in the lobby allows guests to view the historic wood up close; (right) the space sure makes for a cozy place to sit | © Michele Creelman, @michelerb
Because of the way the timbers were cut to create the wooden floor tiles, it actually allows you to see the growth rings (a.k.a. “heartwood”) of the original pitch pine trees. As for the “grout” between the tiles, that was actually made from a mix of two-parts sawdust (leftover from the cutting and sanding of timbers) and one-part polyurethane to seal up any gaps. To preserve the floor and keep it looking amazing, annually, the tiles are lightly sanded then covered with a layer of polyurethane. There’s also a loose tile on display within the lobby that guests can feel free to pick up, feel the heft of the pitch pine, as well as run their fingers down the grooves and cracks that hold the fascinating story of this historical, salvaged wood.
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