Gilded Age Book Discussion - Poland Spring: A Tale of the Gilded Age



The “vivid contrast” between the modern city and anti-modern countryside is the creative tension that propels the historical narrative in Poland Spring: A Tale of the Gilded Age.  Published in 2005, this cultural study by David Richards traces the transformation of a tired family farmstead into a prosperous Victorian resort during the last half of the nineteenth century.  The Ricker family cultivated a clientele consisting of “the representative people of our country,” many of whom had biographies rivaling the fictional Silas Lapham, during his rise to prominence at least.  The people of progress were partly pushed out of the city during the summertime by the heat, the pollution, the immigrant masses, the labor strife, and the general busyness of modern urban life.  They were also pulled toward the ocean, mountains, and countryside by yearnings for historical nostalgia, pastoral landscapes, and natural beauty.  Competing with the anti-urban and anti-modern allures of Gilded-Age resorts like Poland Spring were the modern values they reinforced and promoted in their roles as social mecca, therapeutic spa, and recreational playground.  Symbolizing their resort’s ultimate transformation into a “summer city,” the Ricker family had a cast off from the White City of the World’s Columbian Exposition removed to and reconstructed at Poland Spring in 1894.  The following year, the Maine State Building provided some of the modern cultural amenities expected by the leisure class – a museum, a library, and an art gallery.