The Cliff House story begins in 1866. The Civil War had just ended, and the nation turned its attention to reconstruction. One of the North’s military necessities during that war was to standardize railway gauges. This laid the foundation for a coordinated railway system. The Boston and Maine Railroad was about to add a spur to York, Maine, and this news was not lost on Elsie Jane, wife of Captain Theodore Weare. She invested their money to purchase land on Bald Head Cliff and began planning a resort. Her brother, Captain Charles Perkins, built Cliff House with wood from family lots, milled in their own sawmill on Beach Street in Ogunquit. The Weare Family paid their carpenters one dollar a day in gold.
Elsie Jane opened The Cliff House in 1872, operated the hotel and the farm, invested in real estate, and managed the family business. She raised seven children and cared for her husband, Theodore, who suffered from consumption. Rates for the 1872 premier season were $6.00 per week, per person, and included all three meals. The Cliff House soon became the preferred resort of the most refined families of the time, including the Biddles of Philadelphia, the Havermeyers of New York, and the Cabots and Lodges of Boston. Its reputation spread across the Atlantic, attracting guests from as far away as England and continental Europe. During this genteel age, guests entertained themselves with card parties, croquet, and horseshoe pitching. The Cliff House was a peaceful Maine retreat, rich with verdant lawns, wild roses, and suspended between an enormous expanse of sky and the ever-changing sea.
Around 1910, Elsie Jane, then in her late 70s, turned over control of The Cliff House to her son, Charles, who embarked on a modernization campaign that resulted in indoor plumbing and electric lights. In time, he even added a bowling alley to supplement the amateur theater and entertainment presented at the oceanfront resort. To help meet the demand for accommodations, the Oceanview Annex was built, and the Colonial Annex followed shortly after. The latter featured the first private baths in the area. As automobiles became more common, Charles erected individual garages and had a gas pump installed for the convenience of his motoring guests.
The Cliff House thrived through the roaring 20’s, as well as the precarious 30’s. World War II, however, shuttered The Cliff House to guests, but the resort was drafted to aid the country’s efforts. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took over the property, built a radar station, and kept a 24-hour-a-day vigil for Nazi submarines in the coastal waters. German U-Boats sank 152 Allied ships in the North Atlantic in January and February of 1942. Coastal cities and towns observed nightly blackouts to prevent ships from being silhouetted against the night sky. So important was this installation on Bald Head Cliff that the Weare Family was barred from their own land.
When peace was reestablished, The Cliff House faced an uncertain future. Substantial damage and severe neglect destroyed the once extravagant grounds. Rumors had it that The Cliff House would never reopen. Charles, discouraged by the condition of the land and nearly penniless, having been deprived of income during the seizure of the family business, decided to sell. He placed this ad in a 1946 edition of the Wall Street Journal: For Sale. 144 rooms, 90 acres, over 2500’ of ocean frontage for just $50,000. Without any offers, Charles turned the property over to his son, Maurice, an army veteran, who accepted the challenge with single-minded determination. Money was so scarce he hand-rolled the mile-long blacktop driveway himself. In 1948, he married Charlotte Williams, The Cliff House secretary, and together they labored to restore the resort’s prestige, overcoming countless obstacles along the way.
Like earlier generations, Maurice and Charlotte made major improvements to the Maine oceanfront resort demanded by the times. In 1960, they built the area’s first swimming pool, and three years later, they erected the first motor hotel in a resort setting. This forward-thinking couple presided over the most dramatic change of all: the top two floors of the venerable Inn were razed and the kitchen demolished. Thereafter, The Cliff House operated primarily as a motor hotel, and the coffee shop on the Inn’s remaining ground floor served only breakfast and lunch, saving the Inn from oblivion during uncertain times.
In 1974, the fourth generation of Weare Family Maine innkeepers succeeded to The Cliff House directorship. Kathryn M. Weare filed a master plan for the Maine resort’s future and launched a bold program of upgrading and expansion.
The 1990 Maine summer vacation season opened with a new entrance, welcoming guests into a lobby area. A grand staircase connected the Ocean Terrace and new dining room below, as did two elevators. A major conference room was added. A new recreation level with a gift shop, a fitness room, sauna, and indoor pool were developed. A substantial number of guest rooms were also part of this expansion, all with balconies overlooking the sweeping south coast of Maine. Gradually, in a series of phases that began in fall of 2000, older buildings gave way to new structures.
In May of 2002, the Cliff Spa opened on the site of the original hotel. It featured 32 oversized guest rooms with gas-fired stoves. This new adults-only building featured a 75-foot indoor lap pool and outdoor infinity pool with spectacular views of the Cape Neddick coast, an indoor and outdoor whirlpool, a labyrinth, shower and locker areas with individual steam and sauna rooms, an expanded nail salon, fitness center, and 10 treatment rooms.
The long-awaited connector project between the main building and the spa building was completed in September 2004. It begins at the Ocean Terrace level and extends across the outside terrace below the guest room balconies. On the first level, the state-of-the-art amphitheater seats an audience of over 150. This superlative addition to the conference facilities offers a convenient connection between most guest rooms, banquet facilities, ballroom, and meeting rooms.
Since Elsie Jane first realized her dream and opened The Cliff House in 1872, there have been many developments to this iconic Maine resort. Sensitivity to the changing needs and expectations of our guests and a willingness to evolve have always been the hallmarks of The Cliff House success story, but Elsie Jane’s principles endure with each new generation of the Weare family: clean rooms, fine food, fresh air, and personal hospitality—all in an incomparable scenic location.
The coastal Maine resort recently completed a landmark transformation across 70-oceanfront acres. Cliff House Maine reopened in August 2016 with newly designed luxury guest rooms and suites, an oceanfront spa and wellness center, over 25,000 square feet of new meeting and event space, including a new cliffside ballroom that looks out over the Atlantic Ocean, oceanfront dining and bars, indigenous landscaping, and many other enhancements.
Generation after generation, as guests step out onto their private terraces, an energizing breeze sweeps up from the surf below, past the wild rose bushes, to extend a timeless welcome. Those who return each year, enthusiastically report that this is when their spirits soar.
Join us on the majestic cliffs of the Atlantic Ocean as we begin this momentous new chapter. We look forward to welcoming you to Cliff House.