Story & photos by By Melissa Coleman
Migis Lodge, located on the shores of Maine’s Sebago Lake, may feel like a summer retreat where time never passes. However, the resort is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and now welcoming forth (and even fifth) generation guests—evidencing that time has most certainly passed.
Over the course of a truly relaxing weekend last June, I found that Migis today retains much of the charm of 100 years ago, while concurrently benefiting from changes appropriate to the passing of a century.
The American Craftsman lodge built in 1916 by Charles Goodrich still presides, with eight of the original 12 rooms upstairs, as well as dining rooms, kitchen and common area. This is where we checked in and enjoyed cocktails on the expansive front porch overlooking the lake through the pines. We also returned after dinner to hang out in the living room, where tradition assures there is always a fire burning, as well as game tables for backgammon, chess, and the favorite with the kids—Shoot-the-Moon.
We were told that the lodge, which was initially a gentleman-only fishing camp called National Camps, was renamed Migis from a Native American story meaning, “a place to steal away and rest.” The current owners, the Porta family, arrived in 1968, when Gene and Grace Porta came from Martha’s Vineyard to buy the resort. Son Tim and his wife Joan took over in 1978 and were later joined by their youngest son Jed, who has been the general manager for the past six years.
Many meals are still served in the lodge’s dining room just as they were 100 years ago. We enjoyed the à la carte dinner menu offered from 6:30 to 8:30, Sunday to Thursday, with an ever-changing variety of apps, hot and cold soups, salads, and entrées, plus a chef’s station with lobster and a carved item like prime rib with sides, and eight dessert choices. Some traditional menu carryovers from year’s past included raspberry shrub, which is sorbet with cranberry juice, and a relish plate service.
The gourmet buffet on Saturday night is headlined by a four-foot copper platter filled with chilled lobster tails and claws, and an extravagant dessert buffet with a time-honored selection of Key lime pie, truffles, chocolate-covered strawberries, and almond brittle. (If any of these choices are missing, someone is sure to complain.).
The dining area includes an adult room as well as a family room, for groups with children under six. The Zoo is a great free program where kids eat and are supervised by babysitters from 6-9 pm, allowing parents to enjoy the main dining room.
As has been the tradition for 100 years, gentlemen are asked to wear a jacket to dinner at the main lodge, and women dress accordingly. While it may seem like an antiquated rule, in these days of anything goes at restaurants, it was one of my favorite touches, setting as it did the tone for a more elevated dining experience and conversation.
Full American Plan
The full American plan with all meals and activities included in the per-person rate has been the program from the start, and continues to this day. The bonus is that we didn’t have to think about money the whole time we were at Migis. As well as all meals, we enjoyed multiple waterskiing outings, and the use of canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, fishing gear, and the wood-fired sauna. There were also sailboats, tennis courts, exercise classes, a disc golf course, as well as evening events including karaoke, bingo, bonfire nights with s’mores, and fireworks for July 4th and the closing weekend. (Only alcohol, motorboat rentals, massages, and guides are not included.)
An additional complimentary benefit is Mary, the photographer (also called the Director of Nostalgia for her photo archives), who takes quality photos of guests that are loaded on a computer in lobby and on Flickr for download. She is always happy to take a family portrait, many of which end up on holiday cards in December.
Until the 1980s, Migis was an adult-only resort, now it’s all about the kids. Added in the 1990s and expanded over the years, the complimentary Kids Camp (ages 4-6) and Adventure Camp (7 and up) provide children with activities from noon to 5 pm seven days a week.
A number of special events have been planned to celebrate the centennial summer, including weekly birthday celebrations with cake and Champagne, throw-back menu items at dinner such as tomato aspic and Indian pudding, and history/memory talks with second-generation Porta owner, Tim, who has been at Migis since his parents bought it in 1968.
Another centennial special is a partnership with Camp Sunshine, a nearby retreat for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. Migis has a goal to raise $250,000 in order to send 100 families to Camp Sunshine in honor of the 100th.
What is now called Cookout Point, with its pines and views of the Dingley Islands, has been part of the property since the beginning. About 50 years ago it became the site of the outdoor lunches served everyday, as well as the Friday night lobster bake and Sunday cookout breakfast.
We joined most of the guests there for the daily cookout lunch, which was great for the kids, as they could come in their bathing suits. The spread included lobster rolls and sandwich fixings, as well as hot dogs and grilled cheese. Particularly popular was the ice cream sundae stand, with chocolate and caramel hot sauce, marshmallow fluff, and cherries for the top.
The Friday night lobster bake includes complimentary cocktails beforehand, and all the clam chowder, steamers, and lobster we could eat on picnic tables with red-and-white checkered tablecloths. Tim Porta, with his long white beard, could be found on the grill or serving the strawberry shortcake for dessert with the all the fixings.
The Sunday cookout breakfast is also on Cookout Point, with stacks of pancakes as well as blueberry muffins, and everyone’s favorite—handmade donuts.
Eleven of the 35 cottages were built in 1916 and named after states, including South Wind, which was originally called Connecticut. Today the cottages range from occupancy of two to 10, and most feature porches with views of the lake and fieldstone fireplaces. We found the Loon cottage, with its spacious living room and separate bedroom with two queen beds, plenty of room for a family of four. Located near the tennis courts with views of the Dingley Islands from the rocking chairs on the porch, it was central yet private.
Fire and Ice
Since the very first summer, cabin boys have delivered ice to the cottages, and carefully laid the makings for a fire in the fireplace. Until around 1958, the ice was cut from Sebago Lake and stored in sawdust in the icehouse. The kindling and paper laid in the fireplace has always been prepared with a magic formula so guests can light it with a single match, and a little TLC. They way the glow from the fireplace warmed the honey-colored wood of the cottage interior made us feel as if we’d been transported back to an earlier time.
The lake itself is perhaps the most constant element of the Migis experience. Thanks to preservation efforts, the view from lodge is nearly the same as it was in 1916. The 3,500 feet of lakefront looks out to the Dingley chain of private islands, behind which is Millstone Island, where the Wednesday steak roast is held for those who opt to take the Tykona II, a vintage lake cruiser, out for lunch. We especially enjoyed the sunsets from the lodge situated on the west-facing shore.
Guests to Migis often remember the firewood log walls that have weaved around the property for as long as anyone can remember. Migis burns about 30 cord of wood a year, which they buy green from Maine forests and age on the property for 15 to 18 months before using. What arrived last spring gets burned this summer. Over the course of 18 months, the walls slowly dwindle and are rebuilt, but their presence remains constant.
Migis is sometimes described in terms of the retreat in the movie Dirty Dancing, a rural camp where wealthy urban families return every summer and engage in the same traditional activities. While this is in part true, minus the dirty dancing scenes (for the most part), it doesn’t capture the essence of what is so magical about a stay at Migis, and that has everything to do with the timelessness of the experience.
Time passes here, but not as quickly as it seems to elsewhere. When on summer vacation from our busy lives, this reminder of the mirage of time is a welcome bonus.
As Gabriel García Márquez writes in “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” in a conversation between the family matriarch and her great-grandson:
“‘What did you expect?’ he murmured. ‘Time passes.’
‘That’s how it goes,’ Úrsula said, ‘but not so much.’”
Melissa Coleman has written for publications including The New York Times, O, The Oprah Magazine, and National Geographic Traveler. She is the author of This Life is In Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres and a Family’s Heartbreak, a New York Times bestselling memoir and finalist for the New England Book Award, about growing up during the 1970s back-to-the-land movement. She lives in Maine and can be found at melissacoleman.com.