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Bottling museum showcases history of famous Maine brand

The original Poland Spring, a flow of water bubbling up through granite, was discovered in 1845 by farmer Hiram Ricker.

POLAND, MAINE, Maine — The building is simply elegant, inside and out. Italianate in style, with gleaming marble columns and walls, a coat of arms inlaid on the tile floor, along with the Latin phrase meaning “Wisdom is a gift from God."

In the center of the sparkling white interior is a glass partition.

Behind that glass is a Maine treasure: the original Poland Spring.

That flow of water, bubbling up through granite, was discovered in 1845 by farmer Hiram Ricker, says Heather Printup, community relations manager for Poland Spring, the company that grew from the water in that spring.

Printup says the water was originally considered to have healing powers because Ricker told his doctor how good he felt after drinking a lot of it.

“And he said 'I found this water in the woods, I think tis magical,'” is how Printup explained the events that occurred more than 175 years ago.  

The doctor, Printup says, then promoted the water as a cure for a range of ailments.

“All these ailments that were actually caused by not drinking enough water, so when they started drinking more water it just cleansed their system. It wasn’t magical, not sent from the gods, it was just good, clean water,” Printup explained.

Ricker began bottling and selling the spring water, and the business was born a few years later. It grew and prospered. Ricker then created the elaborate Poland Spring Resort, which drew visitors and celebrities from around the country.

Credit: NCM

At the turn of the 20th century, Printup says Ricker built the two elegant buildings that became the spring house and the bottling plant.

“I fell in love with not just the buildings’ structure but the history,” Printup said, who began working for Poland Spring 20 years ago now when she was 19.

“It has so much rich history of the Ricker's and what they did for Maine.”

The spring house and the bottling plant have been preserved as the Poland Spring Bottling Museum, which reopened to the public this month after being closed for much of the past two years from the pandemic.

Credit: NCM

Printup says the old plant had closed in 1977 after the company built a new, modern plant not far away, which taps into the same water aquifer as the original spring. The old buildings sat neglected for two decades, until the company, then owned by Nestlé Waters, decided to restore them and create the museum.

Today, the buildings showcase both the architecture and the work history of the company. The water from the spring is still piped into the bottling plant and bubbles up into a stone tank. The original viewing room was restored, highlighting the lavish, quartersawn oak wainscoting and the large glass window, where resort guests could watch the bottling plant at work. Upstairs is the shower room, where employees were required to take a shower in heated Poland Spring water.

Credit: NCM

In addition to an extensive collection of bottles and other artifacts, there are photos showing the history of the company, as well as those showing the history of the resort and some of the famous visitors — from U.S. presidents to pro golfers and movie stars to even Babe Ruth.

Poland Spring is now owned by BlueTriton, which owns multiple water brands, but Printup says showing off its history is important for both the company and the state.

“It was their showpiece,” Printup says regarding the Ricker family that built the business. “They were proud of what they were bottling here, and they felt they had something special and wanted to share it with the world.”

As for maintaining the museum and promoting it, which does cost the company money, Printup says it's important to continue to honor the history of one of America's best-known brands.

“If you stop and think about it, there aren’t a lot of industries that can showcase where it all began.”

The museum is staffed by the Poland Spring Preservation Society, which also works to maintain the chapel on the resort property and the Maine State Building, which was built for the World’s Columbian Exposition that was held in Chicago in 1893. The elaborate building was purchased by Ricker after the exposition was over, and he brought it back to Maine and reassembled it for display at his resort. 

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