I recently purchased a copy of the book Northwoods Echoes, written and published privately in 1986 by Richard E. Pinette. Chapter 2 is titled “Dutton’s Island” and describes in entertaining detail Harry Dutton’s camp at Lake Umbagog in Maine. According to this book, the island was called by the locals “The Million Dollar Island” because of the money that Harry spent to build his summer home in the middle of Lake Umbagog. According to Pinette, the house, with its seven large bedrooms
. . . was beautifully designed to blend with the natural beauty of the island and the surrounding lake. Its interior was finished with exotic wood panels from distant parts of the world. The red-shingled roof, the first one of its kind in the entire region, sloped down to cover the wide porch which went completely around the mansion to offer breathtaking panoramic views for the guests as they sat outdoors in their comfortable rocking chairs, enjoying the cooling lake breezes during the hot summer days.
Pinette adds that Harry Dutton hired the finest cooks to prepare meals, as well as waiters and servants who served them in the beautiful dining room of the camp, decorated with parqueted wood floors, Persian rugs, and wood-panelled walls with mounted trophy heads from Harry’s hunting and fishing expeditions. The servants lived in separate servants’ quarters on the island (visible in the movies that I posted in the last blog post).
The Duttons love for the game of golf has been well documented, and an island in the middle of the rugged northwoods did not prevent Harry from participating in the sport:
[He] found a spot on the shore of the mainland and he had his own private golf course carved out of the forest at a place known as “Tyler Cove.” Recently this writer [i.e., Pinette] made a special trip to that area to try to locate the site of the old golf course, now completely grown over with trees. With the aid of two foresters . . . the exact spot was located. Still distinguishable are a couple of the greens, now with spruce and fir trees up to fourteen inches in diameter growing out of what was once the putting surface.
With no suitable water supply available on the island, Harry Dutton laid a special pipe across the water on the lake bottom to bring fresh water from Tyler Spring on the mainland using mechanical pumps. A few years after the house was built, the windward shore of the island began to show signs of erosion.
Hundreds of huge blocks of quarried stones weighing several tons each were hauled across the lake ice in the winter months and . . . were used to erect a mighty sea wall and boat slip. The exquisite stone work resembled the walls of an ancient castle moat and they are still visible to boaters today.
In the 1940s, the Union Water Power Company, which controlled the level of the lake, developed plans for a larger and higher dam at Errol, New Hampshire, which would completely flood the island. The company purchased the island from Harry Dutton’s heirs and hired a contractor to dismantle and remove all of the buildings from the island. The buildings were torn down during the winter months and the materials were taken away over the lake ice. Ironically, the construction of the bigger dam never materialized. When Pinette wrote his account in 1986, he reported that the island was then leased to a married couple who used it as a weekend retreat. While the big house was gone, the massive stone walls built to prevent erosion were still intact, as was also the lighthouse. Although I cannot say for sure if the lighthouse survives today in 2014, a close-up aerial photo of the island from Google Maps shows a rounded construction that seems like it could very well be the lighthouse.
This rounded structure is located on the north side of the island, just to the left of the lone house in the photo, and is seen better in this closeup:
As it turns out, surprisingly, Harry Dutton’s large house has not completely disappeared. When the buildings on the island were razed, one of the wings of the mansion was cut away from the rest of the building and moved six miles over the ice to a spot just off Mill Road in the town of Upton, Maine, where it was set up on concrete supports. In 1986 it formed a section of the home of a young married couple. They had made some renovations, but most of the original interior had been preserved.
One room in particular has been left virtually intact, just as it was in those days of grandeur. We visited the room which had been the formal dining room. The refined grace and richness is still evident on every side. The sixteen-foot cathedral ceiling, which seems to reach for the sky, is of parqueted solid wood sections, each about three feet square and accentuated by criss-crossing heavy beams. The solid imported wood is tulip wood with a natural finish the color of honey, with a rich and deep tone instead of a shine. The walls are of the same pleasing patterns. One end of the preserved room is covered with wood and glass china closets built into the wall and divided by a solid wood, five-panel door, leading to what was then the pantry, a place where lights were displayed to signal the maids. . . . The wing of the Dutton mansion which was saved from destruction also included a section of the spacious porch which has now been closed in for an additional room. The original double-hung windows, which had faced the lake, are still in place and in good condition.
Pinette ends his account by noting wistfully that the island in the waters of Umbagog Lake is now just a skeleton of its former self:
Gone are the affluent guests, the maids and the servants of that grand era. Gone also is what was once perhaps the grandest mansion in these parts. . . . But the memories of the once glorious island live on, and the massive stone work which remains serves as a silent reminder of the magnificent days of Dutton’s Island, the “Million Dollar Island” in the heart of the northland.