As a local historian, I speak to lots of people whose ancestors grew up in Kennebunkport. I frequently hear the lament, “I wish I had listened more carefully to my grandparents talk about their lives while I had the chance.”
When our grandparents were half-listening to the family stories their grandparents told, tea houses were all the rage, from Goose Rocks Beach to Kennebunk Beach, from Cape Arundel to Town House Corners, from Dock Square to Lower Village. During Prohibition, new tea rooms were appearing in Kennebunkport right and left. The Editor of the Turn o’ the Tide joked that every housewife wishing to improve her property value now serves afternoon tea to the public in her front parlor.
Some establishments that later earned popularity for serving up other refreshments were once tea houses. The Pilot House in Kennebunk Lower Village started out as a tea house after the trains stopped running. Forefathers Inn at the Town House was first a tearoom. Water from a natural spring on the Arundel property was reportedly used to brew an exceptional pot. The Perkins Grist Mill was a tea house in the early 1940s. The Lyric Theatre was originally built as the Colonial Inn Tearoom.
At Goose Rocks Beach, The Acorn Tea Shop operated in the 1930s and 40s on Kings Highway between Belair and Bartlett Avenues. It is now a private cottage known as Delmar. The Bayberry Tearoom was part of Eliot O’Hara’s Watercolor School at the east end of the beach. It did not survive the fire of ’47. Kennebunk Beach visitors loved their afternoon tea at The Daisy Shop on Lord’s Point near Eureka Baths and Gray’s Tearoom at the Cove House was popular.
The most famous of all Kennebunkport tearooms was probably the Bonnie Brig. It sat at the corner of South Main St and Colony Ave across from the Arundel Casino. Author Booth Tarkington (with Harry Leon Wilson) made a facsimile of the Bonnie Brig Tearoom famous on Broadway as the primary setting for one of his most successful plays, Tweedles. Margaret Garrard purchased Glen Cottage in 1900. She hired Architect William Barry to transform the old cape and ran the Bonnie Brig Tearoom there for twenty years. Later owners renamed the tea house, “The Old Tree Tea Tavern” and then “Periwinkle” but in 1926 the name reverted to The Bonnie Brig Tearoom. The property is now a much-loved home.
Tea Houses are once again tres chic. Tomorrow afternoon at 4PM, The Kennebunkport Historical Society is offering a Grandparent’s Afternoon Tea on The Nott House garden patio. Don’t miss this opportunity to share your family history with your grandkids over a cuppa. Who doesn’t love a tea party with Nana? Our fearless leader will be there to encourage conversation.