The Rangeley Lakes in western Maine consists of five lakes – Rangeley, which was originally called Oquossuc Lake, Mooselookmeguntic, Upper and Lower Richardson, and Umbagog Lake. They are the headwaters of the Androscoggin River and are basically fed by the Kennebago and Cupsuptic Rivers.
Originally called the Androscoggin Lakes, for many years they competed with the Adirondacks as the best fishing resort in the East, and in Maine these lakes and Moosehead Lake were the most frequently visited regions. The region was not settled until 1815 and soon Squire James Rangeley purchased the town, which he operated like a feudal estate for a few years before moving on, leaving his name on the lake and town. Several dams were built at the foot of Rangeley Lake, Mooselookmeguntic and Lower Richardson, controlling the flow of water and the lake levels. Early on Upper Dam had a lumber camp where sportsmen could stay and at Middle Dam at the “Angler’s Retreat,” which was opened by Joshua G. Rich about 1860. In 1878 Middle Dam Camps were rebuilt on the site of the older camps, and are the oldest continually operating sporting camps in Maine.
George Soule, an old guide, had a small cottage near the outlet of Rangeley Lakes which was later enlarged as the Mountain View House. The Oquossuc Angling Club was founded in 1867, was the first private sporting club in Maine and their camp, the Kennebago House, was open for many years. Here they operated one of the first salmon hatcheries in the nation at a brook that empties into Bemis Cove.
Access to the Rangeley Lakes was first made from two points. Travelers could take the train to Bryant Pond, a stagecoach to Andover, a buckboard to South Arm and steamers to their hotels or camps. The other approach was by way of Farmington where a daily stage ran up the Sandy River to Phillips, and where visitors could stay at the Barden Hotel. The next day they would take a stage over the mountains to Greenvale on Rangeley Lake. Here they could stay at the Greenvale House or take a steam boat to Rangeley City, or the Mountain View House, where you could obtain a guide. A third approach was opened in the 1890s, when a train track was built up the Swift River to Bemis on Mooselookmeguntic Lake. This train station claimed to be the only log cabin railway station in the country. Also the Sandy River Railroad was built through Redington, affording a new approach to Rangeley City.
In its heyday the Rangeley Lakes had many large hotels available for hundreds of guests, several run by Capt. Fred Barker, who also ran steamboats. Here they were apt to meet Fly Rod Crosby, who wrote about the establishments and the many people who visited them. When the Maine Guide System was inaugurated, she received badge number one for her tireless promotion of the region.
Trips could also be taken to Kennebago Lake on a buckboard, where they could stay at the Forest Retreat and later at Grant’s Kennebago Camps, where they could be entertained with Ed Grant’s wonderful stories. Later sporting camps were erected on nearby Saddleback Lake, Loon Lake and Dodge Pond, and today there are fewer hotels at Rangeley, but there are available sporting camps, cabins and other hostelries.