By Joan Macri
For the first half of the twentieth century, on a hot summer’s day, Rice’s Beach, now known as Simpson’s Beach, was the place to go. Located on the east shore of Taylor Pond just off of Hotel Road, Rice’s Beach was a public beach that offered lovely white sand, benches, swing sets, teeter-totters, bath houses, and McGlinchey’s Store, where one could buy anything from franks to potato chips and soft drinks—just what one needed for a day at the beach. Over time, the bathhouses were replaced by four small rental cottages that were in high demand in the summer months.
Young swains would take their lady friends paddling in the canoes available for rent, occupy the benches overlooking the beach to enjoy a fine sunset, and finish off a perfect Saturday by enjoying a dance or two at Roy Wallingford’s dance pavilion, “The Showboat.”
Various camps encircled the beach. Some of the same families still own these properties today and have vivid memories of what Rice’s Beach once was and what is became over time.
David Rand’s family bought their place on Willard Road in 1932. He was three at the time and has spent his entire life observing all the changes. A civil engineer for the Maine DOT who surveyed the original path for the Maine Turnpike from Augusta to Sidney, he still thinks like the surveyor he once was and produced the wonderful maps seen below. Drawn from memory, they vividly capture the amusements offered by Rice’s Beach and eventually Simpson’s Beach until the entire property was purchased by the Toussaint family in the 1990’s.
Mr. Rand recalls being struck by the way the four small cottages that replaced the original bathhouses were constructed. Built by Thomas Simpson when he took over ownership of the beach in the 1960’s, they were constructed largely of scrap lumber he had left over from his contracting jobs in town. According to Mr. Rand, Tom Simpson was “a clever carpenter who could get a cheap job that looked good.” While they may have been “cute” in Mr. Rand’s then-young eyes, they were not built to last. Each cottage’s foundation was a 4’ by 8’ wooden board placed directly on the ground!
A boathouse close to the beach rented canoes by the hour. A big swim raft and an enormous wooden diving platform dominated the water well into the 1950’s. By that time, the area was called Simpson’s Beach. Ken Lord, whose family bought their camp in 1943 on what is now Waterview Drive, remembers the attractions of the beach well. The beach area was public. There was a large building enclosed by screens with an arcade, a snack bar, popcorn machine, and an open area. According to Lord, it was akin to anything to be found in Old Orchard Beach, the exemplar of all things summer in those days. Behind this building was an old black train engine and sometimes even pony rides.
According to Lord, “the big attraction for us was the diving platform.” It contained three diving boards, the highest at 20 feet above the water. Lord was under strict instructions from his parents that he and his twin brother Keith were NOT to venture onto the highest board—so of course he did. He called himself a dare-devil back in those days and one day decided to not only go off the high board but to do a back flip! And he injured his neck. When he returned home, his mother immediately noticed there was something wrong and asked what he had done to his neck. He said “I don’t know” and his parents panicked. This was the early 1950’s and people were terrified of polio. They called Dr. Gross who immediately came to the house. Yes, doctors still made “house calls” in those days. The doctor examined Lord carefully and then assured the parents that, although he was not sure what was wrong with the neck, it was not polio. And, of course, Lord did not “fess-up.” After the Lords said goodbye to the doctor, they called Dr. Andrews, a chiropractor who lived nearby, who came over and manipulated Lord’s neck—and fixed the problem. When Dr. Gross returned the next day to check on his patient, he was amazed at the improvement in Lord’s neck. No one mentioned anything about the second house call the previous day. In the end, neither the doctor nor the parents were any the wiser.
Today Simpson’s Beach belongs to the Toussaint family and is private, but traces of its earlier history can still be seen. The stone seawall with a high curved arch is still there and a large wooden diving platform graces the cove, providing a great deal of fun for both the extended Toussaint Family as well a one particular cormorant who likes to survey the upper end of the pond from his perch high on the platform.
Thanks to David Rand and Kenneth Lord for their memories.
Resources include information from “Now and Then at Taylor Pond” (1985) by Helen Andrews and the Androscoggin Historical Society