The golden age of maritime trade and seagoing adventure comes alive at the Kennebunkport Inn – one of the Travel Channel’s “Best of Maine Escapes” – in the heart of the village at Dock Square, just a mile upstream from where the Kennebunk River empties into the Atlantic. Built on property dating back more than two centuries, today it’s just steps away from exquisite shopping, dining, and cultural offerings. For guests, visitors, and history buffs who’d like to learn more of the inn’s backstory, here’s a brief timeline of the more than two centuries of the Kennebunkport Inn history.
1801-1888: Tall Ships Ahoy
At the dawn of a new century, Ephraim Perkins, of the prominent Perkins family of merchants and sea captains, deeds 15 acres fronting the Kennebunk River, to his son, Ephraim Perkins Jr., who makes a home for his family here, amid the thriving commercial enterprises of this bustling waterfront, a hub of Maine’s proud shipbuilding industry. Seven generations of the Perkins family would call this place home, until descendants Abbie Perkins and her son Harry sell the property to Harriet Thompson, passing the inn out of the Perkins line.
1888-1926: Gracious Living
By 1899, Harriet Thompson’s son, Burleigh S. Thompson, a wealthy coffee and tea merchant, would decide to tear down the 100-year-old Perkins house to build “a fine and modern mansion” on the same foundation on Dock Square. Contemporary accounts call his grand new home “one of the most desirable estates in Kennebunkport … the house [having] been built without regard to expense.” Indeed, this lovely Federal-style house is graced by four open fireplaces, a parlor, a library, a butler’s pantry, and a servants’ dining room. Included with the 4-acre property are 400 feet of frontage on the Kennebunk River and a private-float boat landing, plus a barn and a large stable, the latter “having accommodations for male servants,” as well as land and buildings on Temple Street.
1926-2001: A Legacy of Hospitality
Thompson wills his property to his daughter, wife of Captain Daniel Dudley, who sells the Thompson house to Jacob Lloyd Hackenberg and his brother Murray of Pennsylvania. Heeding the call of the new era of travel and tourism, the owners renovate the main building, add a cocktail lounge and dining room, open the house as an inn (rooms go for $3 a night), and construct an annex. In the mid-1950s in a bold and controversial move, they build shops on the property along Spring Street, as well as a laundromat and apartment on Temple Street. Despite the clamor of their neighbors, the Hackenbergs also open a take-out sandwich shop.
In 1961, the Hackenbergs sell the inn – now with 10 guest rooms in the main building, 26 in the annex, 3 dining rooms, a kitchen, a lounge, and offices — to town tax collector Thelma Burrows and her husband, Joseph, who remove the offending take-out booth and open the inn for year-round business. Ted and Marie Shields take over the inn in 1976, renovating the annex — the newly christened Riverhouse. Three years later, the property passes to Frederick and Martha Griffin. Among the changes they introduce are a new year-round dining room, “not really formal but nice, country, relaxing without being folksy.”
2001-present: New Century, New Traditions
Debra Lennon, a 20-year veteran of the hospitality industry, and husband Thomas Nill, a construction manager and master carpenter, purchase the inn, redecorating the guest rooms and public areas. Gleaming new wood flooring in the pub, stenciling in the Riverhouse, a new sundeck and outdoor fireplace, plus stunning sunset views over the river basin, add to the property’s charm and comfort.
The inn becomes part of the Kennebunkport Resort Collection in 2009. Retaining the inn’s gracious character while infusing it with contemporary flair, renovations and décor are guided by Kennebunkport’s colorful history as a shipbuilding and fishing village, as well as the 1899 home’s original Federal-style architecture. Combining the timeless appeal of traditional New England hospitality and the elegance of a modern world-class establishment, the inn’s beautifully appointed guest and public rooms offer classic luxury, period style, and a heritage of warm and welcoming ambience. Open year round, the Kennebunkport Inn offers 35 casually sophisticated hotel lodging accommodations located in the main Inn or in the adjacent Riverhouse building.