A landmark Kennebunkport inn is looking for new owners.
By Joe Bills
Oct 24 2018
One of the grand dames of Kennebunkport’s historic residential district, the Captain Lord Mansion is on the market for the first time since 1978.Photo Credit : Robert A. Dennis
It’s been years since Bev Davis and Rick Litchfield actually lived in the iconic Captain Lord Mansion in Kennebunkport, Maine. Yet as we tour the inn they’ve run for four decades, it’s clear that this property is their home.
“Our children grew up in the inn,” Davis recalls. “They would come after school. Their swing set was in the yard. When the girls were little, we didn’t really have Christmas at home—we did it here.”
“Forty years is a very long time,” Litchfield says. “The average for innkeepers is about five or six. But we’ve loved it here, and we found something we’re pretty good at.”
Ask anyone in the hospitality industry, and they’ll tell you that Litchfield is being modest. He and Davis are standard-setters in their business and have often served as advisers for others looking to replicate their success. Their 21-room inn is among the most celebrated in New England; it’s also the only one in Kennebunkport to achieve a Four Diamond rating from AAA.
These feats are all the more remarkable considering where the couple started.
In 1978, Davis and Litchfield were working in advertising in upstate New York. Davis’s job required her to move every 18 months, so they started looking for something else they might do, in a town where they could put down roots. On March 17, 1978, a broker showed them the Captain Lord Mansion. Exactly 90 days later, they became the owners. “It happened so fast that we didn’t have time for second thoughts,” Litchfield recalls.
The previous owner had originally intended to convert the building into office condominiums. After zoning ordinances deep-sixed that plan, it became a boardinghouse for elderly women. Litchfield and Davis inherited seven tenants, all in their 80s and 90s. “The ladies stayed, until one by one they moved out as they needed more care,” Litchfield says. “We’d serve family-style meals at lunch and dinner, and deliver breakfast to their rooms.”
Over time, Litchfield and Davis remodeled the rooms, adding fireplaces and bathrooms and sprinkling in nods to the pedigree that had earned the mansion a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
The house was built in 1814 by Captain Nathaniel Lord, a shipbuilder and merchant whose business interests had been put on hold by a British blockade during the War of 1812. Taking advantage of the lull, Lord commissioned his idle workers to construct a three-story Federal mansion that would be the grandest in town. Lord died in 1815, but his widow, Phebe, lived there for 50 years, and the property remained in the Lord family for seven generations.
At first, Litchfield and Davis lived in a three-room suite on the ground floor. But after they had two babies within 14 months, they realized it was in the best interest of their guests, their kids, and their own relationship to add a little space to the equation, so they moved into a house nearby.
As we talk, Litchfield and Davis pause occasionally to greet returning guests or answer questions. An employee called in sick this morning, so Davis is helping in the kitchen. Someone wants more clothes hangers in their room. The plumber has arrived to check on a leak.
The innkeepers are proud of their ability to change with the times. “When we started, fax machines were just coming in,” Litchfield says with a laugh. Today it’s all about the Internet and social media. Rooms are perpetually being improved and modernized.
“Kennebunkport has grown up around us,” Litchfield says. “When we first came here, there wasn’t much beyond the beach. The shops would close on Labor Day.” He identifies the 1981 debut of the Christmas Prelude and the spotlight that came with the first Bush presidency as turning points in Kennebunkport’s becoming a year-round destination.
In summer, the inn’s gardens burst with flowers. The lawns are manicured; there’s even a putting green. A brick walkway has been reimagined as a memory garden. Each of the nearly 1,000 guests who have visited 10 times or more has been honored with his or her name engraved on a brick.
Forty years ago, Davis and Litchfield purchased a project, but what they will hand off to new owners is a turnkey operation complete with fully upgraded infrastructure, a gift shop, a spa, and a dedicated staff of 18.
“We’ve been privileged to own the Captain Lord Mansion,” Litchfield says. “I feel like we’ve built something special here. I hope that whoever comes next can carry that forward. We’ve cared for this building, and our guests, and our staff for so long…. It will probably take some time to figure out who we are without it.”
The Captain Lord Mansion is being offered for $6.9 million. Contact Kimberly Swan of the Swan Agency, Sotheby’s International Realty, at 207-288-5818, or go to maineinnsforsale.com.