The Center Lovell Inn, featured as our “House for sale” in 1992, is located next to Maine’s beautiful lake Kezar – but it isn’t the picturesque setting, or even the delicious bistro food that it’s famous for (though it’s certainly famous for those too). Rather, the Center Lovell Inn is known for how it has […]
The Center Lovell Inn, featured as our “House for sale” in 1992, is located next to Maine’s beautiful lake Kezar – but it isn’t the picturesque setting, or even the delicious bistro food that it’s famous for (though it’s certainly famous for those too). Rather, the Center Lovell Inn is known for how it has changed hands over the years – by writers with a dream taking a leap of faith.
Excerpt from “’Are You Willing to Gamble on a Dream,” Yankee Magazine, December 1992.Have you ever dreamed of owning an inn? The Center Lovell Inn and Restaurant — located in Center Lovell, Maine — will be gifted to the winner of an essay contest titled, “Why I would like to own and operate a country inn.” Essays must be 200 words and submitted with a $125 entrance fee. This isn’t the first time the inn has been passed along in this manner, and we covered the story of the original essay contest that procured the inn 22 years ago!
It was purely by chance that Bil (yes, one “l”) and Susie Mosca, married just ten months, happened onto Yankee‘s “House for Sale” back in August 1974. They weren’t subscribers. His mother was, however, and they’d briefly stopped by her home in Connecticut to say good-bye to his brother, who was leaving on a trip. “While we were waiting around, I picked up her copy and opened it exactly to page 120,” Bil remembers, “and wow, I was struck. It was like destiny. Our lives were forever changed.”
The photographs on that page showed an 1805 three-story house on nine acres in Center Lovell, Maine. On the opposite page was the view of Kezar Lake and the White Mountains from the wraparound porch, an empty rocking chair in the foreground. Another photo showed the 38×100-foot barn described by us in the article as “straight as an arrow.”
We well remember our mosey up to Center Lovell back in the spring of 1974. “It doesn’t appear that the house is in the greatest of shape,” we subsequently wrote. “There are holes in the plaster, the porches are run down, and many areas appear to be isolated renovation projects yet to be completed.” We even criticized it for being too close to “a two-lane, winding country road” (Route 5) unless, we added, the new owner was interested in establishing “some sort of commercial enterprise here.”
That’s exactly what the Moscas were interested in establishing. Although Susie was a schoolteacher, Bil had been in and around the restaurant business in Connecticut from the time he was 16. They saw it as a country inn and restaurant. The day after seeing the article, they drove to Maine, looked at the property, made several offers, all refused, and finally agreed to pay the owner’s asking price: $39,500.
For the first five years they lived on the third floor with no heat. (They still live on the third floor—but with heat.) And they worked 18 hours a day, seven days a week, renovating, painting, and fixing up. By Memorial Day 1975 they had two rooms ready for guests and began serving Bil’s fabulous northern Italian dinners. Lobster fra Diavalo di Center Lovell Inn. Linguine Importato con Salsiccia o Polpette. Stuff like that. And people began to come.
They continued renovating until six guest rooms and lots of bathrooms were available. They fixed up the porch and served breakfasts out there. They bought an 1835 barbershop in town, hauled it up onto the property, and made it into five lovely guest rooms with baths. They had two children along the way, ran an antiques shop in the barn, began receiving rave reviews from all sorts of national and international publications, and after a few more years, found themselves doing so well they could afford to close down in the winter and take trips to places like Costa Rica and Venezuela. It’s really quite a wonderful success story.
Which brings us up to December 1992. After running the inn and restaurant for almost 20 years, the Moscas would now like to do something else. Maybe buy a business in Costa Rica, for instance. They like it down there. Or expand Bil’s furniture-making hobby. Or simply retire, dabble in real estate, and travel. Something. But this isn’t the time to sell real estate in New England. Buy, yes. But not sell. They’re not at all sure they could get the half million dollars this property is now worth. So they’ve come up with a little plan. Discussed it with the attorney general of the state of Maine, too—so that it’s legal in every way as well as fair. In brief, it’s this: After sending for an official application form, you write a 250-word essay about why you’d like to own and operate the Center Lovell Inn, and then before April 25, 1993, send it to the Moscas along with a bank cashier’s check or money order for $100, payable to”Center Lovell Inn Essay Contest.” This entry fee will then be placed in an escrow account at the local bank and returned to you if it turns out that not enough people enter the contest. If enough do—and we gather that would be somewhere in the vicinity of 5,000 entries (no more will be accepted)—then a panel of four independent judges (who, for the time being, must remain anonymous to avoid pressure), appointed by the Moscas and approved by the attorney general’s office, will select the winner on or before May 1, 1993. Then what? Well, then the entire property, now including four acres, will be transferred to the winner if said lucky person agrees to several things: 1) to pay current taxes, lawyer fees, title search fees, and such; 2) to operate the inn for a minimum of one year (in other words, you couldn’t just turn around and sell the property for a few thousand dollars); 3) to keep the buildings white with forest green or black shutters. If the winner doesn’t agree to these things, then the inn will go to the runner-up.
Do we think 5,000 Yankee readers will be willing to part with $100 for this? Hard to say. The odds on winning are certainly far better than any sweepstakes. And several years ago almost 18,000 subscribers sent in for a collection of Christmas cookie recipes from Wellesley, Massachusetts. But then those were free. We’ll just have to see… (In one of next summer’s issues, we’ll definitely tell you what happens and also publish the winning essay.) As you can surmise, the property today is in immaculate condition. All the rooms and bathrooms have been beautifully restored, furnished, and decorated. The wraparound porch, now screened in and solid, is as nice a place to eat breakfast as you can imagine. The two connecting dining rooms, one facing the mountains, are elegant. In the parlor is a piano where guests often sing songs after dinner. Of course some of them prefer simply to walk in the fields outside to see the moon shining over the White Mountains and listen to the silence.
In our recent tour of the place this past August, we particularly loved the kitchen. It’s large and yet informal. Big pots and pans are hanging about, and there’s lots of shiny stainless equipment. Here Bil is king, while Susie functions as “the front-end person.”
“She knows how to make our guests happy in every way,” Bil told us, “and I, well, I know how to cook memorable meals.” (If you’re serious about getting into the inn business, remember that you and your spouse must be a good working team. Every successful innkeeper has told us that.) And on the kitchen refrigerator is a little sign Susie told us is her favorite, even if both her teenage kids think it’s corny. “If you want the rainbow,” it says, “you gotta put up with the rain.”
Check out the Center Lovell Inn & Bistro
Have you ever stayed at the Center Lovell Inn?