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A Trip Down Memory Lane with Marion Morrell Owen

The Story of Pine Hill Restaurant and Cabins Resort in Conway

Marion Morrell Owen moved to Conway from Manchester in 1930, when she was in the 4th grade. Her family ran the Pine Hill Cottages and Resort on Route 16 – now the site of Banners Restaurant – and young Marion enjoyed being part of the resort’s success. Rachael Brown. (click for larger version)
September 17, 2010
"I was in fourth grade when we moved to Conway. By the time I was 12, I was renting cabins," says Marion.

She explained that her family bought the former Bemis Homestead and Pine Hill Dining Room next to Benson Circle off Route 16 in Conway. Her father worked on the railroad, and he traveled to Boston one day a week. Wiona Morrell was a homemaker who had a vision and a determination to move the family out of the west side of Manchester.

"My mother was a visionary," Marion told us, and Wiona wanted to move the family out of the city. "My mother's mother was a natural born teacher, always loved the woods and was part of the inspiration to move from the city," adds Marion. The family drove to Pinkham Notch, across to Jefferson, down Crawford Notch and found the property in Conway. "Mother had inherited some money from an elderly aunt she cared for and purchased the property," says Marion.

The property consisted of a dining room building, a home, and a small gas station. "We took the gas pumps out, never sold gas. Mother didn't want to sell food and gas on the same property," says Marion.

Instead, they built six cabins on the property during the first year. Floyd Stevens, who had a sawmill in Fryeburg, built the cabins. Wiona's requirements were very specific. She told Floyd that she wanted the windows in the cabins placed so you couldn't look into other cabins, explains Marion. It was also imperative that each cabin be equipped with a toilet and hot and cold running water.

"My mother used to say that she didn't want guests walking down the row of cabins to go take a shower, so each cabin would have hot and cold water." The cabins were the first in the Valley to have such an amenity and in addition, each sported inner spring mattresses. "Mother always said she didn't want guests to sleep on bumpy, lumpy mattresses," Marion remembers.

The cabins were heated with wood stoves. It helped that her father chopped wood on his days off from the railroad (firewood cost $1 to $1.50/cord at the time), but that wasn't the only source of wood for the enameled wood stoves. There was a heel factory close by which made wooden heels for ladies' shoes. "We burned the culls from the wood heels; it was kiln-dried wood and gave a very intense heat," says Marion. She explains there was an old pony stall on the property and that's where they stored the culls. "Ruth [Bob Morrell's wife] and I would take the heels and attach them to our feet with elastic bands. We had a lot of fun," Marion said with a grin.

Marion fondly remembers a particular parade which took place in town. "Once there was a parade I shall never forget," she says. The heel mill made a float for a parade in the shape of a heel. Marion says there was a pretty young child sitting on top of the float. The image of the heel float and the pretty little girl still sticks out in her mind.

There are other stories she remembers, too.

"I remember a funny story about the kitchen," she says. While her grandmother cooked, all the kids helped out. One summer, a group of school children from Massachusetts came up to visit the mountains. "We would serve Indian pudding with ice cream for dessert," says Marion. "Or maybe it was gingerbread… I don't think young children would like the taste of the cornmeal in the Indian pudding," she adds. When it was time to make the ice cream, the salt and sugar were kept in similar large bins in the kitchen and, yes, it was the salt that was added to the cream rather than the sugar.

"We had a lot of butter for awhile!" she says, chuckling. "My Dad had to run into town to buy ice cream — this probably cut into the profits."

A profitable venture

Speaking of profits, the cabins were so successful the first year that the following year, in 1931, the Morrells built six more. There was a swath of open land intended for a toboggan run and ski jump as well, but that never did get built. People traveled from far away to stay at the cabins and dine in the restaurant.

"Our guests came from New York and Long Island, most came for weekends. We charged $1.25 per adult. Some of the cabins had a double bed and some had a double bed with a twin bed. I think we charged $1 for children," she explains.

Marion says she thought places like New York were far, far away, but, well, they were! The trip from New York began as a two- day trip, but as the roads improved, this would become a day's journey, she says.

People came to enjoy the bounty of the Saco River. "It was very fertile land, with cows grazing, and you'd be surprised how much land there was by the river across the street from where Importech and Kentucky Fried Chicken are now located," Marion explained. "When I was a young girl, I used to be afraid of the cows," she also admitted.

Marion tells of river swimming. "Mother bought a row boat for the guests to use. Every summer, guests would take a picnic up the Saco where there was a big rock with horribly deep water. I didn't know how to swim and wasn't allowed to go," says Marion. The deep water didn't keep the guests or the waitresses away, though. Waitresses used to look forward to a swim after their lunch shifts, says Marion.

Another era begins

The Morrells owned the resort until 1945. Times were changing during the World War II years. "My father still worked the railroad. He had the Worcester, Mass., to Portland run and didn't get home as often. In 1945 my mother was 51 years old and found that it was too much responsibility to maintain by herself," says Marion.

Marion was married in 1944, and gave birth to a daughter in November of 1945. She and her husband then moved to Colebrook, where her husband's family lived. Around the same time, Wiona and Edmund Morrell began looking at houses closer to town. "Dad didn't get home much after the war and rather than Mother being out of town two miles, they had a chance to buy a house in Center Conway," says Marion. "I was up in Colebrook and Mother called to say the Seidensteuckers were interested in buying the property," she continues.

The resort was sold to Karl and Hugena Seidensteucker the day before Christmas 1945, and another era began for the Pine Hill Cabins and Resort. Be sure to pick up the next issue of The Mountain Ear to read the rest of the story.

Martin Lord Osman
Brewster Academy
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