Once a sheep meadow known as Ram Island, the summer colony of Taconnet on Great Pond is one of the most magical getaways in the Belgrades. The small, pine-sheltered haven is home to fifteen single-family cottages, a former privy building known as the University Club, and a main lodge with a dining hall and a traditional hearth room with games, books, a piano, ping-pong tables and a grand fireplace. Taconnet is guardian of the endearing traditions of a simpler lifestyle to which visitors have returned thankfully for generations.
The name Taconnet is derived from an Indian name for a 1600's village on Winslow Hill and for the region of Winslow, Waterville, and Oakland. Taconnet dates to 1881 when George F. Joyce, a schoolteacher from Massachusetts, was introduced to camping on Ram Island and adjacent Blueberry Island by his future wife, music teacher Arvilla Saunders of East New Sharon. With whole summers off and a pool of fellow teachers who were willing to pay for the experience, the campground soon expanded into a permanent summer establishment with several log and frame cabins, a dining room, and a lounge-library. In 1899 Joyce purchased the property from his father-in-law for $500.
For years, there was no electricity, no running water, and there were no phones. Ice was harvested from the lake and stored in an icehouse. Communal outhouses were used. These features were part of a close-to-nature lifestyle which included fishing, swimming and boating with family and friends while enjoying the calls of the loons, striking sunsets, excellent food, and thoughtful conversation and music in the Hearth Room. Transportation to and from the mainland was by "ferry", the grand name given the raft which was at first pulled along a cable hand-over-hand before being upgraded in later years to a hand crank. The ferry continues to be the island's trademark identifier to many long-time guests.
One of the first clay tennis courts in Maine was built on Ram Island in the late 1890’s, and two more courts were added in the early 1900’s. Lessons were provided and many tournaments took place among the guests. For many years, former Taconnet owner and USTA Hall of Famer, Lawrence Rice, coached countless young tennis players on the Taconnet courts.
The Club Taconnet Unit Owners Association, one of the first island associations in Maine, has been operating on Ram Island since the 1970s. Blueberry and tiny Huckleberry Island remain in the Joyce family.
Although the cottages on the shores of the island have all been improved over the years, each retains its own irreplaceable character. All cabins have bathrooms and small kitchens, but cooking is hardly a consideration given the extraordinary gourmet meals in the dining hall.
As in the old days, the daily schedule is simple. Wake-up is 7:30 a.m., breakfast buffet 8-9:00 a.m., sit-down lunch 12:30 p.m., and dinner 6:00 p.m. Guests are summoned to meals by an old wooden clacker, operated by an agile employee who runs around the island paths, often followed Pied Piper style by a group of excited young campers.
Days are still devoted to tennis, swimming, fishing, enjoying the sunsets, the loons, the peacefulness, and family and friends. For some guests the goal is not to leave the island all week, catching up on reading, and maximizing dock time. For others, local outings such as hiking nearby trails, riding the mailboat around the lake, golfing at area courses, mini-golf and ice cream at Giffords, and roller skating at Sunbeam Roller Rink in Smithfield are among the highlights.
If anything has changed in recent years, it is the focus on organized activities for children. There are supervised crafts and games each weekday morning, as well as evening activities. The staff, a crew of wholesome and enthusiastic college-age students, can be independently hired for childcare when they're off duty.
There are organized activities for adults, too. A favorite is round-robin tennis on the island's three clay courts.
Mostly, life at Taconnet remains what it has always been: simpler, more peaceful, and closer to nature.