A Story 85 Years in the Making

collage of old photos of the resort The History of The Dunes on the Waterfront

Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller were all the rage. Clark Gable and Bette Davis (who also happened to be Ogunquit’s first female lifeguard) ruled the silver screen. The New Deal was in full swing. Hopes and dreams abounded. And The Dunes on the Waterfront opened its first cottages.

The Dunes is part of a long line of American family resorts that became popular in the early 20th Century. Times were changing. Armed with cars, a little extra cash, and craving time outside, American families took to the coasts and highlands. To meet this new demand for vacation locations, private and public seaside resorts sprung up all across the country.

Both Russell and Beatrice Perkins had deep family roots in York and Ogunquit and knew the area well. So in 1935 the couple purchased 12 acres of rolling pastureland just across the tidal river from Ogunquit Beach. Their dream – to build a cottage colony.

The Dunes on the Waterfront first opened in 1936 with four cottages – the 1,2,3 and 4 cottages. Our cottages are numbered in the order in which they were built. Today there are 17 cottages and 19 guest rooms.

Russell  and  Beatrice’s vision was to build a“self-contained” tourist destination offering a collection of vacation cottages and on-site activities like swimming, boating, games and more. The goal was simple. To encourage families and groups of friends to come together to recreate outdoors and refresh themselves in the clean and open surroundings.

Guests soon started arriving by train and automobile from all over the country. At that time, The Dunes catered to families looking for longer stays – ranging from a month to the whole season. In fact, many viewed our cottage resort as their second home.

old photo of the cottage exteriorsTraditional cottage resorts like The Dunes have a unique architectural style and layout. The cottage-style buildings allowed whole families to come and stay together, and the grouping of cottages across one property re-created a neighborhood feel in a remote setting. This way, guests could network with other like-minded vacationers and intermingle with extended family.

These folks wanted to escape their suburban location and the stresses of technology without sacrificing the social aspects of it. In a way, the traditional cottage resort allowed them to transpose the best of their society onto a new and refreshing landscape (in our case, the stunning expanses of the tidal river and Ogunquit Beach). In other words, they would ditch the roads, but retain the friends.

Soon the car replaced the train as the primary method for reaching The Dunes. Business increased steadily as word spread about the tiny little coastal town and the cottage resort. Thirty years after first opening,  the couple’s son Richard  married in 1966 and he and his wife Cynthia moved to the resort and took over the reins. As the resort continued to expand, their children, Aaron and Michelle grew up on the grounds and in the business. Fifteen years ago, Aaron took over day-to-day operations and continued to expand on his grandparents’ vision.

“Trying to maintain the character of the business and creating a place a little bit different from the typical hotel experience, where people can come enjoy the  scenery, beach and be here with their families. It’s a continuing challenge that we still thrive on.” Aaron likes to point out to guests and friends.

Today, resorts with vacation cottages for rent are still beloved but not as ubiquitous as they were in the 1930s. Part of a great tradition of American leisure, this history makes the Dunes even more of a gem for the people who’ve found it. As our guests will tell you, our classic cottage details, and old-school layout, allows you to relish history and its simpler times. Of course we have added a few modern amenities for your comfort.

If you’re looking to take a step back in time while taking advantage of all Ogunquit has to offer, please come stay with us in the same classic whitewashed cottages with green shutters that Russell and Beatrice first designed over 85 years ago.

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