Joe Jenkins can’t count how many times someone has come up to him over the decades and asked to buy Jenkins Beach, his family’s resort on Green Lake in Dedham that has served as a summer escape for local families and tourists for close to a century.
Every time some rich guy came up to him with his checkbook open, Jenkins said no. He has no interest whatsoever in turning his small lakeside resort into a playground for the wealthy.
“They always say, ‘Everybody’s got a price, and I’ll find yours,’ and I just kind of laugh and say, ‘good luck,’” said Jenkins, now 81, the third generation of the Jenkins family to operate the resort. “One guy told me he could buy and sell this place 100 times over. And I said ‘I don’t know how you’d do that, since I’m not selling it.’”
Finally, though, Jenkins has found the right buyer: his daughter, Julie, who with her husband Duncan Dwyer took over ownership of Jenkins Beach earlier this year. She’s now the fourth generation of the Jenkins family to own and operate the property since her great-grandfather bought it in 1930.
“People have been coming here for multiple generations, whether they rent a cottage, or they bring their family for the day to swim or boat,” Julie Jenkins said. “We don’t want to change that. We don’t want to lose something that is so precious to how people enjoy their summers in Maine.”
But Jenkins Beach still needs an update. The three rental cottages are being fully renovated and upgraded with heat pumps and internet, two new rental units will be added in the coming months, and the main building and snack bar will be remodeled as well.
The beach itself — around 2,000 square yards of sand trucked in over the decades to create a sandy area where there never naturally was one — will see new docks and floats.
To do that, the new owners won’t be opening the beach to the public until the latter half of the summer, and only for a few weekends at that. That way, next summer, Jenkins Beach can reopen with a fresh new look for the next generation.
Many longtime family businesses in Maine — especially those in the service or recreation industries — aren’t able to continue as subsequent generations decide they don’t want to take on the business. Julie Jenkins knows that, which is why she wants to keep it going despite her and her husband having their own established careers.
“It’s definitely a labor of love,” she said. “I just think it’s really important to make sure people still have access to something like this. Not everybody is lucky enough to have their own camp, so we can kind of be that Maine camp for them.”
Jenkins Beach originally opened around 1920 as Peterson’s Beach, named for the family from which William Partridge Jenkins, Joe Jenkins’ grandfather, bought the property in 1930. It was popular from the get-go, with the rise of the widespread use of automobiles meaning people could easily make the trek down Route 1A from Bangor to spend a few dollars for the family to have a day at the beach or rent a boat.
By the 1960s, Jenkins Beach would see weekends where it was so packed you’d have to park more than a half-mile down winding Green Lake Road. Competition was fierce for good spots to lay a blanket on the beach, and sometimes things got out of hand — at least, until the Jenkins family banned alcohol in 1984.
“That really helped slow things down and really make this more of a family establishment. All those folks that wanted to drink went over to Violette’s,” Joe Jenkins said, referring to the now-closed Violette’s Landing, on the other side of Green Lake.
When the beach reopens full-time next year, Julie Jenkins said they plan to have a new system in place to better manage crowds, parking and rentals, possibly involving online or phone reservations, so that the sometimes-chaotic days don’t return.
William Partridge Jenkins ran the beach for a few years in the 1930s before Ray Jenkins and his wife Phoebe, took it over. They ran it until the late 1970s, when Joe Jenkins took it over. Joe has been running the beach ever since, but when he turned 80, the discussion about his daughter taking it over got serious.
Julie Jenkins, who last year finished a doctorate in nursing practice at Johns Hopkins University, is a longtime reproductive health nurse practitioner, and is director of the Abortion Freedom Fund and a strategist and manager at the National Abortion Federation. Dwyer has a consulting firm offering workshops and training on harm reduction and reducing stigma around people who use drugs.
“Neither of us want to give up the careers that we have worked so hard for,” Dwyer said. “But we recognize that we can build something beautiful here, and continue this family business that has been so special for so long.”
Dwyer has taken a temporary leave of absence from his work to coordinate the renovations this year, and both are ferrying between Dedham and their year-round home in New Hampshire almost every week to make it all work. Next year, they hope to hire a full-time, year-round manager to run the place.
Both Jenkins and Dwyer wanted their son, 7-year-old Parker, to grow up on the lake, and gain the same physical and emotional skills that they did as kids, learning to swim and paddle and respect the natural world.
“We want every kid to have that kind of experience,” Jenkins said. “I know what it did for me growing up, and if we can continue to offer that for more generations, then I’m really happy with the choice we made.”