81 Dingley Road Richmond ME, 04357 (207) 737-4752
In the tradition of the authentic Finnish sauna, the Richmond Corner Sauna Bath, as it used to be known, draws folks from all walks of life and from all corners of the world. Its roots really go back to another place and time.
Richard Jarvi, the sauna’s builder and owner, grew up in rural Vermont where his Finnish grandparents had their own sauna house on their farm in the hills near Ludlow. Taking a sauna bath twice a week was a ritual that became a lifelong practice.
"As a Finn, I grew up taking saunas. It’s just a natural thing. I’ve always done it.”
After high school Richard left Vermont and served six years in the navy and several years in the Gemini Space program before moving to Maine to work at the Etonic Shoe Company in Richmond. Later he took up carpentry, roofing, and farming while attending college classes at night.
In 1975 he and his wife came up with an idea to build a sauna bath house. Their lifestyle had always included going to saunas – they were regular customers at Dave’s Sauna in South Paris, Maine – so why not build their own? Plenty of land and lots of trees were available.
Being an engineer it didn’t take Richard long to design and build a concrete block sauna house with six wood-heated sauna rooms, adjoining dressing rooms, a large communal sauna room, and a waiting room. He constructed all of the woodstoves from his own design, buying scrap metal and parts from different sources, and welding them together just the way he wanted.
When he first let folks know about his plan, everybody seemed to like the idea and promised to come, especially the immigrant Russian families who were already familiar with saunas. But when he did open for business, it was a different story. Nobody came. Nobody except the back-to-nature hippies living in cabins in the woods who wanted a good steam and scrub once in a while.
He placed a whole lot of ads in every local paper within 30 miles and business took off. He was open 7 days a week from 3 to 9, for 365 days a year. All winter long customers came to enjoy the heat. Then the first warm day of spring arrived, and most everyone stopped coming. Very few folks wanted to use the sauna during the warmer months, and this was a hard lesson learned early on. He took on odd jobs to help make ends meet – and the sauna remained open seven days a week – in spite of the slow, and sometimes no, business. Richard worked at other jobs to make ends meet and to keep the sauna open.
A swimming pool and then an outside hot tub were added. The pool wasn’t enclosed at first and would ice over in winter. True to Finnish custom, a hole was chopped in the ice so the brave (or crazy) could take an icy cold plunge after a hot sauna.
This worked for years until one time Richard’s heart stopped momentarily when he was taking a dip into the icy water.
Well, he lived to tell about it and vowed it would be enclosed the next summer – and it was. He designed and built –with lots of help from friends – an arched wooden structure of ribs to go over the pool, with plastic sheeting covering it. Now the pool was available all year round during all weather.
Richard was cutting all the wood himself from his own land. There were about a thousand acres of woods. He’d go out with a chain saw, cut down four or five trees, hitch a chain to each, and drag them back with an old tractor that someone had made for him using a WWII Army ambulance truck that had a huge winch attached to it. For seven years he went by himself into the woods every few days and cut trees down, hauled them back, cut them up with a chainsaw, split the logs by hand, and carried the wood into the sauna rooms, built the stoves and had them going by 2 pm every day.
Richard’s sheer stubbornness was probably responsible for the sauna’s success, because anything that could go wrong usually did. Equipment was constantly breaking down, pumps burned out, chainsaws wouldn’t cut, wells ran dry, the hot tub and pool sprang leaks – it was always something. “Everything around here is crude and homemade, and evolved out of need.” Thank God for Mickey, Ruth, David, Adrian and all the others – together they fixed things that broke down, built the stoves, filled the wood racks and kept the place going.
During the early years when the sauna was open from 3 to 9, seven days a week, 365 days a year, the unending work of running the place was getting to him. It got to the point where his customers couldn’t take his bad mood anymore and finally someone convinced him to take some time off, so he stopped being open on Mondays.
He liked time off so much that he started to travel and ended up going on many trips all over the world. He took up photography and went to Africa for National Geographic assignments. He discovered a passion for sailing and crewed on a sloop in Boothbay Harbor for seven years, getting up at 4:30 am to get the wood cut and stoves built, then driving to the coast to sail with the Appledore and returning to the sauna at night. He sailed with crews who delivered yachts.
One night a few years ago some college kids were at the sauna and a blizzard hit and stranded them. They didn’t want to drive home so they asked Richard to stay for the night at the house. With five empty bedrooms in his big old house, of course Richard said yes, and that was the beginning of having houseguests at the Richmond Sauna. Since then, guests have come year round to stay in the house, which is full of photographs, books, art, and interesting artifacts from world travels.
Business was unpredictable, and slow, but he survived by the skin of his teeth just keeping things going. The sauna family grew. Couples met and romances were born and blossomed at the sauna. Over the past 30 years, generations of families with kids grew up coming to the sauna. A whole community has grown up around the place. If these walls could talk…!
Today folks come from all over to enjoy the healing experience of this authentic Finnish sauna. They come for more than just the physical pleasures of its deep, penetrating heat and fragrant wood smoke. The real gift of Richard’s sauna is the good feeling you take with you. It’s the lasting warmth that comes not just from fire and steam, but from conversation and stories and laughter.
Recently the Sauna has seen many new changes. You may have noticed many improvements to the sauna recently. Fresh paint here and there, some new paneling and plumbing. Richards son Donald has taken on a more active role in the family business, as the mantle has been passed from father to son. You will still see Richard from time to time, as he can now sit back and enjoy a well earned "Retirement".