17 Fun Facts About Bar Harbor, Maine

by Janis on July 3, 2015

In anticipation of our port call to Bar Harbor today via a 7-Day Canada and New England cruise, we dug into the history of Mount Desert Island, Maine.

Maasdam at anchor, Bar Harbor, Maine

17 Fun Facts About Bar Harbor, Maine

Frenchman Bay and Bar Harbor, Maine as viewed from Cadillac Mountain. Photo by Matthew Field.

Frenchman Bay and Bar Harbor, Maine as viewed from Cadillac Mountain. Photo by Matthew Field.

1. Bar Harbor is a town of about 5,200 residents on Mount Desert Island in Hancock County, Maine.

2. With an area of 108 square miles, Mount Desert Island is the largest island off the coast of Maine and the sixth largest island in the contiguous United States

3. The Wabanaki Indians were the original inhabitants of the northeast shore of Mount Desert Island, which they called Pemetic, meaning “the sloping land”.

4. The Wabanaki fished, hunted and gathered berries, clams, and other shellfish in the area, traveling in birch bark canoes. They called the area that is now Bar Harbor Man-es-ayd’ik or “clam-gathering place,” leaving piles of shells as evidence.

5. On September 6, 1604, French explorer Samuel de Champlain discovered the area when his boat ran aground on a rock as he was sailing towards Otter Creek. Champlain named the island Isles des Monts Deserts, or “island of barren mountains” which is now called Mount Desert Island.

6. Europeans Israel Higgins and John Thomas first settled in the area and began a community in 1763.  The town was named as Eden, after Sir Richard Eden, an English statesman, and incorporated on February 23, 1796.

Bar Harbor, Maine

Bar Harbor was formerly named Eden.

7. Local industries included fishing, lumbering, shipbuilding and agriculture.

8. In the 1840s, the area’s rugged maritime scenery attracted artists from the Hudson River School, including Thomas Cole and Frederic Church. These painters glorified Mount Desert Island in their artwork, inspiring patrons and friends to flock here.

9. Tobias Roberts established Agamont House, the first hotel in Eden, in 1855.

10. Alpheus Hardy built Birch Point, the first summer estate, in 1868.

11. By 1880, there were 30 hotels, including the Mira Monte Inn, a historic landmark that would later survive the massive fire in 1947. Tourists arrived by train and ferry to the Gilded Age resort.

12. For a select group of Americans, the 1880s and the “Gay Nineties” meant affluence on a scale without precedent. Mount Desert, still remote from the cities of the East, became a summer retreat for the Rockefellers, Morgans, Fords, Vanderbilts, Carnegies, and Astors, and other prominent families who built elegant estates, ironically called “cottages”.

13. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., son of John D. Rockefeller of Standard Oil Co., donated about one-third of the land in Acadia National Park and built the carriage roads that are today used for hiking and biking.

Main Street of Bar Harbor, Maine in 1908.

Main Street of Bar Harbor, Maine in 1908.

14. Future Vice President Nelson Rockefeller was born in the town on July 8, 1908.

15. On March 3, 1918, the town of Eden was renamed Bar Harbor. The new name was inspired by the sand and gravel bar, visible at low tide, which leads across to Bar Island and forms the rear of the harbor.

16. In 1920, President William Howard Taft played golf at the Kebo Valley Golf Club.

Bar Harbor, Maine17. In October, 1947, during a severe drought, sparks at a landfill eight miles from town ignited a wildfire that would intensify over ten days, destroying 67 palatial summer houses on Millionaires’ Row. Five grand hotels and 170 permanent homes were also destroyed, as well as 10,000 acres of Acadia National Park. Two people died. Fortunately, the town’s business district was spared.

What fun fact can you add about the history of Bar Harbor and Mount Desert Island, Maine? Please share in comments below. 

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