Mount Desert Island Heritage

The Men and Women Behind Acadia

Those who have visited or lived on Mount Desert Island over the centuries all shared one thing in common. They were and continue to be virtually overwhelmed by the spectacular natural beauty of this remarkable place.

As early as 1900, President Charles Eliot of Harvard, a summer resident of Northeast Harbor, recognized the threat to Mount Desert that was posed by development and by the activities of the timber companies which were indiscriminately harvesting large areas of Maine's interior. He enlisted the assistance of another Harvard man, George B. Dorr, to craft a way to save this beautiful area for future generations.

Dorr, a bachelor all his life and heir to a New England textile fortune, was one of the earliest summer residents of Bar Harbor. He was both a naturalist and a conservationist in the best tradition of Henry David Thoreau, and was ideally suited for the task assigned to him. Using his pleasant and easy-going personality, Dorr secured the support of other prominent islanders, most notably John S. Kennedy, George Vanderbilt and William J. Schieffelin. They, along with Dr. Eliot and Bishop William Lawrence of Massachusetts, successfully formed a non-profit land holding trust in 1901 called the Trustees of Public Reservations. The trust was chartered by the Maine legislature in 1903 in Hancock County, enabling it to acquire property by gift or purchase and to hold it for the purpose of permanent protection.

For several years very little happened. Then, in 1908 at the behest of Charles Eliot, the Trustees received a donation of The Bowl and The Beehive on Newport Mountain (now Champlain) from Mrs. Charles Homans of Boston. Shortly thereafter, Dorr became aware that the summit of Green Mountain (now Cadillac) might be for sale. With the financial backing of banker John Kennedy, this crown jewel of what would later become Acadia National Park was acquired. The next purchase was Sieur de Monts Spring and in 1909, Dorr personally gave the Trustees a mountain cliff area in Otter Creek that he had inherited from his father. This was one of many such gifts Dorr would make to the trust over subsequent years, significantly depleting his own resources in the process.

Several other large tracts of land were either donated or purchased until early 1913 when the Maine State Legislature threatened to dissolve the Trustees. This move was thwarted, but after consultation with Dr. Eliot, Dorr went to Washington seeking more reliable and permanent protection for the Trustees' properties. With the approval of President Eliot and the Trustees, Dorr officially offered to give the land on Mount Desert to the U.S. Government as a National Monument. After much haggling and political maneuvering, the offer was finally accepted by President Woodrow Wilson three years later in July of 1916. Dorr became Director of the new Monument at a salary of $1 per month. The National Monument became Lafayette National Park in 1919 with George B. Dorr as its first Superintendent. Ten years later, in conjunction with the acquisition of property on Schoodic Peninsula, that name was changed once again to Acadia National Park.

During this period, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. with his wife Abby Aldrich came first to Bar Harbor and then to Seal Harbor to visit. They fell so in love with Mount Desert that he began buying large pieces of land in the Bar Harbor, Seal Harbor and Northeast Harbor areas. In 1910 they bought a "cottage" on a mountaintop in Seal Harbor and ultimately expanded it into a 107 room estate that they named "The Eyrie". Rockefeller was also interested in building roads, and he wanted a way for his family and house guests to enjoy the beautiful woodlands and expansive views he had recently purchased. Thus began a multiyear program to layout and construct over 55 miles of broken stone carriage roads. This road system included 16 cut stone faced bridges; each different, and each of architectural significance.

Dorr and Rockefeller became close friends and together coordinated the completion of Mr. Rockefeller's carriage roads. Eventually the Rockefellers offered to donate 45 miles of this carriage road system along with a section of motor road and 10,000 acres of surrounding properties to the new Acadia National Park. This massive project and impressive gift was ultimately concluded in 1940.

George B. Dorr, affectionately known as "The Father of Acadia", lived until 1944 when he passed away at the age of 89. Many today do not realize that by this time he had become impoverished and had been totally blind for several years.

Acadia National Park now encompasses 47,000 acres; 30,000 of which is on Mount Desert Island, and almost all of which was donated to the people of the United States. Future generations will continue to benefit from the farsighted generosity and dedication of George Dorr and the many other men and women behind Acadia.