Mount Desert Island Heritage

Village Associations, Churches and Old Time Music

From the middle of the nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century, travel among the villages on Mount Desert Island was relatively difficult at best. Until the advent of the automobile, folks either moved about by horse drawn wagon or they walked. There were roads, but the roads in those days were little more than dirt tracks. There was no television and no internet.

So, for the most part, residents of island villages stayed close to their local community and they had to create their own entertainment. Between 1850 and 1950 many Community Associations, Village Improvement Societies, Lodges, Ladies' Sewing Circles and Ladies Aid groups were established all around Mount Desert Island. These organizations usually served many purposes. They performed numerous service and charitable functions and coordinated the efforts of local residents in a variety of projects. They also were an important social outlet for neighbors; holding dances, suppers and other events to raise money for their various activities.

Churches also were very important, and at some point one was located in every village on the island, including some villages such as Center and Sound that no longer exist. People tended to hold relatively strict religious beliefs, and Sunday was a day set aside for church. Services were very long, running two or three hours. Often, community residents traveled further to attend church than for any other activity, and not infrequently, that travel was by foot. Early churches also sometimes served as courts; settling disputes and meeting out punishments for various infractions such as drinking, lying, or swearing.

People at that time regularly amused themselves by playing games in the long fall, winter and early spring evenings. Most of these games were handmade out of relatively simple materials. Marbles, checkers, spinning tops, board games like "Morris", chromatrope and thaumatrope toys were all quite popular. In addition, boys would make model boats and do wood carving. Girls made dolls and doll houses, and learned sewing crafts from their mothers. Many pleasant hours were spent by the fireplace or wood stove engaging in these activities. During the short summer, families would find beautiful places to walk or take picnics; while children would play in the woods or by the shore, pick berries, and run through the wildflowers scattered everywhere in open fields.

Most island families had books in the home. Like many other items, books and magazines were sold by traveling peddlers or agents. These agents secured orders by giving out brightly colored photographs which eventually found their way onto the walls of local houses.

It might surprise some readers today to learn that a lot of people on Mount Desert in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries played musical instruments. They would fish or work in the boatyards or work on the farm or do household chores during the day; and then, after supper, play the fiddle or guitar or accordion or saxophone or washtub at local dances or just for family entertainment. Dancing was an important part of every community's social life, and most residents were quite good at it. It was not uncommon for some communities and organizations to hold dances every Saturday night.

The early residents of Mount Desert Island were quite industrious and gregarious. They often engaged in a number of different occupations depending upon the time of the year, they enjoyed each other's company, they were creative in finding sources of amusement, and most took considerable pleasure in the spectacular beauty around them.