Mount Desert Island Heritage

Growing Up Summers on MDI

Many people from all economic backgrounds, members of year-round and summer families as well as long-time visitors, have wonderful memories of their childhood years on Mount Desert Island. This truly is a magical place to grow up, especially during the long days of June, July and August. Here, children could, and still can, safely roam the woods and fields, play along the interesting rocky shoreline, learn to sail, pick blueberries or raspberries, listen to the birds, watch the ebb and flow of the tide, gather wildflowers, and feel comfortable just being a kid without a care in the world.

In the early days, children worked alongside their parents most of the time as significant participants in the family's efforts to eke out a living from the land or the sea. But during the years from about 1920 through the 1950's, life on the island was relatively simple for a child. Summer meant freedom from school and offered unlimited opportunities for adventure. While the adults in local families were busy earning a living in the short summer season, their children had no such obligations. Of course there were some chores to be done, but usually on sunny days they would be outside from early morning until nightfall enjoying the remarkable variety of activities available to them on Mount Desert. Foggy, rainy days provided time to read or draw or create imaginary worlds on the other side of the mist. When the weather was fine, it was common for large extended family groups to gather along the island's western shore during the late afternoon to cook lobsters, clams, and fresh corn on open fires; often staying to watch a beautiful sunset over the ocean.

Children of summer residents enjoyed doing the same things as local children. In fact, members of the two groups frequently played together with little regard for wealth or social status. Many memorable days were spent looking for treasures in tide pools, taking a small boat out in one of the many harbors, watching from a "secret" hiding place all of the hustle and bustle on village streets, climbing trees or following trails through the forest and up the steep slopes of granite topped mountains. In addition, there were at least four movie theatres on the island at that time, one in each village. Kids loved to attend matinees which were complete with weekly serials and cartoons.

Nationally, some major changes began to occur after 1950. Widespread development of television ushered in the Information Age. Soon followed the War in Vietnam, and life suddenly became much more complicated. Our society saw the onset of social and intellectual discord. Political polarization increased dramatically. In the late 1900's the advent of personal computers and growth of the Internet continued pushing all of us ever more deeply into "the moment", often with very unsettling results.

Throughout this entire period of unrest and increasing anxiety that even continues to a large extent today, Mount Desert Island has remained relatively insulated. Here, residents and visitors alike can find, especially during the summers, a respite from the difficulties and frustrations that so frequently weigh upon them in the rest of the world. Those who had the pleasure and great good fortune to enjoy wonderful, idyllic childhood times here want the same for their children, and that desire has been a driving force behind the permanent relocation of many families to Mount Desert in recent years. It is also a big reason why most summer and year-round families try to hold on tight to their piece of the island in the face of ever increasing pressures to sell property at a high price. In many ways, Mount Desert always has been an island haven, both for children and their parents. It will need constant nurturing and care if it is to remain as so many fondly remember.