Bar Harbor is a town on Mount Desert Island in Maine, named the Isles des Monts Deserts (“island of barren mountains”) in 1604 by the French explorer Samuel de Champlain, after he ran aground here. Maine’s Native people, the Wabanaki Indians, fished, hunted and gathered berries and shellfish in the area. It was also famous among the super-rich during the summer months prior to a catastrophic fire in 1947. The town is also home to the largest parts of Acadia National Park, including Cadillac Mountain.
The community, first incorporated under the name “Eden”, was first settled by Europeans in 1763, who worked in the fishing, lumber, shipbuilding and agricultural industries. In 1918, Eden was renamed Bar Harbor, after the sand and gravel bar which leads across to Bar Island at low tide and forms the rear of the harbor. Later, in the 1840s, its maritime scenery attracted artists from the Hudson River School (a group of landscape painters influenced by Romanticism) and the Luminism Movement (characterized by its lighting effects, such as haze, and concealed brush-strokes). Inspired by their paintings, others followed, and by 1880, tourists began arriving by train and ferry. With 30 hotels, it even began to rival Newport, Rhode Island.
The rich and famous also tried to outdo each other with their parties, estates, lawns and gardens. It was the birthplace of future vice-president Nelson Rockefeller, who, like the town itself, would become synonymous with extreme wealth. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., son of Standard Oil founder J. D. Rockefeller, donated about 1/3 of the land in Acadia and built the carriage roads (now used for hiking and bicycling). Other wealthy people who built property here included J. P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and the Astor family.
Bar Harbor’s Abbe Museum (named after the pioneering radiologist Robert Abbe who retired to the island) is dedicated to exploring the history and culture of the Wabanaki people. Its collections include a large number of pre-historic artifacts, such as stone arrows and spear points and other artifacts like harpoons, hooks, combs, and even a rare flute as much as 2,000 years old made of bone. Also included are a large number of baskets. Some beautiful modern examples, for sale in the gift shop, are pictured above.
- Visited: Oct 2010
- U.S. National Register of Historic Places: 1983 (Abbe Museum)