Mount Deserted Island

A Place to Rusticate
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The Northeast's lone national park is a spectacular 35,000-acre playground located mostly on Mount Desert Island on Maine's mid-coast. Home for several centuries to fishermen and shipbuilders who endured the long, bitter winters and avoided the deadly shoals, Maine's rough and tumble shores did not attract visitors until the late 1800s when the region was discovered by the artist Thomas Cole. Cole, founder of the Hudson River School, ventured to Mount Desert Island for inspiration once he had exhausted all the possibilities in upstate New York. When he returned to New York, he would weave rhapsodic tales about the coast's beauty to his affluent friends, the Roosevelts, Morgans, and Tracys. Whenever he was at a loss for words, Cole would simply point to one of his freshly painted canvases. New York's upper crust took heed and soon ventured to Mount Desert Island.

Large tracts of land were purchased and summer "cottages" were built, elaborate mansions staffed by the locals. By 1900, Mount Desert Island's main hub, Bar Harbor, rivaled Newport as the summer capital of the northeast. In spite of their huge homes, the owners liked to call themselves "rusticators," emphasizing their desire to be in communion with nature. They would go on bird walks, collect flowers, pick berries, chop wood, and become knowledgeable in astronomy and horticulture.

Before leaving the region, the rusticators performed one final generous act that had a lasting impression on the landscape. Around 1910, two men from Harvard, Dr. Charles Eliot and George Buckman Dorr, were enraged that lumber companies were cutting down Mount Desert Island's first-growth forest. With the help of their wealthy friends, they solicited funds and succeeded in purchasing about 15,000 acres, or one-fifth of the island. The rusticators then offered the land to the federal government to be used as the first national park east of the Mississippi. Congress accepted in 1919, and soon other wealthy patrons chipped in like John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who donated 43 miles of bridle paths.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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