Acadia National Park

Building the Carriage Roads
Overview of Carriage Roads at Acadia National Park

Forty-five miles of rustic carriage roads weave around the mountains and through the valleys of Acadia National Park, the gift of philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and family. Rockefeller, a skilled horseman, desired motor-free byways via horse and carriage into the heart of Mount Desert Island. His construction efforts, from 1913 to 1940, resulted in roads with sweeping vistas and up-close views of the landscape. His love of road building ensured a state-of-the-art system.

Rockefeller's love of road building grew naturally from his father's. John D. Rockefeller, Sr., the founder of Standard Oil, had built and landscaped carriage roads on his Ohio and New York estates. The junior Rockefeller learned many techniques from his father, which he applied to building his Mount Desert Island carriage roads.

To get a sense of the scale and complexity of the system, we provide two views of the carriage roads: an overview, and a detail of the roads south of Jordan Pond, where the system is the most complex.

State of the Art Roads

The carriage roads are broken stone roads, a type commonly used at the turn of the century. Acadia's roads are the best example of broken stone roads left in America today. They are true roads, approximately 16 feet wide, constructed with methods that required much hand labor.

The roads were engineered to contend with Maine's wet weather. Three layers of rock, stone culverts, wide ditches, and a substantial six to eight inch crown ensured good drainage.

Rather than flattening hillsides to accommodate the roads, breast walls and retaining walls were built to preserve the line of hillsides and save many trees. Rockefeller, naturally gifted with the eye of a landscape architect, aligned the roads to follow the contours of the land and to take advantage of scenic views. He graded the roads so they were not too steep or too sharply curved for horse drawn carriages.

Road crews quarried island granite for road material and bridge facing. Roadsides were landscaped with native vegetation such as blueberries and sweet fern. The use of native materials helped blend the roads into the natural landscape.

An Integrated System

Rockefeller participated in the construction process. He walked areas staked out for road alignment and observed work in progress. He knew the laborers by name and used experts to design the bridges and engineer the roads. Throughout it all, he paid rapt attention to the minutest details, from the placement of coping stones, to the cost of a running foot of road.

Following are some elements that unify the carriage road system:

Coping stones: Large blocks of granite lining the roads serve as guardrails. Cut roughly and spaced irregularly, the coping stones create a rustic appearance. These coping stones have been affectionately called Rockefeller's teeth.

Signposts: Cedar signposts were installed at intersections to direct carriage drivers. The posts were stained with Cabot's shingle stain #248. The lettering was painted first with one coat of flat yellow paint, then with another coat of enamel yellow. Today, numbers are attached to the signposts that match maps and guidebooks, and help carriage road users find their way.

Roadside grooming and landscaping: Rockefeller employed a crew of foresters to remove debris from the roads and roadsides. Nationally known landscape architect, Beatrix Farrand, consulted on planting designs to frame vistas and bridges, and to heal scars left behind by carriage road construction. The Fire of 1947 destroyed much of her work.

Gate lodges: Two gate lodges, one at Jordan Pond and the other near Northeast Harbor, ornament the roads and serve as whimsical welcomes to the system. A third gate lodge was planned at Eagle Lake, but never built. During carriage road construction, engineer Paul Simpson and his family lived at the Jordan Pond Gate Lodge.

Bridges: Rockefeller financed 16 stone-faced bridges, each unique in design, to span streams, waterfalls, roads, and cliffsides. The bridges are steel-reinforced concrete, but the use of native stone for the facing gives them a natural appearance. Over time, the stone cutters grew very skilled and Rockefeller often requested them not to cut the facing too well lest the rustic look be lost!

The result of Rockefeller's vision and attention to detail is an integrated system of carriage roads that blends harmoniously with the landscape.

Carriage Road Rehabilitation

In 1989, a historic resource study on the carriage roads was completed for the National Park Service. That study documented the sequence of the roads' development and construction and made recommendations for their rehabilitation and maintenance.

In the spring of 1992, Acadia National Park embarked on the first stage of a complete rehabilitation of the system. The four-year rehabilitation project includes:

Removal of all woody vegetation from roads, shoulders, and ditches. These once-open ditches and roadsides have filled with bushes and tree seedlings that prevent proper drainage and contribute to washouts.

Reestablishing ditches, drainage paths, and culverts to arrest erosion.

Applying new surface material to restore the crown and subgrade layers. Thousands of cubic yards of material have washed away over the years.

Resetting missing or loose coping stones.

Reopening some of the original vistas that once greeted horseback riders, carriage drivers, and walkers.

In 1995, contractors will use trucks, graders, pavers, backhoes, and excavators to rehabilitate the carriage roads. Closure will occur in sections where heavy machinery and construction make passage unsafe for visitors.

Rehabilitation is being funded through a special program of federal construction funds with matching private funds for maintenance. This program will ensure that the roads are restored to their original condition and maintained.

A Spirit of Philanthropy

John D. Rockefeller, Jr., was one among several men and women who in some way contributed to the formation of Acadia National Park. Today, people still help preserve the park by donating time to work on trails and carriage roads, or to contribute financially to carriage road rehabilitation. Ask at the visitor center to learn how to join in these efforts. Such spirit allows the park to better meet its mission of protecting and preserving its cultural and natural resources for present and future generations.


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