The Coast Walk Project

Coast Walk 18: Roberts Point, Northeast Harbor

October 21, 2019: Sunny and warm with a light breeze. A flock of dark ducks out in the mouth of the harbor – too far off to identify.

The Coast Walk has finally rounded the point and headed in to Northeast Harbor, and I’ll begin with my usual disclaimer: this is all private property; I received permission to explore from the owners; don’t trespass.

Let’s begin by looking at some of the names on the point. Maps from the late 1800s through 1920s show it as Roberts Point – more recent maps don’t name it at all.

detail of Map of Mount Desert Island, Maine (from Flora of Mt. Desert Island), Edward Rand, 1893

The earliest map I’ve got that shows this area in detail is from 1887, showing the Curtis, Gardiner and Dodd properties on the point:

Map of Mount Desert and Adjacent Islands, Colby & Stuart, 1887

But then there’s this one, about a year later and a heck of a lot easier to read, showing the Curtis, Walsh and Wheelwright properties:

detail of Map of Mount Desert Island, Colby & Stuart, copyright 1887
but probably published 1888.

All of which is to say that we can guess where Wheelwright Way got its name, but since the closest “Roberts” I’ve been able to find is at the head of the harbor (just above the hotel in the 1887 and 1888 maps), Roberts Point is still a mystery. A side note: the “J.H. Curtis” on these maps is the Joseph Curtis who designed the paths and terraces up to what is now Thuya Garden – you can see the Lodge on the 1888 map – and who left the property to the Town of Mount Desert, where years later Charles Savage would create the garden. We’ve looked at that history a little bit at the Asticou Landing, and we’ll visit it again a little farther along the shore.

In the 1887 map you can see the Steamboat Wharf and Clifton House across from the Wheelwright property: that’s where the Clifton Dock now stands. By the time we get to the other side of the harbor I’ll have more to report about that!

The trail from the house led through classic Northeast Harbor mossy woods down to a geologically very cool bluff.

Check out the shatter zone in this outcrop:

And the view isn’t too bad, either:

A little bit more history before we scramble down to the shore: part of Roberts Point is ‘Good Hope,’ once the home of Samuel Eliot Morison (and I will freely admit that I have to check every single time I write his name to make sure there is really only supposed to be one ‘l’ in ‘Eliot’ and one ‘r’ in Morison.)

But who is Samuel Eliot Morison, you ask?

A historian!

From Wikipedia: “Samuel Eliot Morison (1887 – 1976) was an American historian noted for his works of maritime history and American history that were both authoritative and popular. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1912, and taught history at the university for 40 years. He won Pulitzer Prizes for Admiral of the Ocean Sea (1942), a biography of Christopher Columbus, and John Paul Jones: A Sailor’s Biography (1959). In 1942, he was commissioned to write a history of United States naval operations in World War II, which was published in 15 volumes between 1947 and 1962. … Over the course of his career, Morison received eleven honorary doctoral degrees, and garnered numerous literary prizes, military honors, and national awards …, including two Pulitzer Prizes, two Bancroft Prizes, the Balzan Prize, the Legion of Merit, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.”

The Navy even named a ship for him:

The U.S. Navy guided missile frigate USS Samuel Eliot Morison (FFG-13) underway during sea trials on 10 June 1980. Image courtesy of the National Archives via Wikipedia.
William B. Morris, “Samuel Morison and yawl “Emily Marshall”,” Northeast Harbor Library, accessed February 21, 2020. Item 5336

If I’ve got this straight, Samuel Eliot Morison and Charles Eliot, who you may remember from the Champlain Society, are related through their great-grandfather, Samuel Eliot (1739-1820), so that makes them what, first cousins once removed?

Anyway, continuing down to the shore, the first thing I noticed were the snails – there was the usual abundance of Common Periwinkle, but also Smooth Periwinkle, which I run into much less frequently, and even Northern Lacuna, which I hardly ever see.

Smooth Periwinkle (Littorina obtusata)
Smooth Periwinkle (Littorina obtusata)
Smooth Periwinkle (Littorina obtusata)
Common Periwinkle (Littorina littorea)
Northern Lacuna (Lacuna vincta)

There was even one Smooth Periwinkle with crazy stripes that I thought was a Dog Whelk at first glance. I’ve yet to see an explanation of why some individual snails develop these stripes. Some people say it depends on their diet, but you’d think all the snails in an area would be eating roughly the same things.

A few vignettes from the shore –

I’m not sure exactly what species these amphipods are, but everyone I know calls them ‘scud.’ Photographing scud is a lot like photographing little kids on Christmas morning. They zip around all over the place and you end up with a lot of blurry photos of their back ends.

More really cool geological formations:

and I headed back up through the woods.

The woodland paths were gorgeous and I’d love to know whether this was Olmsted work or Mrs. Morison. I found references (see the Works Cited) to Mrs. Morison having been an enthusiastic gardener and also a reference to the Olmsted firm having done work at Good Hope (in the 1960s, long after Frederick Law Olmsted’s time.)

*****ADDENDUM: As soon as he saw this post, Terry DeWan sent me a link to the Olmsted archives on Flickr, where the firm has posted 35 plans, sketches, and topographical surveys of the Good Hope project, most dated 1964:

So it looks like my past life as a landscape architect is still coming in handy. Thank you, Terry! END OF ADDENDUM *******

****And then when I went poking around on the Olmsted Archives Flickr site, I found an album of photos of Good Hope in the 60s (it looks completely different now): *****

10161-01-ph10 400 dpi

And there are photos of a fence the firm installed along Peabody Drive as part of the project, which incidentally give us views of Peabody Drive:

10161-01-p05 400 dpi


WORKS CITED (also other available resources)

I didn’t track down and review all the available resources on Morison’s life in Northeast Harbor, but I am collecting what I found here, in case you would like to do so:

Morison, Samuel Eliot, “Memories of Northeast Harbor,” Downeast Magazine, July 1978.

Morison, Samuel Eliot, The Story of Mount Desert Island, Little Brown & Company, 1960. Revised edition by Islandport Press, 2011.

Northeast Archives of Folklore and Oral History: MF 043 Northeast Harbor Library Oral History Collection: 1724, Samuel Eliot Morison, interviewed by the Northeast Harbor Library, 1973, Northeast Harbor, Maine. 5 pp. Tape: 1/2 hr. Morison talks about his childhood summers in Northeast Harbor; daily activities; natives he knew; life at the hotels; history of Mount Desert Island. Also included: copy of an article in Downeast Magazine based on the tape as edited by Gunnar Hanson. RESTRICTED. Text: 6 pp. copy of article; 1 pp. transcript excerpt. Recording: T 1843 / CD 0962 32 minutes.

“Samuel Eliot Morison,” Northeast Harbor Library 6937: Collection includes manuscripts, typescripts, newspaper clippings, photocopies, letters, and pamphlets written by or about Samuel Eliot Morison.

Spiker, LaRue, “About the gardens of Priscilla and Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison,” undated document 012.FIC.052.8, MDI Historical Society archives.

The Master List of Design Projects of the Olmsted Firm, 1857-1979, edited by Lucy Lawliss, Caroline Loughlin, Lauren Meier, National Association for Olmsted Parks, 2008. p.208 lists ‘Good Hope’ as an Olmsted firm project. No further information (see below for photo of reference.)


One thought on “Coast Walk 18: Roberts Point, Northeast Harbor

  1. Pingback: Coast Walk 18 still life: Roberts Point – The Coast Walk Project

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