Debbie Dyer, curator, Bar Harbor Historical Society
Tuesday Jan. 6: 3-5pm. Sunset at 4:10pm and low tide at 5:04pm. Somewhere between 0 and 5ºF, gray overcast sky, light wind from the Northwest. Ice slowed me down so much that darkness fell before I even reached the end of the Shore Path, so I had to finish the walk on Saturday.
Friday, Jan.9: 1-2:45pm. Low tide and sunrise 7:10am. About 35ºF. Snowing hard with strong winds when I began. Gradually stopped snowing, wind died down, and sun came out.
Saturday, Jan.10: 8-11am. Sunrise at 7:07am, low tide at 7:53. About 3ºF at the start, might have been in the 20s by the end. Sunny with very little wind.
The stars were out of alignment for the Coast Walk this week, and I mean that literally: neither the sun nor the moon cooperated. Low tide was before sunrise and after sunset until the very end of the week. The weather was against us, too: below-zero windchills and a vigorous snowstorm meant the shores were covered in ice and/or snow, which slowed my pace a lot. In the end, this week’s walk got fragmented into three separate days, one walking on the Shore Path looking at the houses, and two walking on the shore (because darkness overtook me and I had to complete the walk the second day.)
Coast Walk 1 had ended at the Town Beach (above), which is also the start of the Shore Path (below.)
Over a hundred years old, the Shore Path is one of the oldest tourist attractions in town. It exists through the grace of generations of shorefront property owners who have allowed it to run across their private property, and is lined with lovely old summer cottages as well as a fair number of more modern homes. Debbie had offered to walk the Shore Path and tell me some of the history behind those cottages and her memories of some of the owners, but it was somewhere between 0º and 5ºF on Tuesday the 6th, and she was (very sensibly) worried about falling on the icy Path, so we met indoors at the Historical Society museum, where she walked me into the past with maps and photos. I’m going to try to superimpose her stories onto my walk (although you’ll see it was more of a scramble, with the occasional slither.)
I began Walk 2 under the pier in front of the Bar Harbor Inn. The shoreline here alternates loose stones with outcrops of dramatically slanted, layered, and shattered ledges, with the occasional sea stack. (
If any geologists are reading this, is this Ellsworth Schist? Something else layered over schist? Enquiring minds want to know. This is Bar Harbor Formation stone, layers of sandstone and siltstone that form the second oldest type of rock in this area. It’s at least 360 million years old.) That fringe of white near the base of the sea stack above is ice marking the high tide line.
The oldest part of the Bar Harbor Inn, shown above, was built by a summer social group known as the Oasis Club. The members had been meeting at 32 Mount Desert Street (now the Secondhand Prose bookstore.) They wanted to build a new meeting place on the shore, but there was already a house at the location they chose: the Veazie Cottage. So, Debbie explained, “The Veazie Cottage was moved down West Street, on rollers, and it is now called the Kedge, on the corner of Bridge and West Street.” A new building, called the Reading Room, was designed by architect William Emerson, and is now the restaurant of the Bar Harbor Inn.
As I rounded the point on which the BH Inn sits, the ledges shrank back from the low tide line, leaving a wide foreshore of loose, weathered stones, exposed around the high tide line and covered with rockweed near the low tide line:
Just past the far end of the Inn is Grant Park. Debbie continued, “Now, Grant Park was the second oldest summer cottage, and they never actually named it, other than ‘the Grant cottage.’ [ed.note: the first cottage was Ulikana, which isn’t quite visible from the shore anymore as it’s hidden by a wing of the Bar Harbor Inn.] It was right down close to the water, and … up in the parking lot area where you can see a depression in the ground, that was the tennis courts for the Grant cottage. It was built in 1869-1870. [Mr. Grant] wanted to give it to [Mrs. Grant] as a wedding gift; she came here and it was all fogged in, it was just absolutely horrible weather, and the day they were to leave, the sun came out, and there they were right on Frenchmans Bay, and she said it was the most beautiful sight she had ever seen, and so they decided there’s no place like here. They were from Tarrytown, New York. The town purchased that land in 1912. The house was torn down in 1930.”
On the other side of Grant Park “we’ve got the Balance Rock cottage [which] was built on the Shore Path in 1901 and 1902 by Alexander Maitland. And the architects, Andrews, Jacques, and Rantouil, were very famous architects from the Boston area. I quite often go down to the Chamber [of Commerce] and pick up these brochures from the different establishments … because it’s interesting to hear the history of what they put on their brochures. The Balance Rock Cottage, when they first came to town, they put on that ‘the ruins, if you’re standing on the Shore Path, the ruins to the left of our cottage, the pink granite ruins, are the house where Nelson Rockefeller was born.’ Well, that’s not true at all, so I made point of going down and telling them that they should revise their brochure. Because the name of the cottage that was next to the Balance Rock Cottage, [where now] you can see cottages being built … toward Derby Lane, was … called Shore Acres. And it was built in about 1869-70 … by a Dr. Haskett Derby from Boston. He was an oculist, and the house was torn down in 1957. But anyway, Dr. Haskett Derby owned from that strip of the Shore Path all the way up to Main Street. So that’s why you get the name of Derby Lane.”
On Friday, I saw about about 25-30 birds between the Bar Harbor Inn and Reef Point, mostly Buffleheads, one Merganser, and one that might have been an immature Loon. The Buffleheads are just adorable, and when they flock together they’re really striking. It was still snowing a bit, and there wasn’t enough light for good telephoto shots, so after watching the birds for a while I continued along the shore.
“So, we’ve gone past the Grant Cottage, we’ve gone past Balance Rock, we’ve gone past Shore Acres, now we’re coming to a very prominent patch of land where you’ll see the fence continues right straight around, which was Beatrix Farrand’s. She was the landscape gardener. Never, never declared herself a landscape architect. I have the last piece of paper that she had embossed, and it said ‘landscape gardener.’ Her place was Reef Point, and her parents had it before her. You will never, ever find a picture of her father because Mr. Jones was kind of wiped out of the family many many years ago. And so Mary Cadwallader Jones and her daughter lived there, and of course her father’s sister was Edith Wharton, the poet, and there’s a bureau scarf of Edith’s over there [pointing to a glass case in the corner]. Beatrix … didn’t get married until into her 40s. She married a man by the name of Max Farrand. That area – now it’s got the Testas, the Hobbes, and that new head of the Lab there, [who] bought Judge Smith’s house, and Chad Smith’s house. So all of that is basically all Reef Point.
I live on that street, Hancock Street, [and] she used to open up her house on Sundays, or her gardens, and I remember as a child, I’d go down there on Sundays, and I couldn’t understand how this woman, who must be very bright, I thought to myself, to have all these pretty gardens, but … why does she have to mark everything? Because as a small child, I’d walk around, all by myself, on Sunday afternoons, and see all of these writings all over everywhere; she had all of her things labelled. And I couldn’t understand how she [didn’t know] what things were! A child’s viewpoint.”
“The Shore Path goes down Hancock Street, so as you walk down [Hancock St.] to the Shore Path, Reef Point would be on your left, and on your right would be a place called Devilstone. And Frances Coleman purchased that, and changed the name to Eaglestone, because she didn’t think Devilstone was a very appropriate name. Now that’s an interesting part of my life, because around Labor Day, Frances Coleman, she was a Miss Frances Coleman, … her chauffeur would come up on Labor Day, just before we’d start back for school, and he’d come up and take us children down there, and we’d go for tea and cookies on her lawn, and then we’d go into her projection room and watch SPCA films [which were] films on taking care of cats and dogs and making sure you knew how to take care of them and be kind to them. We looked forward to every Labor Day, because we’d be chauffeured down to Miss Coleman’s place, and look at SPCA films. And then we’d be chauffeured back to our homes. Now if you are on the Shore Path and you look up to those houses on the Shore Path, the projection room is still there, it’s on the right hand side. It’s a long type of a house, which is now owned by John Nelson. And the rest of the cottage was torn down.”
“And next to that, is the Breakwater estate, which was built in 1904. A lady and her husband bought it several years ago and changed the name to Atlantique. Now Scott and Laurie West purchased it and changed the name back to the Breakwater. … Five years [ago] this year they bought that. And every September they have a block party and so all of us on the street are invited to that. I went down to Swan Agency the other day, sometimes I pick up their magazines on the shelf there, and one of them had an article about Matilda Dodge Wilson. … I recognized the name because the Wilsons owned the Breakwater estate years and years ago back in the late 50s or 60s… . But anyway, it was funny because … they had an auction in the 1950s and I went down there, I walked down this long driveway to the Breakwater estate, and in the dining room [there were] all these people walking all around everywhere and I’d see the tags hanging from things, you know, for the auction. And I walked into the dining room, beautiful dining room, but all I could see were these stacks of dishes, stacks of dishes being sold.
Jenn (me): And how old were you at this point?
Debbie: Probably six, seven, eight. I was just mesmerized by all of those [dishes], and I went into the kitchen and I remember that there was a wooden cat’s dish; it was wooden, it would hold a dish, and it was the shape of a cat. I grabbed that, and I thought, ‘I want that.’ So I went over to George Goodrich at the cashier counter, and I said to George, ‘How much is this?’ And he says, ‘Well how much money [do you have]?’ so I don’t know what I had, I just took [makes gesture of pulling money out of her pocket] [and he said,] ‘Well you’ve got just the right amount of money.’
J: Aw, that’s so sweet
D: And so I lugged that wooden cat’s dish home. And I don’t know where it is now. I don’t know if it’s still in the house or not, I don’t have a cat now anyway, I’m allergic to them. But it’s just fond memories of the Breakwater estate.
“Now next to that as you’re walking the Shore Path [was The Briars.] You’ll see the servants’ quarters that sit in the back, but the main house was torn down. … And, that was where Nelson Rockefeller was born. The house that was torn down. As you walk toward Wayman Lane, … the servants’ quarters are over there, the bowling alley’s down there, the house would’ve sat here. And that’s where Nelson Rockefeller was born. And the reason [was] because his mother and father, John D. Rockefeller and Abbie Aldrich Rockefeller, … they’d never been to Mount Desert Island. And Abbie Aldrich Rockefeller was pregnant with Nelson. In July. And the pediatrician said ‘If you want me,’ here they were from Tarrytown, New York, and had never been to Maine, ‘If you want me to deliver your child, you’ll have to come to Maine. And I live in Blue Hill, so if you want to come, you can come and I’ll be in Blue Hill.’ Well, fortunately for Mount Desert Island there was no room at the inn in Blue Hill. So they … rented a place called the Briars. Because Evalyn Walsh McLean and her husband [the owners of the Briars] were not going be here that summer. Evalyn Walsh McLean was the owner of the Hope Diamond, and they were away in Europe that summer so John D. Rockefeller and Abbie rented the Briars that summer, so that’s why Nelson was born there … at the Briars near Wayman Lane.”
And then it got dark, which makes beachcombing hard, photography difficult, and climbing on ice-covered rocks with an incoming tide just plain stupid, so that’s as far as I got on Tuesday. On Friday I walked the path, taking photos of the buildings, which are hard to see from the shore, and reached the current end of the Shore Path:
From Reef Point to the footbridge the shoreline had started to change again, with the outcroppings getting taller and the foreshore narrower. I started almost an hour after dead low tide (because dead low tide was at sunrise and I was tired of clambering around in half-light) so the tide was encroaching on what little gently-sloped, seaweed-covered area there was. Clearly I was in for a morning of rock-climbing.
The sun was out, and blindingly low in the sky, which is normal for winter, but very inconvenient when you are heading east. The rocks were slick with green algae and ice; turns out the only thing slicker than scum-covered rocks is icy scum-covered rocks.
Fortunately the ice reflected the blinding sunlight with an equally blinding glare, so it was easy to spot. I confess there were a few moments when I had sloowwwlly worked my way up one side of an outcrop and was sitting on the edge, lowering myself gingerly down the other side, watching the tide wash into the gully two feet below my feet, when I wondered not if but when I had lost my mind.
The only animals I saw that morning were a juvenile loon off Kenarden and three ducks (might have been female mallards) in Cromwell Harbor, but once I scaled an outcrop and found someone had been there before me:
There was no wind, and the silver lining to the glaring sunlight was that in spite of the freezing temperatures I was much warmer than I had been on all the previous walks, and the excitement of each new find gave me a little jolt of energy. Then again, each time I found myself dangling over a ledge, wiggling my bottom ungracefully downward, I couldn’t help thinking wistfully of Debbie’s tales of the days when the Shore Path made this a pleasant walk:
D: Barberry Lane, which [connects] Wayman Lane to Livingston Road, that used to be called Carr Avenue until the 1900s, … because Lucian Carr owned Bide-a-While so he had it as Carr Avenue, but evidently when he gave up his existence here they changed the name to Barberry.
J: The Shore Path used to run in front of those cottages, didn’t it? How far did it go?
D: It went all the way around to Cromwell Harbor.
J: So it went around Kenarden?
D: Yeah, just the front of it. Because I can remember as a small child going all the way. And … when I was a child, you see, Kenarden had been torn down. And so the Colkets did build there. Kenarden was built by John S. Kennedy. No relation to the Hyannisport Kennedys. This guy was a railroad guy, and he and his wife never had any children. And their niece built what we know now as the Atlantic Oaks, big cottage down on the water, and that’s called the Willows. But he and his wife never had any children, eventually the Dorrance family bought that property and … the Dorrances are the grandparents of Tris Colket. … I’m just trying to think now, John S. Kennedy’s great grandniece from England came here, she wanted to go down and Ruth Colket wasn’t available, [but] she said ‘but I’ll leave the door open and just bring her in and go around anywhere you want in the house.’
J: That’s awfully nice.
D: Well, she’s a very nice lady. And we went down, and you know, you’re not going to tromp through peoples’ houses …, all she really wanted to see was the area, the general area where her ancestors lived and how they fixed up the outside with ponds and beautiful ornaments, so then we just saw the front and then we went down to the Italian gardens. If you have a chance in the summertime when the garden clubs [have] their tours, you should go down to Kenarden, because she’s done a marvelous job with the Italian gardens down there.
J: That’s a Beatrix Farrand garden?
D: Yes. And a lot of it was easily restored and it’s just like Betsy Moore’s up by the Wonderview there called the Farmhouse? You know that’s a Beatrix Farrand and she’s restored it. The funny part of it is that when Mildred McCormick [lived there] people were taking care of her garden and they were pulling things up and throwing them in the [compost pile], but Betsy went out and she found a lot of the seeds, in the pile of where people had thrown the things.
J: In the compost pile? What a great idea!
D: And was able to restore a lot more than she thought. You know? So everything was still in existence, so to speak. Never would think to paw through the compost pile! So anyway, that takes you around to the Colkets. And then you get Cromwell Harbor, and Edgar Scott, [who owned a house there] and that’s why as small children we used to go down to what we called Scott’s Beach. It’s a beachy area in Cromwell Harbor. But it’s all privately owned now. And then I think you come [to] Beachcroft, and then you come up to Loy Andrews [Aldersea]. And Loy’s right in the middle of Cromwell Harbor.
[Then] Edgar Scott and his wife, … we don’t know why these people named these cottages, it was named Chiltern. And their garage, or should I say, their carriage house, is still in existence behind the ball park called Chiltern Inn.
J: I’ve seen that. Always thought it was a really weird place for an inn.
D: Well it is, because that was the horse stables. I interviewed Anna Scott Kennedy, she lived in Northeast Harbor, again no relation to the other, this Kennedy was from New York. And she grew up on Cromwell Harbor. … I understand that her father had the most wonderful horses and the most wonderful horse carriages in there. And there was one room just for trophies. … I’d just love to have seen the interior. But Anna told me, the funny part of it is, is she said, ‘you know,’ she says, ‘my brother said to me, that he was getting rid of the carriages and sending them up north to people that wanted them to buy them and everything. And I went to a dinner party,’ she said, ‘and sat next to John D. Rockefeller in New York City, and he said to me, ‘Anna, whatever happened to all the carriages in your carriage house?’ And she says ‘oh my dear, my brother took care of that, and they’ve all gone north.’ ‘Oh’ he says,’I used to push my nose on the glass of that carriage house,’ and he said, ‘in envy of all of those carriages for my carriage roads on Mount Desert Island.’ And [the next houses are on] what they used to call Vanderbilt Point. Because George Vanderbilt used to have two cottages there. But then they called it Browning’s Point, because Mrs. Edward Browning, Loy Andrew’s mother, lived on it. Everybody changes things. I’d like it if it went back to Vanderbilt Point to keep us with the name of Vanderbilt around here. Because that’s where George Vanderbilt had his place, but his brother owned Sonogee. Frederick. But that takes you up with a few of the cottages right to Cromwell Harbor anyway, and gives you a little bit of insight on some of the cottages, and how old they are. You know, some of them, like the Colkets only built in the 1970s, but others there are still going strong, like the Balance Rock cottage. Ok, [let’s go home] before we freeze to death!
I’ll second that! But before heading home, let’s watch the red squirrels racing up and down the massive pines at Kenarden.
And that’s all for this week. Next week’s Coast Walk heads into Cromwell Harbor, where we’ll meet David Parker, who has been a caretaker there for over thirty years. See you there!
Addenda, December 29, 2016: The Christmas Walk
Addenda, April 8, 2017: The Bar Harbor Inn