The Coast Walk Project


Interview: Natalie Springuel, Maine Sea Grant

60 degrees, overcast, rainy, breezy

I met up with Natalie Springuel at Epi’s in Bar Harbor on a rainy November day. In 2002 Natalie had been part of a group that kayaked the entire coastline of the Gulf of Maine, from Provincetown, MA to Cape Sable Island, Nova Scotia, so naturally in 2014 when I was developing the idea of the Coast Walk I turned to her for advice. (I figured she might know something about undertaking ambitious, challenging projects.)

We’ve been trying to get her onto a leg of the Coast Walk ever since, but tides, daylight, work schedules, and child-rearing have been too complicated so far. Still, she’s an amazing person and I’m determined to have you all meet her, so tada – introducing Natalie Springuel!

Jenn:        Let’s start with what Sea Grant is and what you do there.

Natalie:  Sure. It’s a federal-state partnership between NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Land and Sea Grant Institution in each … coastal and Great Lakes state. In our case it’s UMaine, but there are Sea Grant programs at UNH, at University of Maryland, whichever one is [the state] Land and Sea Grant university. It’s a similar model to cooperative extension – … taking university knowledge, transferring it to communities who need it …, identifying the research needs from communities and their needs for support … and bringing that back to the research world.

For Sea Grant, about half our funding comes from NOAA, the other half comes from the state through the university system and in turn half of that funding gets turned around into research dollars supporting all kinds of coastal and marine research. Also we have an extension program, which is what I’m a part of. Our extension team works with the researchers but also with communities. The mission is to support marine research, outreach, and education, with a focus on the sustainable use of coastal and marine resources. There are nine of us [on the extension team] scattered up and down the coast, housed at different institutions. I’m based at COA, we have someone at the Darling Center, we have someone in Eastport. We have folks scattered up and down the coast.

Jenn:        Cool! And what do you do?

Natalie:  I do all kinds of outreach and education programs related to coastal issues that tend to focus on fisheries heritage, working waterfronts, sustainable tourism, how we use the coast. I coordinate the Downeast Fisheries Trail,

I facilitate a lot of public process – we get called in to do facilitation for various meetings and issues. … A lot of them tend to be contentious issues, that need neutral brokers of information and collaboration. A couple of years ago I facilitated the big meeting that happened just off the island related to rockweed harvesting. That was an intense meeting. Probably about 80 people showed up and it was very tense because rockweed harvesting has been happening Downeast fairly significantly for a number of years, and has been happening up and down the coast for a long time, but there’ve been inroads into Gouldsboro and areas of Frenchman Bay. There’s some concern around what that’s going to do. Yeah, it was a pretty heated meeting.

Jenn:        It seems like there are more people doing the harvesting now … and they’re becoming more visible.

Natalie:  Exactly. Rockweed harvesting has been around for a long time, the thing that seems to be really growing is ‘sea vegetable’ harvesting, which is a much smaller percentage of the seaweed industry – people who harvest dulse and Irish moss and other species, and also the aquaculture of seaweed is growing pretty quickly. The seaweed issue [is] just much more in the public eye in the last few years. We coordinate aquaculture training programs: how to do aquaculture, how to do it sustainably, how to do it within the confines of a community’s ecosystem and the cultural and social carrying capacity of a community. We do that in partnership with a bunch of different organizations. That’s focused on shellfish and seaweed aquaculture. The teaching doesn’t focus on salmon aquaculture, that’s a whole different industry. Though our extension agent based in Eastport does work closely with the Salmon industry.

Jenn:        It seems like a much bigger impact.

Natalie:  And a much more capital-intensive undertaking as an entrepreneur. You need a ton of money and a ton of infrastructure to get started in salmon aquaculture. It’s really intensive versus shellfish or seaweed farming. People like you and I are starting shellfish and seaweed farms, attempting it on a small scale in a particular bay or cove that they can access more easily that doesn’t need a lot of space to try it for a year or two, see if they can figure it out, see if it works. The mistakes that you make along the way are a lot less …

Jenn:        Expensive.

Natalie:  Yeah, exactly. The repercussions of the mistakes. If you’re investing in salmon, you can’t start small. You need the big infrastructure right from the get-go. Shellfish and seaweed, you can really start at the small scale. Interestingly a lot of the people who have been taking the classes and who have been turning to us for support and help have been fishermen who are looking for other ways to make a living off the coast, recognizing that they might be making a lot of money in lobster right now but who knows if they will or will not in the future?

Jenn:        Diversifying.

Natalie:  Exactly. That’s a big part of the demographic of who we’ve been doing these classes with.

Jenn:        How did you get to a point where people trust you to run these things? How did you get known as a neutral?

Natalie:  That’s a great question! Sea Grant has been in Maine since the late 60s, early 70s, … For several decades there were much fewer players in the marine research and education field. Now there’s a ton of people involved in this work, which is great, but 20 years ago, 30 years ago, Sea Grant was one of the few organizations who were involved. We’ve been around for a long time, so there’s this understanding of the issues from the perspective of university research which we bring to the table. I’ve been with the program for 17.5 years. The team that I’m a part of is about 20 years old and we very deliberately work in the communities where we live and work. We don’t parachute in from away, we’re here. I run into people that I serve at the grocery store, … There’s very much a relationship-building perspective. Then we also are … really committed to not taking a particular stand on an issue, but transferring information about that issue. What are all the different dimensions of rockweed harvesting? Recognizing there’s a number of people who are really concerned about it, recognizing that there’s a number of people who make their living off of it. Really [making sure] when we convene gatherings and meetings and workshops and conferences, for example, that all the different interests are represented. That’s a really fundamental commitment of the program. I think over the years people have recognized that we walk the talk.

Jenn:        You just keep demonstrating.

Natalie:  Demonstrating over and over again that we’re totally committed to being neutral brokers and to helping identify what are the points of conflict that need information to help tease out a potential solution, rather than ‘here’s the information to solve it according to a particular angle.’ For example, a couple years ago I was asked by some property owners … to help facilitate a series of meetings about aquaculture because they were concerned about aquaculture. They shared with me the list of who they wanted at the meeting. I was like, “That’s great, all those people should be there, but you didn’t invite any aquaculture farmers.”

Jenn:        Seems like a pretty big omission.

Natalie:  Okay, let’s find the farmers that you’re concerned about and let’s help make some bridges and help you guys talk to each other.

Jenn:        That’s awesome.

Natalie:  Yeah, it’s great work. I love it. … Trust is fundamental to what we do – building that trust. … Here’s an example … I’m co-teaching a class at COA called Mapping Ocean Stories, where we’re doing oral histories with fishermen and others, and the students are collecting stories and collecting information about how fishermen use the water, what areas they use, territories, what they call the undersea ledges, all that very localized knowledge. The students have been engaged in interviewing people in Winter Harbor, on Islesford, and in Southwest Harbor.

My role is to be this liaison between the academic world and the communities. We have been working with one of the historical societies who have been really interested in capturing the fisheries history of their region and they would like to see what the students present before going any deeper. Playing that liaison role and building trust in communities is so critical to what we do. [We] are constantly identifying the points in whatever project we’re doing where we sense they’re not comfortable. ‘What’s happening here? What’s the issue?’ In this particular case …. I realized I need to slow the academic research train down because my colleagues at the college were like, “Let’s go, let’s set up more interviews, let’s move this forward.” My role was to [say], “Hold on, you’ve got some anxiety at the community level, they need more information, they need more understanding about what the college’s intent is.” …

Jenn:        People will clam up.

Natalie:  Right, exactly. … That same situation comes up all the time. Our role, in part, is to help zero in. ‘What are the needs at the community level? What are the points of anxiety? How can we help work through those points?’

Jenn:        Did you figure out what it was?

Natalie:  In this case it was concern that was left over from previous projects that were unrelated to the college. We had to tease it out.

Jenn:        What are you going to do with the results of the class?

Natalie:  The Southwest Harbor interviews are turning out to be really interesting in terms of how not just fishermen but recreational boaters, yachters, sailors, et cetera, use the waters in the Great Harbor, between Northeast, Southwest and the Cranberries, that waterway in there. What keeps coming up in those interviews is the small cruise ship controversy – that’s triggering people to talk about concerns that they have about boats coming in and not just small cruise ships but yachts and other boats that might move lobster gear and tie up the free movement of working vessels. We’re still trying to figure it out but we might have the students pull together a summary of what they’ve heard in some of those interviews and present it to the Harbor Committee in Southwest.

The Islesford interviews have been fascinating too, related to the same issue. … The students have been interviewing some of the guys in Islesford who have been fishing for a long time out there, who were involved in helping found the co-op. Islesford and Winter Harbor have been talking a lot about the changes in the lobster industry and where historically lobstermen had very specific territories of where they fished and if you were not part of that particular territory, you got your traps cut … While it’s still very true there’s also this, to quote one of the guys from Islesford, “wild wild West,” where they’re going off-shore. We’re really zeroing in on changes that have happened in the last three or four years where … many fishermen are going a lot further out than we ever realized.

Jenn:        That must have all kinds of repercussions for them.

Natalie:  They need bigger boats, they need probably two, sometimes three, sternmen.

Jenn:        Way more gear.

Natalie:  Bigger gear, heartier gear. Some of these traps are humongous. There’s generational changes where it tends to be some of the younger ones who are … the next generation of leaders in the lobster industry … going a little bit further out. It’s cool because up and down the coast, … in all different fishery circles people are like, “Yeah, there’s a lot more guys going out.” Through this process of oral history actually capturing who’s going out, where are they going. Having these conversations with a chart on the table enabling the fishermen to [show us] – It’s tricky because fishermen are really private about where they fish, understandably so. These are their business secrets. We’re trying to not get caught up on where do you, John Smith, personally fish, but where does the community of Winter Harbor fish, where does the community of Islesford fish, generalities of where they go. Some percentage goes offshore but more go offshore than used to. One guy was saying that relieves the pressure inshore, which is interesting because there’s some percentage of the fishermen that used to fish inshore and are now fishing offshore. However, lobstering has been so good and so lucrative now for the last 10 to 15 years that so many more people are into it. The competition is pretty fierce because there’s a lot of people.

Jenn:        Are people worrying about the stability of the stock?

Natalie:  Yeah. There is an assumption that it won’t go like this for forever. I don’t think we have talked to a single fisherman who doesn’t assume that it’s going to change at some point. You ask them ‘When do you think it’s going to change?’ … Not very many say it’s begun. Most of them are saying this year was a down year just because … not every year can be a record-breaking year, this is just a tiny slowdown. Most of them are not concerned that it’s happening right now, but they’re all saying 10 to 15 years. Some of them are hopeful – 30 years. Who knows? Everyone is aware that they’re completely dependent on one fishery, and if that goes belly-up they’re all really aware of the trauma that could happen. What’s interesting is that lobster has kept breaking records for, I’m going to say, 20 years now. The generation of fishermen who are young and really getting into it now have never known not having the opportunity to be involved in an industry that is continually booming. They’ve never known anything else. That’s a concern among the senior fishermen, who feel like the young guys don’t have this sense of ‘you have to … save for a rainy day.’ … Don’t overcapitalize on your boat because [if] you have a $300,000 mortgage to pay on your boat, what happens if you have five years where it’s slowed down? How do you pay that?

Jenn:        Is that how much lobster boats cost!?

Natalie:  Some of them that go offshore, yeah.

Jenn:        I had no idea.

Natalie:  Yeah, it’s intense. Big, beautiful … They have crazy engines. The older generation, the more traditional guys … not as many of them go offshore, a lot of them are like, “Let the next generation go offshore, it’s less crowded in here.” That’s what the Islesford guys were saying. A lot of the older guys are worried for sure. This can’t go on forever. They’re trying all kinds of creative things. The Islesford Co-op has been a real leader in terms of developing ways to get their lobster to market. If you check out their website they have a beautiful website, they have a very active Facebook presence, stuff that lobstermen didn’t used to do.

Lobstermen historically have just assumed that you sell to the dealer and off it goes and that’s it, ‘what I do is lobster and I don’t worry about all that other stuff.’ Some of them, like the Islesford Co-op in particular, have been trying to figure out ways to [say], ‘Okay, let’s not worry about the dealer, let’s keep the money in-house, let’s figure out ways to find markets.’ Are you familiar with the Skippers Program?

Jenn:        No.

Natalie:  It’s a high school program. … The Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries, they’re based in Stonington, they initially teamed up with the Deer Isle-Stonington High School to create a high school program that was focused on kids who maybe come from fishing families or for whom traditional high school is not the ideal way for them to learn … They maybe assume that they’re going to grow up to be fishermen. They’ve created this whole program that is now in 12 high schools Downeast, it’s very cool. It focuses on teaching kids … everything you need to know to be a fisherman in the traditional sense of the term but also … today you can’t just be a fisherman and fish, you have to have an understanding of the regulations that are constantly changing, you have to be a policy wonk to be an effective fisherman. You have to be a business person, an entrepreneur, to be able to sell your catch. It’s a much more complex profession than it used to be 30 to 40 years ago. This program is preparing kids on all these different levels. The kids who come out of there theoretically could continue in fishing but they could become marine biologists, they could become extension agents, they could become any number of different things. They could go to college because they’re prepared. Yeah, it’s a very cool program. MDI High School is involved – they call it the Pathways Program. It’s cool. They want me to come in and do a one-hour oral history training because they want to go out and interview fishermen.

from the MDI Islander, May 1, 2018

Jenn:        Fabulous! Are you seeing more women going into the field? I have this anecdotal impression but –

Natalie:  I would say so, absolutely. One of the guys, I can’t remember if it was a guy from Islesford or Winter Harbor, his statement off the cuff was that 10% of lobstermen are women. … Certainly it’s growing. Stonington, for whatever reason, there’s an enclave of women lobstermen there who are vocal and engaged in the management process.

Jenn:        I know two girls at the high school who fish, one has her own boat, one does it with her sister. Both of their fathers are lobstermen and are so proud of their girls.

Natalie:  I bet. That’s cool.

Jenn:        The stuff from your class, are you going to be making that public anywhere?

Natalie:  Some of it, yes. The Winter Harbor Historical Society, we’re going on Thursday with the students who are going to present their work. They’ve taken the interviews and they’ve been using an online tool called Storymapping, I don’t know if you’re familiar with Storymapping, it started as a GIS tool taking maps and putting them within the context of a story. It’s a really cool tool that the students have used to share the stories they captured in interviews with Winter Harbor fishermen and community members

We’re giving the Historical Society all of the audio, all of the transcriptions and all of the finished products and everything so it will be up to them to decide what to do with the archives. I think that the historical society is going to be super excited about what the students have done. … It’s awesome to work with students in communities because by virtue of being students, they get to ask anything. It’s so fun to work with them because they’re willing to ask questions … For example, we have a student who’s from … Venezuela, I think. … She doesn’t know anything about lobstering, she’s like, “What’s a lobster car?” Stuff that in Maine not everybody knows but nobody wants to ask because they [think], “I should know.” Lobster car, I should know that that’s a storage container for lobsters while waiting for the market but … Anyway, it’s great to work with them because they uncover everything from the basics to the really in-depth. And COA students are constantly trying to understand all the different ramifications from social lenses and environmental lenses and ecological. They’re a fun group to work with.

Jenn:        I can’t wait to see what you do with all of these.

Natalie:  I know, I’m excited about it! The class is part of a larger project that COA, Sea Grant, and Island Institute are working on together called Mapping Ocean Stories. … We’re thinking about doing the class every two years but then in-between having interns who [continue] some of this work. It’s really exciting and there’s a little bit of funding to do it and a little bit of funding to cover some of my time to be really engaged in it. It’s great. Ultimately my goal is that everything produced through this project is archived for the public, either through the Maine Folklife Center or through the NOAA Voices of the Fisheries database, which is all online. That’s the ultimate goal.

Jenn:        While we’re talking about it, is there anyone I should talk to when I get to Southwest?

Natalie:  [Ralph Stanley] is fabulous. His wife is equally fabulous. I don’t know if you’ve encountered this in your work, but I love interviewing older women who always are like, “Why are you interviewing me? I don’t know anything,” but very self-effacing. There’s a generational gap there. Mid-career professional women versus 70-year-old women who have been the wife of the fisherman … A very big cultural difference. Once you get through that, they’re an amazing treasure trove of stories and knowledge. From a fisheries heritage perspective we tend to focus on the fishermen, but the fishermen are part of a larger fishing community. The women are the bearers of that cultural identity. There was a situation where I and two other researchers had lunch with Ralph and his wife and she was fabulous. We keep talking about ‘we need to interview all the older women.’

Natalie:  A few years ago I did a history of MDI’s cod fishery.

Jenn:        I read that, that was amazing by the way.

Natalie:  Thank you! My co-authors did all the historical stuff … We’re interested in the same topics but they’re interested in those topics from the late 1800s and early 1900s – fisheries and communities and what did fishermen and their families do to make a living back then. They’re fascinating.

Jenn:        Their catch tallies, my god.

Photo from “From Wealth to Poverty” by Springuel, Leavenworth, and Alexander (full info in Works Cited, below.)

Natalie:  Right, they’re the type of historical researchers who pore over ledgers from the boats in 1920. Fabulous, I love reading their reports, I totally don’t have the patience to do that. We teamed up because they were like, “We don’t have the time and the energy to sit down and interview people and pull out the stories.” We’re nicely matched. Anyhow, when I interviewed Jarvis Newman, this was four years ago, three years ago that we did this, at that point he was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s. Cod fishermen are older, the fishery pretty much wrapped up in the 1990’s for our area, so the remaining fishermen are older and have not cod-fished in decades so their stories are really valuable. His daughter, Kathy Newman, was there and she helped him make connections. She had great stories herself. This was another woman who runs the boat-building business for the family and she does marine survey contracting. She has tons of memories from her childhood of being out on the water with her dad, going out to Mount Desert Rock to fish for cod and pollock and seeing the Russian vessels coming in before we had established the 200-mile zone to push the foreign vessels offshore. These women have incredible stories.

Jenn:        Is there anything going on you’re really excited about? It doesn’t have to be work, anything at all, any projects you’ve got.

Natalie:  The Mapping Ocean Stories project is really cool because it’s attempting to bridge the line between oral histories and mapping and using oral histories to display information about fishing grounds and about the relationship people have with place. It’s exciting on two levels, one being documenting and capturing this heritage before it goes away, before the seniors pass on, before there’s dramatic changes in the fishery that changes how people make a living and how people use the water. From a purely ‘documentation of heritage’ perspective. Then the other way is exploring ways to use this information to help inform decision-making. In so many decision-making processes on the coast … about offshore wind energy or aquaculture siting … there’s a lot of ‘we need to make sure to engage fishermen and get their take on this,’ but there’s a scale disconnect. Fishermen … have such an intense knowledge of their waterways, local fisheries knowledge, ecological knowledge, … from years of observation and doing and being within these waterways. That is really hard to capture and turn into data in a way that actually feeds into the [methods] that decision-makers make decisions about how the waterways will be used or not used. One of the things that we’re hoping to do is [work out] how you turn people’s stories into data to inform the decision-making process.

Jenn:        Yeah, how do you?

Natalie:  That’s part of the experimentation here. A lot of times decisions are based on spatial information on a map. If we can map how fishermen [use] a particular waterway … For example, that area between Northeast, Southwest and the Cranberries, if we over the course of the coming couple years can actually use data layers to show on a map ‘here’s where fishermen fish’ … When people have been talking about the cruise ships going in through that waterway there’s been a lot of mention of ‘it might disrupt fishing grounds and yachts might get [their propellers] tied up in a rope,’ or that sort of thing, but there isn’t this documented ‘here’s where the fishermen actually use the water.’

Jenn:        Right, here’s the density. … It’s four-dimensional mapping.

Natalie:  Exactly. That’s a really good way to describe it. Yeah, that’s been an exciting project and it’s new. We have students going down to a meeting in New Hampshire of the Northeast Regional Planning Body, which is very high level policy-wonkish federal and state agencies that are attempting to work together to … capture the uses of the waters around the Northeast, from New York to Maine. It’s potentially very useful for helping make decisions about things like offshore wind.

Jenn:        It’s also going to be crucial in things like mapping the shifting northward of the lobster population.

Natalie:  Exactly that kind of thing. One of the criticisms of this process over the last four years, this Northeast Regional Planning process, has been the scale issue. When you’re at this really higher level where you might say, “Let’s engage fishermen and figure out how these decisions might impact them,” this very local-scale information about how a fishing community relies on Frenchmen Bay, for example, or Hulls Cove in Frenchmen Bay, for example, that gets lost. It’s just not at a scale that the upper-level decision-making mechanisms that are now in place have anywhere for that information to feed in, but it’s so critical because these massive decisions that get made impact that local level. We’re trying to figure out how to help connect that. We’ve got four students, I think, going down to the New Hampshire meeting to share [what we’re doing] with these decision-makers.

Jenn:        That’s so cool.

Natalie:  Yeah. We’ll see where it goes, it’s still very new but it’s exciting and it’s different. … Right now there’s a lot of interest around storytelling and capturing stories like the Coast Walk, like so many different efforts, podcasts and videos and all that. Part of what we’re hoping to do is [figure out] how do you take these … amazing stories for the collection and the capture of heritage, how does then that information help inform the decision-making process? We’ll see.

Natalie:  I’m on the Bar Harbor Marine Resources Committee, … other towns call it the Shellfish Committee, we administer on behalf of the town of Bar Harbor how our shellfish resources are managed. There’s a conversation going on right now because of the way that the policy is interpreted at the municipal level versus the DMR level – we’ve had some debates within our meetings, especially our last one, around ‘should we be prioritizing our local guys or should our resource be open for others to come in.’ Another pretty big thing that I was involved with last spring, [was] the question around who has access to the intertidal zone adjoining Acadia National Park lands. Has that come up for you?

Jenn:        Hannah Weber had me up last spring to an intertidal stakeholders meeting up at Schoodic. It was a great meeting. On the mudflats.

Natalie:  It was actually in the field?

Jenn:        They introduced me as an artist and everybody looks at me like this. [Gives wicked side-eye.] Waiting for me to fall over in the mud. But I’ve worked out how to walk through most of this stuff. We had … I can’t remember his name. He’s a rockweed harvester. Then there were a couple of clammers and-

Natalie:  You had some wormers too

Jenn:        Yes, I was so excited! I didn’t know anything about marine worms. [Ed.note: I know a little bit now.]

Natalie:  That’s awesome. You went with Fred Johnson probably.

Jenn:        God, it’s been too long, I don’t remember anyone’s name now.

Natalie:  Yeah, Fred Johnson – the Parks Service had asked me to facilitate a bunch of the meetings that they had before that one. The very first meeting that we did, there were maybe 40 people and Fred walked in and we both looked at each other. I just assumed I had seen him at marine-related meetings. Then by the end of it I realized that back when I was just getting out of COA in ’90 or ’91, I was getting my Maine guide’s license and he was on my licensing board. He remembered me because at the time there were not a lot of women. [He said], “I remember we pushed you real hard.” I was like, “Yeah, you did.”

Jenn:        I totally forgot to ask you this, how did you end up at Sea Grant? You graduated COA…

Natalie:  Yup, graduated COA, guided kayak tours … and managed Coastal Kayaking Tours – the kayak operation of it. … I was with the outfitter for 10 or 12 years, something like that. In the winters went back and got my graduate degree and did other stuff. By the last bunch of years I was part of the management team. I was almost year-round and in that capacity was involved in helping develop the sea kayak guide exam and was really involved with the Statewide Guides Association and the Maine Island Trail.

I was working for the outfitter but getting really connected at a statewide level in a lot of these issues. Then I was feeling like, ‘okay, it’s time for me to do something different,’ and quite literally there was an ad in the Bar Harbor Times for a science writer for Sea Grant.

Jenn:        Wow!

Natalie:  I started as a science writer, and spent two years as part of their communications team. It was really very lucky that I saw it. I was doing a lot of writing at the time and have always been interested in communications. That was a good fit for two years, but I realized I couldn’t be sequestered in an office writing all the time. I’m more outward. I like to write but I like a combination of writing and interaction and supporting communities. At that time – we’ve talked about the Gulf of Maine Expedition.

Jenn:        That was so cool.

Natalie:  I was like, “Okay, I’m going to do this thing. I’m at a stage in my life where, if need be, I’m going to leave my job and do this thing and then figure out my career after.” I talked about it with my employers and that came at the right time – every four years NOAA evaluates all the Sea Grant programs – in the early 2000s we had just gotten evaluated and some of the things that I was proposing to do with the Gulf of Maine Expedition fit with some of the outreach priorities [from] the national office.

Jenn:        Serendipity.

Natalie:  It was serendipity for sure. It was the big life lesson of ‘put your idea out there and maybe it will go somewhere.’ Long story short, I ended up being supported to do the expedition by Sea Grant and then when I came back we redefined my job so that my job is extension as well as communication now. Nearly 18 years later here we are.

Jenn:        Goodness!

Natalie:  I know. It’s been good.

Jenn:        It’s fascinating how people end up [in their fields] …

Natalie:  We’ve talked all around the map! Thanks for interviewing me. It’s been fun.

Jenn:        Thanks for meeting with me.

Natalie:  Yeah, sure. I’ll see you soon!



MacDonald, Rich, ed. Gulf of Maine Expedition 2002: Final Report. color photocopied document, 2003. Downloadable here:

Shepherd, Samuel, “Skippers Student Project Aims to Track Changes in Lobster Fishery,” Mount Desert Islander, May 1, 2018. Accessed at on February 21, 2019.

Springuel, Natalie. “From Wealth to Poverty: The Rise and Fall of Cod around Mount Desert Island,” Chebacco, vol.XVI, 2015. Downloadable here:


Interview: Kristi and Matt Losquadro at the Saltair Inn

Oct 25, 2017: 60 degrees, raining, strong wind

Our next interviewees are Matt and Kristi Losquadro of the Saltair Inn on West Street in Bar Harbor. Saltair, built in 1887, began life as one of the Rusticator-era seaside summer cottages, just a couple of houses down from the Bar. Matt and Kristi were high school sweethearts in Virginia, and worked as a civil engineer and an FBI forensic examiner respectively before buying Saltair and moving to Maine in 2005. We have kids the same age, so we’ve been class parents together since kindergarten. We sat down together at the inn on a chilly October morning, with pouring rain and a strong wind whipping the trees by the shore.

Jenn:   I want to know things like how did you end up here, why’d you buy this house, what do you know about the history of the house? Random stuff.

Matt:   My folks moved here in ’92, and we started visiting them, and it was the only place that we both really felt like we wanted to keep coming back to. We’re not world travelers, we haven’t been all over the place, but we both really, really liked this place. Our jobs were fine in Virginia, but my commute was less than desirable. I had to go in towards DC with everybody else. Sometimes it would take a couple hours or more each way, so it was a pretty rough way to start your day, and to end it for that matter. I don’t know, it was just getting too busy.

Jenn:   You had both the girls at that point?

Matt:   Yeah. Two girls. We moved up here when Katie was five and Emily was almost two.

Kristi:   We decided we wanted to move here, then we looked at single-family homes, and we tried to find jobs. Matt wanted to build houses, and I could be a stay-at-home mom. I mistakenly at the time said, “What am I going to do all day? I don’t want to be a stay at home mom.” He was like, “You can have a book club, you can play cards, you can meet other moms.” I was like, “Oh my gosh, I don’t want to do that.” Now I look back and think, “Really? Do I want to work 12 hours a day instead of stay at home and have a book club and hang out with my kids?” I should have said yes to that.

Matt:   No, it was good you said no.

Kristi:   So then we decided on one trip, “Let’s look at inns. Maybe we could be innkeepers,” because Matt’s parents have been innkeepers. They were retired by then. I don’t know if you know Barry and Susan Schwartz, … they own the Hearthside Inn, we went to them and said, “Tell us about raising your kids in an inn. Is it horrible? What’s the worst part?” They convinced us that we could do it. Then we spent two years looking at inns all up and down the coast of Maine. Matt had spreadsheets on all the inns. This house was on the market, but [it wasn’t] an inn. We kind of had exhausted all [the available listings] – there was no room for kids, or they didn’t make enough money, or it was overpriced, or needed too much work. Then finally one trip we were like, “Let’s just go look at that Saltair,” because they had lowered the price. We walked in and we were like, “This is it.”

Matt:   We had come up that week to look at an inn in Camden, the Windward House. It was nice. It was a well-run business, but the owners had health issues so they were getting out.

Kristi:   It had a big owner’s quarters.

Matt:   A  generous owner’s quarters, the best we had seen so far. Most innkeepers don’t have kids. Either they never did or their kids are grown and gone, so they [just] need a bedroom and a bathroom and an office.

Jenn:   It seems like [all the other innkeepers] I know live in the basement, which you guys did for a while.

Kristi:   We did do that for a while.

Matt:   Five years.

Kristi:   But when we were looking at inns, we said, “We are not going to raise our kids living in a basement. We’re going to buy an inn that has good space.” That’s how we ended up here. Of course then we moved our kids to the basement after we moved in. This was out of our price range, a little more expensive, and it needed more work. It wasn’t a turnkey operation because it wasn’t an inn. We had to start from scratch, but it is still the only bed and breakfast on the water in downtown Bar Harbor, so we thought, “That’s a niche that nobody else has.” So we splurged.

Jenn:   You have that spectacular lawn.

Kristi:   That was kind of it. We started with four rooms and grew to five, and then to six, and then to eight.

Jenn:   Did you have to put all the bathrooms in?

Matt:   We put in two upstairs on the third floor and one down in the basement for us, but all the others were already here.

Kristi:   … Three of them we’ve gutted completely and redone.

Matt:   It was bad. Of the eight guest bathrooms, there’s only two we haven’t really gotten deep into.

Jenn:   You guys have done so much work on this place!

Kristi:   It’s been a lot. There’s always something to be done, and we keep finding more stuff to be done. At first we had to do hidden things, we had to rerun wiring and pipes. Not that the roof was hidden, but we had to do the roof. Then we flooded the basement twice, so we had to refinish the basement twice because that’s where we were living. People would say, “Your house needs to be painted, you need to do this deck over.” Yeah, but we had to do all this other stuff first. We finally got it. We’re in a good spot now, but even this winter, there’s two bathrooms that need to be redone. … We spent a lot on our own space, which most innkeepers probably wouldn’t do, but because we had the kids, we put that addition on. We could have bought a house in town and had a rental house like everybody else does for the money that we spent to put that addition on for ourselves, but it was worth it. It improved our whole quality of life. In the long run, it raised the value of the house too, but it’s not an immediate return.

Jenn:   It’s a quality of life thing.

Kristi:   Yes, it was really important.

Jenn:   You guys did such a nice job with it. If you didn’t know, it would be hard to pick out what was new.


Kristi:   That was Kay and Augusto. [Ed.note: of A4 Architecture.] They designed it, and they really did a good job. We had done a rough design, and then we went to Kay and Augusto. Then we were like, “Wouldn’t it be nice if you could access our space right from the kitchen like you would a regular house?” And Kay said, “Why don’t we just take this wall out.” Things that you don’t see, architects see.

Jenn:   It’s like they can see through a brick wall, literally.

Kristi:   It’s perfect for us. They had recommended a contractor from Machias, and he did a great job. We’re happy.

Jenn:   Are you guys still doing [the work yourselves]? Like the bathrooms that you’re remodeling this winter, are you doing the tiling and all? I know you’ve done most of the [renovations so far].

Kristi:   Yeah.

Matt:   Bathrooms we pretty much do ourselves.

Jenn:   I’m impressed. I’m so intimidated by tiling.

Matt:   I think we do a really good job.

Kristi:   We do a good job with the actual tiling. I don’t do a good job of cleaning after the tiling. There’s a couple rooms where you can see spots where I didn’t scrub well enough and now it’s permanent. You can’t scrape it off the floor. That’s me. By the time you’re done tiling and scrubbing, the last thing you want to do is scrub out that bathroom.

Matt:   This one we’re going to do this winter is going to be completely rearranged. It will probably go down to studs because we’ve made the mistake in the past of saying, “Let’s just do what we need to do in this bathroom. We don’t have to take that wall of sheetrock down,” or, “We don’t have to demo that area of the ceiling.” And it always comes back to bite you. We end up going down to studs anyway. That’s phase one, you put some plastic over the door and you take everything out. We’re going to move the tub. We’re going to move pretty much all the fixtures because it’s a big bathroom, but it’s just not laid out real well. Half of the bathroom is this enormous two person jacuzzi tub, which …

Kristi:   It’s on its way out.

Matt:   Yeah. It was probably great 15 years ago, but now it’s not new anymore. The tubs they make today are so much better. Even though they might be smaller, they’re more comfortable. We like air jet tubs as opposed to jacuzzi tubs so they don’t vibrate the whole house when they’re on.

Kristi:   But people want them. People want jacuzzi tubs.

Matt:   You know what, they just want a tub. If it’s a tub big enough for two people, that’s a bonus. I don’t think they care whether it’s jacuzzi or an effervescent bath. I think it’s going to be a much nicer bathroom when we’re done. Huge walk in shower, two shower heads, and a nice bath. A double vanity. We’re doubling the size of all the fixtures, but I think it will still feel like a big bath when you walk into it. It’s not going to be cramped.

Jenn:   It sounds luxurious.

Matt:   It’s going to be. It has issues right now, but that’s what we do. My uncle was here for a few days last week. He’s a retired banker, so we were talking to him about the projects we need to do, and it was his opinion that this one is the first on the list because I think raising the rate will pay it off in a year. Then by year two it’s extra money because you’ve already paid off the project. I think it’s smart to do it.

Jenn:   Just in time for Katie to start college, right?

Matt:   Yes. I look around at these other inns, and there are several inns in town that have rooms that are priced higher than ours. I see the imperfections in our rooms, but still, we’re the only inn on an acre of waterfront property. The rooms that we have are generous in size to say the least. It’s the little details. It’s the little scuff marks here. Or it’s a little frayed here, it’s a little crack in the wall there. They’re not perfect. She’s reluctant to raise the rates until the rooms are perfect. It wouldn’t take much.

Jenn:   It’s just finding the time and the energy to do it.

Kristi:   And the money.

Jenn:   Well, that too.

Kristi:   Well you know. People nitpick them, “This isn’t done, this isn’t done,” you want it to be perfect.

Jenn:   Show me your pictures?

Kristi:   This is from Mrs. Barnes, who lived here in the 1960s. Let’s say ’68. She and her daughters stopped by a few years ago … and they brought us these pictures. We walked them all around. They’re the ones who told us [about the original layout.] You think the house looks so big – how could one family live here? All this where we’re sitting was back porch, like a screened-in back porch, that corner down there. That was all a back porch. [Ed note: It’s now a spacious kitchen.]

Jenn:   Oh I see.

Kristi:   Then upstairs  … we had divided bedrooms, like this Harbor Suite up here was like a second floor living room that was all open with bedrooms along the outside. It didn’t have as many rooms and bathrooms. The master suite was the old living room, and the dining room was this whole section. It was still, obviously a really big home, but it wasn’t probably as palatial as it might feel now for a single family. Then we’ve also met the Simons family who lived here from 1976 to 86. … A lot of people in town know the kids, the Simons. Carol and John. People our age would say, “I spent the night at your house, or I used to go to parties at your house.”

Jenn:   Neat.

Kristi:   Carol comes every year now, and she stays with us. We met her like our first or second year. She came up and stayed for the weekend and talked about the house. Previous innkeepers had told us the house was haunted and there was a ghost. Then this guy, probably he was a little younger than us, who used to be friends with them, proposed to his wife here. He came and stayed here. He wouldn’t even go up to the third floor because when he was a little kid and friends with them, they used to take him up there and they would see ghosts. We thought, “Oh my god, the house is haunted.” Then Carol came and we met her, and she was like, “No, it was all a setup. They used to terrify this kid.”

Jenn:   Oh the poor kid!

Kristi:   We don’t think it’s haunted. We’ve had no ghosts here.

Matt:   We’ve had more people come in and say that it feels very pleasant, people that are very sensitive to that kind of energy. They know as soon as they walk in that they’re very comfortable here.

Kristi:   Nothing bad has happened, the house has got a happy vibe. We had a medium here.

Matt:   She seemed pretty serious.

Kristi:   We didn’t know she was [a medium.] She was a guest here for one night, and she came downstairs. We always say, “Did you sleep okay?” She said, “Well not really, but it’s not your fault. There was a spirit, a ghost kept waking me up all night and wanting to talk to me.” We were like, “What?!” She said it was a little girl who was standing at the foot of the bed, and it kept poking her in the foot, waking her up all night. … They came down early for coffee, so they’re talking about this over coffee. We didn’t really want to talk about it in front of everybody else because she might freak somebody out. Then they left right after breakfast, so we didn’t get much time to talk. She said the ghost isn’t necessarily from the house. Ghosts come to her because she is a medium, so the spirit could have just come to her. And nobody else in that room has ever experienced anything, so it was kind of freaky.

Kristi:   The previous innkeepers, they were Tony and Elaine, and they had run this as an inn in the late 90s. Elaine’s father had owned the house. … Elaine was a Farrar. Then they sold it to Tim Gott and his partner. They bought it as an investment to flip it. When we bought it, … there was no history passed to us, it was very much a business transaction. A couple months later, Tony, the old innkeeper, called us. He was like, “I saw your website.” Talked to us on the phone a little bit. Then right before he hung up he said, “Enjoy the ghost. That house is haunted.”

So I was all freaked out that we bought a haunted house, that we had a ghost. I would have thought before we bought the house that it would be cool, but when you’re living in a house and somebody tells you that there’s a ghost in your house? It freaked me out. For a few days, like a week, I wouldn’t go upstairs by myself. Then finally I went up to the third floor and I had this heart-to-heart with “the ghost,” and I said, “We just want to raise our family here, we want to take care of your house, we want to restore it to its beauty. You’re welcome to stay as long as you want, but please don’t ever reveal yourself to us.” He or she never has, and we’ll just keep it like that. So there’s either no ghost, or the ghost is respecting our wishes.

Matt:   Mm-hmm.

Kristi:   No ghost.

Jenn:   It’s funny, somebody told me when we bought our house that it was haunted. I was nine months pregnant at the time. You know how it is. It doesn’t take much to freak you out. I don’t believe in ghosts, … [but] for like the first 10 years I was listening to all the creaks going, “Is that a ghost? Am I wrong? Are there really ghosts?” I’ve never seen anything. I don’t believe it.

Kristi:   Right. No ghost.

Jenn:   I don’t think my house is haunted. I think she was just screwing with my mind.

Kristi:   I think that’s what he was doing, too. Or, I don’t know. He said that it was a lady who haunted the house, he would smell her perfume.

Jenn:   Interesting.

Kristi:   I will tell you, every once in a while, I will be sitting somewhere, and all of a sudden I’ll get a whiff of perfume, then I think, “Oh my god, is that it?” Then I think, “No, it’s not. It’s something else.” But every once in a while, I’ll be cleaning up in a guest room, or I’ll be down here, and I think, “What’s that smell?” Then it goes. I don’t believe it’s a ghost, but because he said it, it makes me stop and think about it every time.

Jenn:   It’s funny how even if you don’t actually believe it, you can’t get it out of your head.

Kristi:   Right. You can’t stop.

Undated photo, ca.1896, courtesy of Matt & Kristi Losquadro.


Kristi:   So this house was built in 1887 by William and Elizabeth Rice. Nobody knows a lot about them. Elizabeth Rice was on the board at the hospital, and kind of helped establish the hospital. I don’t know anything about him. We googled them and looked in all these history books. They built six houses on this street. Then they sold to Bleecker Banks who used to be the mayor of Albany, New York. His company I think published … law books.

Photo courtesy of Matt & Kristi Losquadro, source unknown.

Kristi:   You know Raymond Strout?

Jenn:   Yeah!

Kristi:   He brought us a floor plan of the house from 1896. This is from when Bleecker Banks bought the House. There’s a whole list of previous owners. Look how many times this house has been sold. Raymond has a whole ledger. This is a page out of his book that has all the sales and stuff in Bar Harbor.

Kristi:   Matt thinks a lot of these changes here were probably done by Bleecker Banks. A lot of these changes probably date back to the 1900s.

Jenn:   This is so cool!

Kristi:   Yeah he showed up one day. Raymond was friends with John Smolley who was doing our roof, and Raymond said to John, “I have some stuff from the Saltair, do you think that they would like it?” John was like, “They would love it.” So he framed it all up and brought it over, said, “Here would you like to buy this from me?” We were like, “Yes, yes we would.”

Jenn:   He’s a good businessman.

Kristi:   Yeah. All done up too, and ready to go.

Jenn:   He does such a great job. … The house looks so much smaller in this [floor plan.]

Matt:   It was. This is the sitting room with the Acadia suite, this is the bedroom for the Acadia suite, this is the bath, and then this is the Chart room. So that’s how that end of the house on the second floor changed. You can see this is just a roof. That was a roof over this patio. This is the master suite sitting room. This is our breakfast room, and we’re sitting right here in the kitchen. That used to be all outdoor porch.

Jenn:   Looks like they just kept enclosing it.

Matt:   Yeah, they just kept building walls farther and farther back. … There was an addition here, here, and here. I think they were all done by Bleecker Banks. I think this little pencil sketch here was Bleecker Banks sitting down with his architect or his builder saying, “I want to put a room right here.”

Jenn:   Oh yeah.

Matt:   Then when he did that I think he did that addition. This says ‘Passageway,’ but it was basically a hallway from the old back door, which is the door that most of our guests come in because it’s on the street side. They think it’s the front of the house, but this would have been the front of the house. Servants and deliveries would have come in here to the foyer and come down this hallway to the back staircase. That stair right behind the fridge goes down to the basement where they did most of the cooking, and then up to the third floor where their sleeping quarters were. This is labeled ‘servants’ room’, this is ‘dining room,’ so I think this is the servants’ dining room.

Jenn:   Oh I see.

Matt:   That’s where they had their meals. They slept up on the third floor, and they did most of the cooking downstairs. There was an old dumbwaiter here that’s still downstairs in the garage that came up near the dining room.

Kristi:   Let’s see what else we have. These are just lists of the ‘who’s who’ and says, “Mrs. Bleecker Banks gave a dinner on Thursday at Saltaire in honor of Justice Edward Patterson of New York. Those present were Mr. and Mrs. Morris Jesup, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Redmond, and Mr. Henry Grant.” The Jesups were here having dinner. “Mr. and Mrs. William Lawrence Green are the guests of Mr. and Mrs. Bleecker Banks of Saltair.” I can’t believe they used to write this in the newspaper. We found these as the Bar Harbor Times was putting their historical archives in the computer, so every couple years you could google ‘Saltair, Bar Harbor,’ and a new little ‘who’s who’ article would pop up. …  And that’s kind of it. We’ve been collecting [information], but we don’t know a lot. We’ve rewritten the history of the inn [for the website.]

From the Saltair website:

"Saltair" was built in 1887 as a guest house for William and Elizabeth Rice of Massachusetts and New York. Mr. Rice was an investor and businessman. Mrs. Rice was one of the founding benefactors of what is now the MDI Hospital. Saltair was one of six summer "cottages" the Rice's built in the section of West Street known as the West Street Historical District, which includes 17 properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places. An expansive back lawn slopes gently from the rear of the inn to the water's edge. ... Saltair was designed by Boston architect Arthur Rotch, who designed over 15 other buildings in Bar Harbor, including St. Saviour's Episcopal Church located on Mt. Desert Street. ... Mr. Rice sold the home in 1896 to Anthony Bleecker Banks of Albany, NY. Mr. Banks was the President of Banks & Company, the publisher of the oldest law books published in the United States. He also served as mayor of Albany, NY in 1876. Mrs. Banks was Phoebe Wells. In 1926, the house was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Marshall Langhorne of Virginia and Washington D.C. Mr. Langhorne was a politician and Mrs. Langhorne was Mabel Johnson. Mr. Langhorne was a cousin of Lady Astor, society hostess and social critic who was the first woman seated on the British House of Commons in 1919. The next owners of the Saltair were Mr. and Mrs. Edward Browning. Mrs. Edward Browning, Ella, was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. George McFadden and served on the Roscoe Jackson Memorial Laboratory Board of Trustees in 1953."

Kristi:   Matt was googling all the names of the owners. He was like, “Look, this guy went to VMI just like I did.” [That would be Marshall Langhorne and Virginia Military Institute.]

Jenn:   Isn’t it amazing how much is online these days?

Matt:   I couldn’t find a photograph of him. I really wanted to find like a picture in his cadet uniform or something like that. Couldn’t find one though.

[Ed.note: Drat, neither could I. I really wanted to surprise Matt! The most I could find was his VMI record, and this paragraph in the Register of the Department of State of 1912.]

Kristi:   There was a woman who had written a book – Walking Tour of Bar Harbor or something like that. Maybe she wrote the book about the historical walking tour, which had been published right when we bought the inn I think, and she stopped by once. … There used to be this West Street Owner’s Association, which really doesn’t exist [anymore]. At the time, she offered to research the history of all of our homes and put it all together for us, but nobody wanted to pay her to do it, so we didn’t do it.

Jenn:   Oh bummer.

Kristi:   When we moved onto the street, … the first group of neighbors that we lived here with weren’t so sure they wanted another bed and breakfast on their street. … We’re much friendlier now with all the owners on the street. They’ve all changed since we moved here.

Jenn:   What year was that?

Kristi:   2005 we moved here.

Jenn:   I’m just trying to think, isn’t the Kedge the only other bed and breakfast, or were there more?

Kristi:   The Tides was a bed and breakfast, right next door. Then the house on the corner was the Inn at Sunset and used to be owned by what was their last name? Smiths. The Smiths.

Matt:   Yeah, but that was not an inn when we moved here. It was previous to 2005.

Kristi:   Right. They all were closed except for the Tides. The Tides was operating …

Matt:   Until ’09.

Kristi:   Yeah, but not even really busy. They were just taking in guests more like as a hobby.

Jenn:   And the Kedge is closed now, isn’t it?

Kristi:   Yeah. Right, the same year … I think it had already been closed, but they bought it the same year we did.

Jenn:   A really big branch just fell off your tree.

Matt:   On the left?

Jenn:   Yeah.

Matt:   That’s actually not our tree. We don’t own any trees back here. Each of these trees is about a foot on that other side of the property line. Even that one right next to our chairs is a foot on that side.

Jenn:   So your property line runs like a diagonal? Well okay, then it fell off your neighbor’s tree.

Matt:   When they raised the canopy on all of these trees, that was probably seven years ago, you couldn’t see on the other side of those trees. The branches and the leaves came all the way down to the bushes. They limbed them all up, to improve their view, but at the same it opened up ours. Huge improvement. Then over here Mrs. Morell had allowed a whole row of Norway maples to grow up in this garden bed that kind of divides the two properties. I’m sure she did it for privacy purposes. They completely obscured any view we had to the west. When Joe and Jefferson bought that house, they asked us, just to be neighborly, how we would feel if they took down all those trees. It’s like, ‘yeah we’ve been wanting to do that for years but they weren’t our trees.’ So they took them all down and then raised the canopy down at the water.

Kristi:   Then the town decided maybe they wanted to turn that ferry terminal into a cruise ship terminal, and we thought, “Great, we just took out all the trees that blocked the ferry terminal.”

Matt:   It’s too bad we didn’t leave a couple of those trees.

Kristi:   The day after the vote – the vote last June where the town overwhelmingly voted to move forward – we came out, it was when we were out here in the morning, and we’re looking out on this beautiful summer morning, and Matt says, “Wow. You know what’s missing out there?” And I was totally unsuspecting, and I said, “No, what?” And he was like, “A big …” I’ll leave the bad word out.

Matt:   F’ing cruise ship.

Kristi:   Cruise ship. I was like oh god, seriously. That’s what’s missing from this view. It’s why I’m on the committee. Not to sabotage a pier, but just because I think it’s a huge decision that this town is making. You could forever be changing Bar Harbor, so make the right decision.

Matt:   We’ll move. I swear to God, I can’t look out back there and see boats like that. Not like that.

Jenn:   I don’t think anybody wants [a berthing pier.]

Kristi:   I think a berthing is only a good idea financially. Not for any other reason, but it makes the most money for the town. This whole pier process … some good ideas are emerging, like a multi use marina with a boat launch for kayakers and parking and a transportation center. Then a percentage of tendering there, which I think is good for Ocean Properties because nobody is even talking about taking all the tendering. Some people may feel, ‘yeah, take it all from them,’ but they’re running a good business down there. They don’t want to lose all their business.

Matt:   Unfortunately, we’ve got lots of sympathetic friends and acquaintances in the town, but not 5000 of them. We can’t hope that everybody comes by for a cup of coffee and sympathizes with how that change would affect us personally, speaking completely selfishly. I don’t think you can dispute that it would change this.

“Indian encampment at the foot of Bar/Bridge Street in Bar Harbor around 1881.” Photo from the Abbe Museum via Maine Memory Network.

Kristi:   Do we know anything else? We know it was an Indian encampment.

Jenn:   Yeah, I’ve seen pictures of that.

Kristi:   We talked with some people at the Abbe Museum about how they would love to dig up our backyard.

Jenn:   Are you guys up for that?

Kristi:   No.

Jenn:   Oh bummer.

Matt:   I went on a dig with the people from the Abbe years ago, and it was out in Goldsboro in this person’s backyard, and they took one meter square, ten centimeters deep, and they had a grid. Every year they came out and took meter one and then meter three and then meter five, and then came back for meter two and meter four. Sifted it all, found stuff, cataloged it. I said, “If you want to do it down by the bushes or something, I wouldn’t have a big problem with that.”

Jenn:   It’d be pretty cool. … It seems like if there was anything from the Wabanaki era [on your property] it would be pretty far down, because didn’t the town kick them off of here …

Kristi:   Before they built the houses.

[Ed.note: In 1881 the Bar Harbor Village Improvement Association pushed the encampment away from the Bar. Through 1889, it gradually moved to the west, ending up along the mouth of Eddy’s Brook. In 1890, after West Street was extended to Holland St., the VIA moved the camp to the southern edge of town, on the east side of Ledgelawn Ave, and encampments along the shore were banned in the property deeds. (Asticou’s Island Domain, p.325-329. ]

Kristi:    I’ve heard that when they built these houses they brought in what they call the ‘rich dirt.’ The dirt is really nice here … So yeah, it probably would be pretty far down.

Jenn:    Yeah. When you look at the old photos, the ground just slopes right down to the shore.

Matt:   If we ever got around to possibly doing some kind of retaining wall down there …

Kristi:   Then we could poke around. When the neighbors built their retaining wall, at the end of the day the contractors would all leave and it was a big disheveled mess and I would go down there and walk all through it.

Jenn:   Did you find anything good?

Kristi:   I didn’t find anything. I was looking for bottles or something cool, but I didn’t find anything. I didn’t want to be obvious either, digging around their yard.

Jenn:   Yeah.

Kristi:   But every time we rip down a wall [in this house], we dig around in there. We’ve found a couple old bottles, an old newspaper in the wall, but it was nothing interesting. We were doing the basement, and Matt was getting in the wall behind the fireplace in the basement. There was this cavity in there. When you looked in, there was this big wooden box in the wall, tucked in behind the fireplace.

Matt:   It didn’t fall back there. Somebody put the box back there and then built the wall.

Kristi:   Matt was like, “Oh my god, come down here.” He’s shining the flashlight, “This was deliberately put in the wall.” We’re all excited, we were ripping out the wall anyway, and then we hauled this big box out. It’s this big wooden box. We got all excited, you know, ‘here’s the moment we find the cool treasure,’ and we opened it, and it was empty.

Matt:   It was actually a crate, and on the side of it was the name of an olive oil company. It was a shipping crate.

Jenn:   What a disappointment!

Kristi:   I know, it was such a letdown! … And the upstairs hallway has a bench. You could tell that the bench used to open, but somebody had sealed it shut. A couple of years ago we pried it open. We thought we’d see what was inside, but it was empty too. No treasures yet. We’re waiting to find some treasures.

Jenn:   We’ve never found anything more interesting than bits of newspaper in the walls [of our house].

Jenn:    It’s pretty cool, digging around trying to figure it all out.

Matt:    I’m pretty much done digging.

[Ed.note: Their research was pretty thorough, and I’ve only got a few notes to add:

– The inn is part of the West Street Historic District, which is #80000226 on the National Register. More info on that here and here.

– The inn’s architects, Rotch and Tilden, also designed several other local buildings, including Chatwold for the Pulitzers (demolished), Sea Urchins (now part of COA Deering Commons), and St. Saviour’s.

– Bar Harbor Times, June 26, 1947, p.10. “In 1923, largely through the efforts of Major George G. McMurtry, Joseph Pulitzer and others, the Bar Harbor Yacht Club was organized with the late Edward Browning as its first commodore. If you were paying really close attention up above, you’ll know that Browning was one of the owners of Saltair. Remember him, because one of these days the Coast Walk will get round the island and we’ll be talking about the Yacht Club.

– And here is a link to the MDI Historical Society’s catalog of the island’s summer cottages: although it doesn’t have any more info on Saltair, it’s a useful resource.

end of Ed.note.]

Matt:    … We had two guests show up yesterday by kayak. I think they’re from Blue Hill, and they kayaked into Bass Harbor, and then yesterday morning they were going to kayak from Bass Harbor to here. They got as far as Seal Harbor and he started sinking.

Jenn:    Oh my goodness!

Matt:    There was a hole in his kayak. They found somebody with a boat that was nice enough to tow them all the way here, I guess. They arrived while I was plumbing, so I didn’t see them come up. His boat is being repaired. He’s got it in our garage right now up on sawhorses with some sort of repair material on it that takes two days to cure. I can’t get the washing machine past his boat right now, so that’s my excuse for not finishing the laundry room project today.

Matt:    I’m 99% sure you gave me back that bag of sea glass and stuff.

Jenn:    Oh yes.

Matt:    That little cherub is missing.

A few years ago, Matt commissioned a still life from me of Kristi’s favorite sea glass pieces as a surprise gift for her. I love the colors of sea glass she found – those purples take decades to form. Most purple sea glass starts out clear, and the manganese in the glass slowly turns purple with exposure to sunlight (to UV rays, specifically.) Sea glass is all about chemistry and patience! The star of the piece, though, is the tiny, headless china doll. This type of doll was popular in the late 19th century and was known as a Frozen Charlotte: the name comes from a ballad about a young girl named Charlotte who refused to wear a cloak over her party dress and consequently froze to death.


Jenn:    Oh no!

Matt:    I’m sure somebody took it home.

Jenn:    Oh that’s awful.

Matt:    Yes it is. That was like the coolest artifact, and we’ll never find another one. It’ll never come up again.

Kristi:    Yeah, I had it out there in my jar of cool stuff, and it disappeared.

Matt:    Now every time I look at … the picture that you did for us, I go hm.

Jenn:    I hope it doesn’t spoil the picture!

Matt:    No.

Kristi:    No.

Jenn:    But I am going to look at the picture a little differently now.

Kristi:    I know. It’s gone. One of these days maybe it’ll show up. Maybe it just got lost.

Matt:    Yeah, I don’t think so. I think somebody thought it was just a piece of beach trash, that it had no value, and so we wouldn’t miss it.

Kristi:    You miss it.

Matt:    I do.

Kristi:    It was the coolest thing we ever found. We didn’t even know how cool it was. Then we got the sea glass book that said what it was, and I was like, “Oh my god, I have one of these. It’s there in the book.”

Jenn:    That’s kind of a sad ending.

Kristi:    You’d never find something like that if you were looking for it.

Jenn:    I’ve never found one and I’ve been beachcombing here for more than 20 years now.

Kristi:    I know.

Jenn:    I should probably let you guys get back to your day.

Kristi:    Yeah. I don’t know what else we could tell you.

Jenn:    If you think of something, you know where I live.  Thank you, guys!



Prins, Harald E. L. and McBride, Bunny. Asticou’s Island Domain, vol.1. Northeast Region Ethnography Program, National Park Service, Boston, 2007.

Register of the Department of State. Washington, DC, Government Printing Office, October 15, 1912. Online:



So basically I have osteoarthritis in my right shoulder and all the cartilage on the head of my humerus has peeled off. That’s a photo of my bald spot up above on the right. My arm bone looks like Friar Tuck! In two weeks I’ll be having a shoulder replacement and I’ll be in a rig that immobilizes the whole arm for six weeks. Long story short, I’m not sure how much I’ll be posting here. I’m hoping I’ll be able to keep working on the interviews – there are still 9 that I haven’t posted yet, and they are awesome – wait til you meet all these cool people!

The shoulder’s pretty painful, which has slowed me down a lot, and most of my energy has gone into my day job of renovating and running a couple of vacation rentals, but I’ve managed to do a bit of photography around the edges, because I get really cranky when I don’t get into the studio for too long. Like being hangry, but with art. If you’d like to see what I’ve been up to when I’m not working on the Coast Walk, here’s the latest in the Beachcombing series,

and here are the latest floating seaweed shots:

I love this one – it reminds of the little Troll dolls from the 70s!


Interview: Maureen Fournier – the Champlain Society

Maureen Fournier is an Acadia National Park seasonal ranger (you may have met her on duty at the Village Green in Bar Harbor), a former medical librarian, and a volunteer researcher at the MDI Historical Society. We met at the Northeast Harbor Library on October 20, 2017 to talk about her work on the Champlain Society. It was a perfect fall day, although it felt more like September than late October: 59ºF (15ºC), bright sunshine, light breeze, and a cloudless blue sky.

You may need a little background info for this one:  The Champlain Society was a group of Harvard students who camped out on MDI each summer beginning in 1880 and conducted research on local natural history. It was started by Charles Eliot, Jr., whose father, Charles Eliot, Sr., had camped out on Calf Island with friends, and brought his family in 1871. The family returned most summers for several years. In 1880, Eliot, Jr. brought his college friends. In a nutshell, here’s why the Champlain Society is important to the Coast Walk: the students were some of the first recreational campers on the island (they helped start an industry); the Eliots were the first Rusticator family to build a summer home in Northeast Harbor (they helped start a summer colony); one of the society members, Edward Rand, eventually wrote The Flora of Mt. Desert Island (1894), which was the first comprehensive catalog of the island’s plants, and also produced a detailed map of the island to accompany the book (and the Coast Walk frequently refers to that map); Eliot, Jr. helped found the world’s first land trust in Massachusetts, which inspired Eliot, Sr. to become one of the driving forces behind the formation of Acadia National Park after the death of Eliot, Jr.; and the work that the society did still stands as a benchmark for comparative studies in how plant and animal populations here have changed over time. Not bad for a bunch of college kids on summer break. (For more details, see the articles I’ve listed in the bibliography at the end of this post)

From Left to Right: Samuel Eliot II – Meteorologist & “Hunter” – 17 years old in 1880. Samuel was the brother of Charles Eliot; George Dunbar – “Hunter” – 20 years old in 1880 – holding saw and hatchet; John Wakefield – Botanist – 20 years old in 1880; Charles Eliot – Director – 20 years old in 1880 – with sunglasses; William Dunbar – “Hunter”- 17 years old in 1880. William and George Dunbar were brothers; Orrin Donnell – Seaman – 21 years old in 1880 – standing with oar; Ernest Lovering – “Hunter”- 20 years old in 1880. Photo by Marshall Perry Slade, “Champlain Society Members at Camp Pemetic,” Southwest Harbor Public Library Digital Archive, accessed March 23, 2018, Item 9494

Maureen and I had never met in real life although we’ve been Facebook friends for a while, so we began by chatting a bit about mutual friends, the historical society, the joy of poking around in archives, and eventually, we worked our way around to the Coast Walk.

Jenn:          Right now, I’m at Robert’s Point, the east side of the harbor there, kind of coming around the point into the harbor.

Maureen:   You’re getting very close to the second camp for the Champlain Society [Ed.note: near the Asticou Inn]. … The first one … is over off Sargeant Drive, on the Sound. … Hadlock Brook comes down there. … That’s on private land. You’ve probably heard the name Catherine Schmitt (see bibliography), … she’s really the expert on everything to do with the Champlain Society, but the two of us were recently talking, and she said, “You know, I’d really like to trace that trail that they take from Lower Hadlock Pond down,” which is now through the golf course basically, to the stream, to the camp.

Jenn:          That would be cool!

Maureen:   It would be cool, but we probably need permission. …

Jenn:          It doesn’t hurt to ask. … Most people here are really interested in the history of the island. I’d say probably 80 percent of the people who I actually reach, say yes. Maybe even more. The people who say no are the ones who are really concerned about other people trespassing.

Maureen:   It might be a gateway for some other people to think they can go ahead and do that as well?

Jenn:          Right.

Jenn:          So, you’re a park ranger?

Maureen:   Right. I’m the ranger at the Village Green in Bar Harbor. I’ve been doing that for about eight years, but before [that] I was a medical librarian for 25 years.

Jenn:          Oh my gosh. No kidding.

Maureen:   My heart is with libraries, and national parks, and the outdoors. I got involved with MDI Historical Society just on a whim about four years ago. This is my home library, the Northeast Harbor Library, although I use them all. Brook Minor was here, and she got a grant through the Maine Humanities Council … to digitize or to add content to Maine Memory Network – I don’t know if you’re familiar with Maine Memory?

Jenn:          Oh yes, that’s an incredible resource.

Maureen:   [When that ended] … I said, “Look. I’m relatively free in the winter times. I would love to get involved on a volunteer level with something like this.” Next thing I know, I’m on this path with the Champlain Society, who I’d never heard of before. Met Catherine Schmitt. Then we started talking with Tim [Garrity] over at the Historical Society and realized that … there are 16 log books of the Champlain Society [and] they were not in a format yet that would be acceptable to Maine Memory Network. … That meant starting from scratch. Scanning them all. The transcripts have to be redone according to standard. That’s when I started working on that. I don’t know if you’ve been on Maine Memory Network lately or on even the MDI Historical Society website. A good number of the log books are up there.

Jenn:          I’ve been poking around through them. It’s amazing. They’re beautiful. You guys did some really high quality scans on those. You can really blow them up and look at the detail.

Maureen:   I’m still working on it. There’s one right now, I just [started] Wednesday at the Historical Society. … There’s seven or eight log books that [aren’t done] … The handwriting is difficult to read. … It’s fascinating. The stories. They laugh at me over at the historical society, because I just love these Harvard boys. I think they are the most fun group. You know how you get the college essay questions sometimes, ‘If you could have an interview with anybody, who would you like to [meet]?’ I would love to meet with one of the Champlain Society members.

Jenn:          I want to go over to the camp and hang out around the fire with them.

Maureen:   I know, I know! …  Sing songs with them. Their poetry was amazing. Their language, and their backgrounds, and the stories that they wrote … such creativity mixed with their scientific background. I mean, I think that their contributions to this island at such a point in the 1880’s, … what they contributed in the way of citizen science …

Jenn:          Rand in particular.

Maureen:   Their stuff was amazing. Right now, Catherine Schmitt is working on a book on the Champlain Society.

Jenn:          Oh, great!

Maureen:   Yes. We’ve had initial meetings to talk about that. Part of the book is what happened to the Champlain Society members after they left their camping experience here, then went back to Harvard. What became of them. Of course, Rand is very well known for his work on flora and fauna. His map of the island-

Map of Mount Desert Island, compiled for The Flora of Mt. Desert Island, Edward L. Rand, 1893

Jenn:          Yes! Which I use a lot.

Maureen:   Me too. I’ve got one hanging in my dining room. When you think about their contributions in citizen science, that alone gives them an incredible reputation as far as the history of the island. Then, they were just fun. They gave us a look, just a little bit of a look into society in the 1880’s on the island, and I look at the log books from the point of view of a very amateur historian. For instance, I knew of the story of a Mr. Howe who had been robbed in his buckboard, coming down from Green Mountain, which is Cadillac Mountain.

Jenn:          My god. Wow.

Maureen:   I knew of that story, but then to read about it as an account in the Champlain Society logbook. “Oh yeah, Mr. Howe was robbed.” Before, it could have been just urban legend. Just a story that had been passed down through oral histories, but then to see [it recorded in the notebooks], it actually happened. It’s a major, primary resource. … I do a lot of hiking on the island, and I hike a lot on the western side. I did not know there was a major fire over there in 1883.

Jenn:          I didn’t either!

Maureen:   Major fire. They could see it from here in Northeast Harbor. There were three or four days of entries that talk about the fire and what they could see. Oh, Garfield assassinated.

Jenn:          That’s in the log books?

Maureen:   That’s in the log books. “We picked up the paper in Southwest Harbor today and read of the shooting of President Garfield.” Actual historical accounts in their writing in the log book, I find … that’s … wow. That’s pretty incredible.

Jenn:          From the little poking around I’ve done, it seems like they have a really irreverent sense of humor.

Maureen:   Oh, that’s what I mean. I would love to sit down with them in their parlor tent and just listen.

“In the parlor tent, Champlain Society at Camp Pemetic, 1881. J. L. Wakefield, Spelman, S.A. Eliot, Rand, C. Eliot, Lovering.” Photo courtesy of MDI Historical Society, catalog 005.17.4

Jenn:          It gives you a real sense of them as people.

Maureen:   Exactly.

Jenn:          Not just as people, but as people at that [age] … college kids, you know?  That point when you’re kind of an adult, but you’re kind of not yet.

Maureen:   Right. I mean, it wasn’t all scientific research that they were doing. … These were young men. …They were the first campers, really on the island. They were thought of as a little exotic and strange.

Jenn:          The barbarians.

Maureen:   Oh yeah, the barbarians.

Jenn:          But the Harvard barbarians – barbarians with a pedigree.

Maureen:   Exactly. Interesting group. And then the group changed from year to year, so you had a new mix of humor, of conversation, of backgrounds; they put on plays, they were very involved in the social life here, so you have an up-front, personal look at society. On many levels, [the logbooks] are just a wonderful resource into that day and age.

Jenn:          One of the things that I’m interested in is … this sense that they were kind of seminal. There were a lot of connections coming out from the Champlain Society. The houses that got built and the people who came here because the Champlain Society had been here. The Eliots came first, and then they brought friends. Their friends grew up and got married, and some of them settled. Well, didn’t settle, but they had summer places here.

Maureen:   Right. Rand probably was the one that came back the longest period of time. Towards the year 1890, he was still compiling information on the island and especially the flora and fauna, and at that point, they were no longer camping. They were more involved … they were grown up now. In some of the later log books, … [Rand] was staying at the Central House in Somesville. He used that as a base, so you can see the difference between when they were in canvas tents [as college students.] Ten years later, now they’re grown up. Now they’re married. They’re spread out more. Toward the end of that decade of the 1880’s, their work wasn’t as prolific as it was in the beginning. In the beginning, it was a club broken up into divisions, and departments, and there was a captain. There was a secretary. They got together over the winter to plan the upcoming summer. They have logbooks of their meetings in Boston. And even [in] those records, you can see the progression of their maturity from being kid-like … with a club, up to more citizen science, and then more involved in general society.

It was a nice, easy progression. You could see the development of them as individuals, and of them as a group. I love reading their records from when they met over the winter time. They’d sometimes get together at hotels. There’s a hotel in Boston called Young’s Hotel. … They actually had menus set up for the event, and they had agendas. They were very, very particular and detailed about what they were going to do.

Jenn:          How many of them were there at that point?

Maureen:   … The membership changed. Generally, it was about a dozen in each summer’s event. Some didn’t stay the whole summer. Some would only pay for [a few weeks] … They each had to pay their individual way. That’s in the log books as well. There’s an accounting.

Jenn:          Oh, cool.

Maureen:   There is a treasury of the group, and there’s an accounting of how much the tents cost to rent, and storage, and the food. They also had a yacht called the Sunshine. That [belonged to] the Eliot family. In the early days, in the first camp at Camp Pemetic, which is the one on the Sound, some stayed on Sunshine right off shore. They used that and a dory to go back and forth [to] Southwest Harbor. They did not use Northeast Harbor as a base, as a place to shop, or to get provisions … Southwest Harbor was the major town and settlement at that point.

Jenn:          Wow. Okay.

Maureen:   Yeah, which is interesting. … It was a very short boat ride really over to Southwest Harbor. That’s how they got around. Oftentimes, they met the incoming members of the camp in Southwest Harbor at the landing there because the steamship would come into Southwest Harbor, rather than Bar Harbor and not Northeast Harbor. …

Jenn:          It’s funny, looking back, sometimes I get that sense that the island was turned around then. That for a long time, Southwest was-

Maureen:   Was the leading or the largest.

Jenn:          And they used to call Bar Harbor ‘the Back Side.’

Maureen:   Yeah. … I mean, that’s true. I think Hancock Point was another area that our visitors would land in. They’d take the train up the coast from Rockland, and they’d get to Ellsworth and take the train to Hancock Point … That’s when Bar Harbor started getting up and coming. Before that, you’re right, Southwest Harbor was it. There were steamships that went up the western side, so Seal Cove, Goose Cove had a landing from Ellsworth and Bangor.

Jenn:          Oh, wow.

Maureen:   There were ships that would land on that side.

Jenn:          I’m going to have to look for that. I had no idea.

Maureen:   Yeah. I know. In transcribing some of these log books, they would have place names mentioned in them, Goose Cove being one of them. The other place that I [noticed was] … Squid Cove. Both Catherine and I [researched] where that exactly is on the map.

[Since I didn’t know where Squid Cove was, either, I’ve included a map for you. Oddly enough, Edward Rand’s own map shows it as Goosemarsh Cove, even though earlier and later maps call it Squid Cove.] Detail of “Mount Desert Island,” Colby & Stuart, 1887. There’s a dotted line showing the steamboat route.

Maureen:   A lot of it’s on private land now, so you can’t access it. There are some wonderful photographs also in these log books. They’re on Maine Memory Network as well. One of the photographs I remember was up in the Squid Point area called High Head. It was a destination for people coming from the east side. They would take their buckboard over, or they’d walk. I mean, visitors then … I call them visitors, but they’re mostly summer residents. They would walk, much more than we do today, and there were times in fact, the Champlain Society would walk from Northeast Harbor, all the way up into what is now Somesville and come down the other side and [it would] take them half a day to walk over there. Then they’d take a boat back over to their camp.

Getting back to High Head, that was a destination, and there are some photographs of them and entries in the logbook about, “Oh, we’re going up to High Head today and enjoy a picnic.” Or something. That’s the time period. There’s a lot more walking. … They walked all [over] … doing what you’re doing actually. I was thinking about this. They were walking from Northeast Harbor, along the shore, up into Otter Creek and up along what is now Ocean Drive, out to Anemone Cave.

Jenn:          That is a long walk!

Maureen:   … They mentioned some of the hotels in Bar Harbor, that they would stay there.

Jenn:          I’m just trying to think, in 1880 a lot of those shore paths weren’t there yet. Those were more the 90’s.

Maureen:   [They would have taken] the road, rather than trails. … They would probably be going up right along what was the county road through Seal Harbor and not turning off onto Cooksey Drive.

Jenn:   So, going the other way, through the mountain pass there. Okay.

Maureen:          Yeah. There’s an old county road that cuts through Otter Creek … I found traces of this county road in Seal Harbor.

Jenn:   Yeah. It used to run through where Blackwoods is now. Down to where the Causeway is. There was a bridge occasionally.

Maureen:   You know when you’re going through Otter Creek … I don’t know if you noticed, right on Route 3 there, off to the right, as you’re heading north towards Bar Harbor, … you can almost trace an old road after the village of Otter Creek, heading towards Otter Cliff Road. You can see kind of an old road bed through there. That was the main thoroughfare through what was called the Gorge. You can see also traces of that old county road. I think there’s a road called the Old County Road in Seal Harbor. Anyway, you can see traces of the old county road also before you get to Cooksey Drive. You know when you pass the lower Day Mountain parking? In those woods on your left, there’s traces of an old road in there.

Jenn:          Cool!

Maureen:   It’s very cool. … They didn’t make a trail, but they did certainly make paths to where they wanted to go. The Asticou Trail, from Asticou to Jordan Pond House, that’s probably one of their earliest paths.

Jenn:          I’ve never walked that one.

Maureen:   … There’s a couple ways of accessing it. You could access it from Brown Mountain Gatehouse, but you could also access it behind the Thuya Gardens. There’s a path back in there that’ll take you up there. Then you get on Park property, and then it’s called the Asticou Jordan Pond Path. That was one of their earlier paths. There are paths up Sargent Mountain. When I’m hiking up Sargent, I’m always looking. I always wonder. This is the way they went or that was the way they went. I find it fascinating to be walking in their footsteps. … They were on Norumbega a lot, there’s some really funny stories about how they ended up in the blueberry bushes, ripping their pants and everything, coming down the east side of Norumbega, which they called Brown Mountain. I’m always looking for trails up on Norumbega because they were there in the Lower Hadlock Pond area a lot. That’s where they took their baths. I think it’s a water source now.

Jenn:          Oh, yeah.

Maureen:   I’m trying to connect it all. Bring it forward. … Just make that connection with them somehow. That’s exciting for me. … The more I started digitizing and helping with the transcriptions, the more I started just falling in love with these guys.

Jenn:          They have outsize personalities. Some of them stand out more than others. …

Maureen:   Yeah. I think Rand has so much talent. He’s the one most people think of. And certainly the captain, who was Charles Eliot. He seems to me, always to be the more sophisticated … fell into that leadership role very easily.

Jenn:          Well, it was his boat.

Maureen:   It was his boat, and the “ancestral home” being here. … [Ed. note: After the Eliot family built a summer home here, the logbooks refer to it as “The Ancestral” or “Ancestral Mansion.” Collegiate irony circa 1884.] But he definitely was a natural born leader as well. Rand is – beyond his work with flora and the mapping – his creative writing, his poetry, his storytelling, he was multi-faceted. … You know what is mind-boggling to me, is the difference in the education systems between then and now. You think, these folks here, of course they went to Harvard and they were Boston Brahmins, you know, blue bloods. They had really good educations. But, at that point, they were also studying the Classics, which is pretty much nonexistent today. Rand especially would incorporate that knowledge base, that love of the classics into his storytelling. He would write pages and pages of stories, using mythological or classical names and stories. He would incorporate that into his story of the Champlain Society. … They were a wonderful mix of the arts and the sciences. Really, when you think about it, they were so well-rounded, in their writing, especially. I enjoy them.

Jenn:          I’ve enjoyed the little bit I’ve read so far. I’m really looking forward to diving into this.

Maureen:   Yeah. I think when Catherine gets this book done, it’s going to be great, because then it can be put out there on a much more accessible level. … This was a copy of what we transcribed for the 1882 log. … The reason I brought this is because he gives a description of their Camp Asticou here in Northeast Harbor and where it was set up.

Jenn:          Neat.

Maureen:   There’s actually even a map, a little hand drawn map in the log book that I don’t have in here, but … You want me to read it to you?

Champlain Society Camp Asticou Log, Northeast Harbor, 1882. Photo courtesy of the MDI Historical Society.

Jenn:          Yeah. If you don’t mind. …

Maureen:   This is Camp Asticou, which is the second camp they had. … So if you’re standing on the porch of the Asticou Inn … it would be a little to your left on the embankment there.

Jenn:          Okay.

Maureen:   The other thing is, in the 1882 log, I think … ’82 or ’83, they put together, kind of like a Champlain Society time capsule, that’s what I would call it, in a tin bucket. … Notes on what they did that summer. … I can’t remember what else they put in this little tin bucket. I thought, man would I love to take a metal detector-

Jenn:          Did they bury it someplace?

Maureen:   They buried it back there somewhere.

Jenn:          Oh my-

Maureen:    Now, I don’t know when they built the houses that are there, … but I’ve often thought, boy would I love to just scour that shoreline there or up the embankment a little bit. In this passage, he talks about some rocks and boulders and things like that. I don’t even know if those boulders are there anymore. Okay, so this is the Asticou camp. [Ed.note: For those who only know the name ‘Asticou’ applied to the Inn and the Azalea Garden, it refers to the Asticou neighborhood, formerly the village of Asticou, at the head of the harbor. More on the history of Asticou in another post.]

“The camp is situated on the top of a high bank, just above Savage’s Wharf. The ground is rather uneven, especially under the parlor tent. On the west, the hill slopes greatly towards the cove at the head of the harbor, and on the south, the descent towards Savage’s Wharf is steep. On the north, there is a gentle slope. On the northeast and east, the site is bounded by a potato, etc. patch. Beyond this, the public road passes. The road is the great drawback to the place, but it is hoped that it will not be a nuisance. Mr. Townsend has almost made up his mind to face the curious gaze of Bar Harbor sirens, but laments the privacy of Camp Pemetic, now, alas, lost to the Champlain Society, for this summer at least. The tents all have a view down Northeast Harbor. From the parlor tent, you can see its whole length. … Savage’s house is very prominent, high on the hillside above the camp. From Savage’s the camp can be plainly seen as we sit at the table during our meals.” That year, when they moved [to Asticou], they no longer cooked for themselves. They went to Savage’s or to another place to get their meals. [Ed.note: ‘Savage’s house’ was roughly on the site of the present Asticou Inn.]

Jenn:          Sensible.

Maureen:  But to me, it’s also the natural progression. For the previous two or three summers, they’ve been really enjoying this camping experience, and then it got old. … They were still in tents, but you can see how they’re growing up a little bit. They’re mingling into society and not escaping from it in a tent. Although, they’re still saying that having the road nearby is not a good thing. They still are maintaining they want some privacy as campers.

“Visitors at Camp Pemetic on Somes Sound 1880.” Photo courtesy of the MDI Historical Society, catalog 005.17.8

Jenn:          Right.

Maureen:   … I think 1882 and 1881 are the most interesting logbooks to read. 1881 because they were so focused on what they were doing here. They were much more meticulous and detailed in what they wrote about, so the content is much more involved.

Jenn:          Is that their second year?

Maureen:   It would have been the third summer. There is a logbook from 1879. That’s when Charles Eliot, the son, came up with the Sunshine, and there is a logbook of meteorological data, which is very interesting. I know the park has been looking at that for the climate change issue, you know?

Jenn:          Yeah.

Maureen:   … To see the changes meteorologically, … even the effect on the types of fish that were here, the flora and fauna that are here now, versus what was there then. These are huge resources in the science field. You know? Because it shows you right there what the difference is. The change in the number of species of birds from then until now. Catherine … has been recently down at Harvard, and in their Natural History Museum they have the actual birds from Spelman.

Spelman Collection. Photo by me, but courtesy of the Museum of Comparative Zoology and ©President and Fellows of Harvard University because they have a crazy strict photo policy.

Jenn:          I’m actually going down to photograph them for her article.

Maureen:   Oh, you are? .. Tim did mention that you’re doing work for the next Chebacco, is that correct? Good. Yeah, your photographs are unbelievable.

Jenn:          Oh, thanks! This is a little different, the stuff for Chebacco. But it’ll be cool. Yeah, I’m going to go down and photograph the birds in early November. I’m so excited. [Ed.note: the 2018 issue of Chebacco will be officially available April 5, 2018. Order yours now!]

Maureen:   She sent me a picture, and … she said, “You can’t imagine the feeling.” There she was with her glove and that warbler in her hand. ‘Oh my god, it’s Spellman’s bird.’ We get very excited about it.

Spelman Bird Collection: Buteo latissimus, August 29, 1882. No.480. Photo by me, but courtesy of the Museum of Comparative Zoology and ©President and Fellows of Harvard University.

Jenn:          No. It’s even more immediate than their writing in a way. This is the bird that he collected himself-

Maureen:   Exactly. It’s that connection between now and then that it’s … You’re right. It’s immediate. It’s a wow moment.

Spelman Bird Collection: Actitis macularius, July 29, 1881. No.833. Photo by me, but courtesy of the Museum of Comparative Zoology and ©President and Fellows of Harvard University.

Jenn:          It’s kind of the point of a history collection in a lot of ways. That wow moment.

Maureen:   Making it come alive. Not just sitting in a museum somewhere. It’s alive to me.

Jenn:          You could probably find the entries that they wrote about each of those birds.

Maureen:   Oh, yes.

Jenn:          I can’t wait to see her article.

Maureen:   Yeah. I can’t either. She’s a very good writer. I’m blown away with the research that she does. I help with whatever I can or whatever she wants me to, but I love being involved with it. She’s definitely the expert on the whole thing.

Jenn:          I have to say, I’m really looking forward to this, partly because of the connection, but mostly because I get to go behind the scenes at a museum, and I get so excited about that.

Maureen:   Oh, I know. Exactly. I would like to schedule a trip down there. This reminds me, I got involved with Ron Epp on the George Dorr biography. [Ed.note: Creating Acadia National Park, The Biography of George Bucknam Dorr.] When I first started as a ranger, so eight years ago. … I was working as a volunteer in the interpretive division. Because of my interest in history, I was asked to conduct the interpretive program at Old Farm. … This was before the Champlain Society came onto my scene. I dove into everything George Dorr. I met Ron. I’m assuming you know who he is.

Jenn:          I know of him. I don’t know him personally.

Maureen:   Like Catherine is the expert on all Champlain Society, Ron Epp is … George Dorr, almost come to life. … He’s a former library director, and researcher, philosopher, he’s like a George Dorr in my mind. Anyway, he was the one I would go to for information so that I could … conduct this program. Then that started a friendship with him over the years, and then I got involved with his biography and helping him with that and doing some minor review of the manuscript. He asked me to write the forward for the book. … When he asked me, I was like, “Really?” Our friendship evolved. Of course, our admiration of everything George Dorr was what kept us very connected. This work for the Champlain Society is equally exciting to me. I feel like whatever I can do to push the whole story of the Champlain Society out for the public to see – I would certainly like to add that.

Jenn:          Well then, I definitely asked the right person.

Maureen:   I don’t know what I can do, but ask and I’ll let you know.

Jenn:          Do you want to show me the camps? …

Maureen:   … We could go to the Asticou Inn, … [and then] drive over to The Sound, and I’ll show you that field. Then, if you want, make a quick stop at the Historical Society, and I’ll show you the log books.

Jenn:          That’d be awesome!

We hopped in our cars and headed for the Asticou Inn.

PART 2 – Asticou

Jenn:          What a gorgeous day.

Maureen:   Oh, I love it here. So I can’t pinpoint the exact location, but from the description I want to say it’s down in this area here. [Ed.note: Down among the trees in the photo above.]

Champlain Society camp log, Northeast Harbor, 1884. Photo taken by the Champlain Society, probably 1883. “Camp Asticou and the Harbor from the roof of the new Harbor Cottage.” The Harbor Cottage was built in 1883 and stood in roughly the same place as the current Asticou Inn (which was constructed ca. 1901.) Their tents appear to be down by the Shellheap property. Photo courtesy of the MDI Historical Society.

Maureen:   You know they talk about, in a little hand drawn map, there’s Tent 1, Tent 2, Tent 3 and Tent 4. And Tent 2 maybe is next to this large boulder. What boulders are there now or were taken out when houses were built, I don’t know. But I want to say it was over in this area here, maybe a little further in that direction.

Jenn:          So it’s all woods now.

Maureen:   … I’ve never walked down in here so I don’t know. I need to research a little bit more where Savage’s Wharf was.

Jenn:          That was over here. …

Maureen:   And then would this have been the potato patch? Do you know? I’m not exactly sure where it fits.

Jenn:          Have you talked to Sam McGee?

Maureen:   No.

Jenn:          He … thinks that the camp was more or less on Story Litchfield’s property. … I think she’s the last private land before the Inn.

Maureen:   Okay. That would make sense. Then it talks about the gentle sloping, which is here.

Jenn:          Yes. That would have been very convenient for getting fed.

Maureen:   You know, I’ve sat here at various times during the summer, and looked out, and god, that bucket must be out there somewhere.

Jenn:          That would be such a score to turn that up if it hasn’t already been found.

Maureen:   Right. And like I said, I don’t know which house that was, or any of these houses, how old they are. I mean maybe Sam could shed some light on the history … I mean it’s probably pretty easily researched when these houses were built.

Jenn:          Well Sam definitely knows these up here. He is like an archive in his own right.

Maureen:   He’d be a great resource then. And he probably knows a lot about the Champlain Society as well?

Jenn:          Yes. Although, I think he comes at it from a different angle because he’s a Savage.

Maureen:   Oh, I didn’t know that!

Jenn:          Yes. Sam Savage McGee. So he’s got all the Savage history.

Maureen:   Nice. And that plays an important role in their Camp Asticou here. Because they talk about going to eat at “Savage’s” all the time. So which Savage is that?

Jenn:          I think it’s A.C. [Ed.note: Captain A.C. Savage began taking in boarders and providing meals in the 1870s, and built the first incarnation of the Asticou Inn in 1883. We met him previously in this interview with Sam McGee:  ]

Maureen:   Okay.

Jenn:          But it’s before this building. I’m pretty sure. I’ll be getting clearer on that as I work my way up here.

Maureen:   I’ve never followed that angle.

Jenn:          Yes. We’ve got to get you and Sam together.

Maureen:   Well that’s just going to blow my mind. And I think that’s the really cool thing the more you get into researching the history of this island. You go down certain paths, and then you meet more people. That have interesting tidbits of information …

Jenn:          Yes, that fits that missing piece of your puzzle! …

Maureen:   I don’t know anything really about the Savage family tree. I know there’s a lot to it.

Jenn:          I’m torn right now because I want to read everything about the Savages, and everything about the Champlain Society. It’s going to take me awhile through this area because there’s so much! [Ed.note: When I finally finish this project I’m going to award myself a PhD in Island Studies.]

Maureen:   Yes.

Jenn:          The Savages are fascinating people.

Maureen:          And I haven’t touched on that at all, so that would be a whole other ballgame So, which of the Savages did all the buildings?

Jenn:          Fred. So, he’s the son of the guy who built the inn. Which was AC.

Maureen:   Okay.

Jenn:          Captain, I think. And then Charles, who was, I think Fred’s brother, did Thuya and the Azalea Garden. [Ed.note: oops, no Fred was Charles’ uncle.]

Maureen:   You know who’s also very good with Savage history is Linda Thayer.

Jenn:          I don’t know her.

Maureen:   …  Linda is a docent at Thuya Gardens, and she knows an awful lot of Savage history as well. That’s what I mean, there’s people here that have their own base of knowledge, you know? And putting them all together is …

Jenn:          Finding places where they overlap.

Maureen:   Exactly.

Jenn:          Well, in a way that’s kind of what I’m trying to do is tease apart all the layers, as I do this walk, to find everything that happens in this one spot.

Maureen:   That’s ambitious.

Jenn:          No kidding!


PART 3 – Manchester Road/Hadlock Brook

Maureen:   So, this would’ve been Camp Pemetic.

Camp Pemetic, 1880 or 1881. Photo courtesy of the MDI Historical Society, catalog 005.17.13

Jenn:          No kidding? … Who owns this now?

Maureen:   I think this is Maine Coast Heritage. … [Pointing across the Sound.] So, that would be Flying Mountain, and then, St. Sauveur and Acadia Mountain. And … Sunshine would be moored out here. That picture, that photograph of them sitting at the head of the brook, would be to our right. … So that’s the Jesuit Field, across the sound.

Jenn:          Fernald Point.

Maureen:   Fernald Point, and they would just take the boat and then head right to Southwest Harbor. It was much easier for them … There was much more of a village life then … in Southwest Harbor. That was where they would do everything. I marvel at their access to the water, because it’s not-

Jenn:          It’s not exactly easy. [Ed.note: the field drops in a steep, crumbly embankment to the shore.] … I mean you can get down, but it’s quite a scramble.

Maureen:   Yeah. And they don’t really mention access. … It seemed like it was an easy walk, right to the boat.

Jenn:          How late in the season did they stay?

Maureen:   By Labor Day, they would be back at school.

Jenn:          That makes sense. …

Maureen:   Across that rocky ledge there, is the brook’s entrance into the sound.

Jenn:          Okay.

Maureen:   And that would have been the general vicinity where they sat and posed for the one photo. You can kind of see it down here. It feeds into the Sound.

“Champlain Society at Hadlock Brook: Rand, Hubbard, F. Wakefield, C. Eliot, Lovering, Dunbar, Spelman, S.A. Eliot ” 1881. Photo courtesy of the MDI Historical Society, catalog 005.17.2


PART 4 Historical Society

We drove up to the MDI Historical Society headquarters at the old schoolhouse in the town formerly known as Sound [a story for another post.] Maureen pulled the box of logbooks from the archives and we went through the contents.

Jenn:          Gosh, these are just beautiful artifacts.

Maureen:   Yeah, and they’re getting pretty fragile too. That’s one of the other concerns we have, but another reason why we’re working so hard to digitize them so [there’s] less handling of them. Some of them are logbooks. Some of them are meeting records from their winter meetings back in Boston. This would have been Edward Rand’s, he was the secretary the first few years, his report for the year 1882 to 83. They have logs of the yacht, so that would have been separate. Also in the same year they would have meeting records and more yacht’s log. This one is a good one, because it also has photos in it. The 1881.

Maureen:   So there was where we were, Camp Pemetic. … [Here’s a] summary of expenses.

Jenn:          Cool. They were pretty thorough. …

Maureen:   Some of these little blue books [are] meteorological records. Maine invertebrates. They were very thorough and meticulous about their record keeping. This one is kind of a beast to transcribe.

Jenn:          I bet. … It must have taken a fair amount of work to make some of that faint ink readable in the scans.

Maureen:   Yes. You had to tweak it a little bit. … They are getting fragile. One thought is “What do we do about that?” Do we leave it because this is the original? Do we get them rebound?

Jenn:          Oh no!

Maureen:   I know. But definitely reduce the number of times handled.

Jenn:          Yeah. The scanning will definitely will help with that.

Maureen:   Yup. I think so.

Jenn:          And now that that’s done, you need a real reason to come see the original.

Maureen:   Exactly.

Jenn:          What an amazing project.

Maureen:   It’s fun. I mean you have to enjoy that kinda stuff, and I do. So let me show you where this is, in case you … do you want to look at it any further?

Jenn:          No. I don’t want to handle those too much. But it’s really cool to have seen the originals. … So many treasures back here.

We took the box back into the archives storage area.

Maureen:   I know. Last winter Betsy and I were up here inventorying the larger objects. … This is what is left to be handled at some point. And what we would like to do … as far as the collection goes, is work with the textiles. Trying to make more room. Frankly I’m not sure how we want to handle the rest of [it].

Jenn:          It’s like trying to curate someone’s attic.

Maureen:   Yeah. There’s really no order to any of these textile boxes either. So that’s a definite need. … And then, you know we have a collection committee meeting every quarter. …


Jenn:          Are these all trophies?

Maureen:   … Bar Harbor high school trophies, basketball trophies.

Jenn:          What do you do with this stuff?

Maureen:   Well, that’s why I’m waiting for direction on that. … It should fall within the policy of the collection committee. What’s their relevance to the collection? Is there provenance? We always joke and say “Well, did … Abraham Somes have anything to do with it?” Anything with Somes’ name on it we keep.

Jenn:          Ah, look at all the little boat models too!

Maureen:   I know. And see that’s a thing I would need help with. Do we put that in a box? I don’t think so. Some of these things are not really boxable. So we’ll have to get some direction on that. I try not to get overwhelmed by it all. Those are the two rows that were filled with objects last winter. Now we’ve got a good number of them boxed. … So, I’ll maybe see you again in here.

Jenn:          Yeah, now that we’ve met we’ll probably start running into each other. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to show me all around.

Maureen:   Alright. Thanks so much Jenn. It was great.

Jenn:          And now we’ve finally met in real life!

Maureen:   It was beautiful weather and a nice day to share it.



Epp, Ronald. Creating Acadia National Park, The Biography of George Bucknam Dorr. Friends of Acadia, 2016.

MacKenzie, Caitlin McDonough. “The Changing Flora of Mount Desert Island“, Chebacco, volume XVI, 2015.

Rand, Edward L. and Redfield, John. Flora of Mount Desert Island, Maine. Cambridge: John Wilson and Son, 1894.

Rand, Edward L. “Map of Mount Desert Island, compiled for the Flora of Mt. Desert Island,” 1893.

Schmitt, Catherine and Fournier, Maureen, “The Champlain Society Transcriptions,” Friends of Acadia Journal, Spring 2015.

Schmitt, Catherine and Fournier, Maureen, Acadia’s Nineteenth-Century Origins“, Spring 2015, Friends of Acadia Journal.

Schmitt, Catherine, “Visionary Science of the “Harvard Barbarians”, Chebacco, volume XV, 2014.

Schmitt, Catherine. “Youth as Conservation Catalysts,” Island Journal, June 2, 2014. Accessed March 22,2018.

scans and transcriptions of the Champlain Society Logbooks are available on the MDI Historical Society’s website


Interview: Sam McGee – the Village of Asticou and the Savage family

On October 9, 2017, I met Sam McGee at his home in the Asticou neighborhood of Northeast Harbor. Sam is part of the 7th generation of the Savage family to live on Mount Desert Island, and is one of the family historians (Sam’s uncle, Rick Savage, is another, and you’ll be hearing from him in another interview.) His article on Maine Memory Net, “The Savage Family of Mount Desert,”  is a great starting point for anyone interested in the family. Since members of the Savage family were involved with Thuya Garden, the Asticou Inn, and the Asticou Azalea Garden, and since the family has lived in the Asticou area since 1820, he seemed like a pretty key person to consult about local history.

Rough boundaries of the Asticou neighborhood. I’m not clear on whether Lower Hadlock would be part of it or not.

Jenn:                … I’ve been doing some reading [to prep for talking to you,] like I read Down Memory Lane by Emily … Oh my gosh. She grew up at Asticou.

Sam:                Oh, Emily Kenney? [Ed.note: Emily was married a few times, so has various names in the archives. At the time she wrote Down Memory Lane, she was Emily Phillips Reynolds.]  Well, I think her last name might have been Kenney at one time … . She was older than my grandfather, but they were first cousins. I can barely remember her being alive, but I remember her. Her grandparents built the hotel, and so she grew up as a kid hanging around the hotel and was interested in history and wrote down a lot about it.

Jenn:                Yeah, her book is just charming. … She was talking about sledding down the ice … they’d slide down the hill into town.

Sam:                They used to harvest ice out of Lower Hadlock Pond, and there was a wooden sluiceway that went all the way down to the harbor to load the ice onto ships, and so the kids would get on there.

Jenn:                Oh, is that what she’s talking about?

Sam:                Yeah. The kids would basically take big trays from the hotel and go slide down that.

Jenn:                Oh, cool!

Sam:                My great-aunt who owned this place [Sam’s house, where we were talking] … talked about doing that as a kid. … I haven’t been able to find any physical remnants of that sluiceway, but it’s pretty interesting to think that it went all the way up to the pond from there. It came down on … the western side of the harbor. If you read the Champlain [Society] diary that I sent you, that was another point of orientation that helped me figure out where they were – they talked about looking back up towards … Ice House Hill or something like that … they could probably see [the ice house] back then because it was still there. …

Jenn:                You are like your own archive here!

Sam:                I know. Well, it’s just I’ve got all this stuff. I’ve been trying to digitize some of it, but it’s really unorganized right now. I need help. [Emily Reynolds’] mom wrote [a memoir] and it may be helpful for you later on because she talks a little bit about her Manchester ancestors… . When the Manchesters first settled there, it was right around the time of the war of 1812, and the British came and destroyed their property, killed and stole all their animals and stuff [except] apparently one cow that escaped into the woods. … I think her mom writes about that a little bit in that, in her [memoir].

Jenn:                Oh, I’d love to read that. Would you mind if I put some of these online on the blog?

Memoir by Cora Savage Phillips, mother of Emily Phillips Reynolds:

Early History + Personal Recollections of NEH Cora Savage Phillips


Sam:                Yeah, I don’t mind. I don’t think you really need permission from anybody because it’s hard to say who, so many generations later, who owns all this stuff.

Jenn:                Well, if anyone objected, I would just take it down.

Sam:                Yeah, I don’t think they’re going to because I think all the people that might get upset about it are dead!

Jenn:                [Laughs.] I shouldn’t laugh.

Sam:                No, it’s just time passes, and I believe if this is interesting to anybody other than me, then it should be shared. … Otherwise, this stuff’s just going to get lost. … My uncle, Rick Savage, and I talk a lot about it because in his generation, he’s kind of the family historian and I’m probably the next person who has any interest in it. He remembers Charles Savage and he remembers Emily and he spent a lot of time with both of them, gathering family history stuff. But at some point, [unless people pass these stories on,] that sort of link to the past would be lost, right? Because I barely knew both of them. I can remember them [from when I was a kid], but not enough to have a detailed conversation about family history or something. … Once you lose those ties, then you don’t have the personal recollection of all of that, and so it’s good to get it out there and for people to talk about it while they still remember the people who wrote it. …

Recollections of Grandfather+Grandmother Emily Phillips Reynolds 1982

For me, I feel lucky. I grew up in this neighborhood where I’ve got so much personal history in my mom’s family, … I didn’t know a lot of it until I was an adult or appreciate it as much. … One of the things that I think about every time I come down past Upper Hadlock Pond is Emily Kenney … in this memoir that she wrote… one time she talks about the fact that she was sick as a kid and her grandparents took her over to Bar Harbor to go to the doctor in the middle of winter, and that was an ordeal back then.

Jenn:                I imagine.

Sam:                I think at the time, they ended up spending the night at Fred Savage’s house on Atlantic Avenue because he had moved over there, remarried. It was kind of a scandal in the family because he divorced his first wife and left Northeast and went over to … Bar Harbor, but obviously whatever rift was there, it must not have been that bad because the grandparents took her to the doctor over there and spent the night. But then on the way back, … there was a [snow drift] at the top of Hadlock that tipped the [sleigh] over. I get the impression it was the first time she realized that her grandparents were mortal, you know what I mean? That they were getting a little bit older. Often when you go up that hill in a snowstorm [even today], … the snow will drift across the road at the southern end of the pond, and that image is really compelling to me …

I had specifically asked Sam if he had photos or records of the Asticou shoreline, so we started chatting about some materials he sent me about the Champlain Society. You may need some background here. The Champlain Society was a group of Harvard students led by Charles Eliot, Jr., who spent summers on Mount Desert Island studying natural history beginning in 1880. We will be learning a lot more about them in our next interview; until then, if you’d like to know more, this article is a good introduction: 

Sam:                If you read the history about the Champlain Society, the first summer they were over [on the Sound], but then they couldn’t secure access to that anymore, so they came over [to Asticou] – I’m pretty sure the first summer they were [at Asticou], which was 1882, they were down where Story Litchfield’s house is. I’m almost positive of it because … if you read the journal and the descriptions of where they are, they talked about being above what was called Savage’s Wharf. … There’s a little boathouse on the shore [now] and then her house up above. Down by the boathouse, there used to be a wharf. They talked a lot about being camped up above that. …

Jenn:                That seems pretty definitive.

“Attached is a picture from around 1927 which shows the boathouse when Savage’s wharf was still there next to the Savage boathouse, as well as Richard Estes’ dock and boathouse (still there). I think the Champlain society camped in 1882 just to the left (west) above the boathouse, roughly where Story Litchfield’s house now is. In the 1880’s the boathouse was not there, but the wharf was.” Photo and caption courtesy of Sam McGee.

Champlain Society camp log, Northeast Harbor, 1884. Photo taken by the Champlain Society, probably 1883. “Camp Asticou and the Harbor from the roof of the new Harbor Cottage.” The Harbor Cottage was built in 1883 and stood in roughly the same place as the current Asticou Inn (which was constructed ca. 1901.) Their tents appear to be down by the Shellheap property. Photo courtesy of the MDI Historical Society.

Sam:                Then the next year, the picture that I sent you that’s taken from the hotel, that was when the hotel had just been built. In 1883, they had just built the … first building, and … it looks like [the Champlain Society] tents are set up where the McIlhenny-Thompson property is, which is a little bit farther down. … It seems to me that they moved around wherever they were able to secure a space for the summer. I think that’s how the whole Eliot family ended up coming up here… . I think originally the father camped out on Calf Island over near Bar Harbor, but then the son came up here with all of his Harvard buddies, and then talked the father into [buying land] in that general vicinity, and … the people over at Coffeepot you talked to are all descended from that family. [Ed.note: that was Coast Walk 17.] …

Sam:                … Did you see the Chebacco for this year? … They reprinted A.C. Savage’s Memoirs of a Lifetime in the [2017 issue]. Rick Savage and I helped Tim Garrity try to identify places that are talked about in the [issue], and we went over to COA early this year and worked with Gordon [Longsworth.] [He’s] a map guru guy over there who’s got this fancy GIS program. He took old maps, overlaid them on newer maps, and helped pinpoint [places]. Rick and I tried to guess as best we could where the log cabin on the east side of Harbor Brook would’ve been and stuff like that. [Ed. note: Where the first Savage family cabin was: see Coast Walk 17 ] … A.C. Savage talks about [a time] when he was a little kid [that] he got sick…. His mother sent him down [to a family living near the current Shellheap property] to do an errand, and on the way back he became so dizzy … that he fell down and passed out. Probably right where the Asticou Dock is [now]. …

Jenn:                Poor kid!  [Ed.note: This was in 1840. A.C. had contracted typhus, which was going through the community. One of his brothers died of it. A.C. writes, “How plain I can remember the day I was taken sick! There was no road on the east side of the harbor at that time, so we had to walk along the edge of the water along the shore at low tide. When the tide was up we went by the wood road above the ledge where the Curtis road now is. The day I was taken sick, mother sent me down by the shore to go to aunt Harriet Pung’s. I went and did the errand and on my way home I became dizzy and fell off what we called “the big rocks” about half way from Pung Head to our wharf. After a time I got up cold and wet, the tide having flowed up around me, my face and head bleeding. However, I got home and was put to bed where I lay for several weeks.”]


Sam:                … When you think about it, so many things could go wrong where somebody could’ve died or drowned because they didn’t know how to swim. It’s like in the Champlain [Society] Journal, there’s one entry in there about how Fred Savage, the architect, he was probably … 15 years old or something, I’m guessing by the timeline. He was swimming down off the wharf and got a charlie horse and almost drowned, but the Champlain Society people saved him. … There’s barely a mention of it in this journal, but then I think to myself, if it weren’t for the Eliot family, he never would have been an architect.

From the Champlain Society Journal 1883, p.75: “While all were busy preparing for dinner, a sudden cry for help caused a rush for the shore. Sam who reached it first found Fred Savage in the water in an exhausted condition, and helped him out on to the float; cramp and inexperience in swimming had put in considerable danger of drowning.” Transcript and scans of the journal courtesy of MDI Historical Society via Maine Memory Network.

Jenn:                Right, and the physical history of the island would be different.

Sam:                Be completely different, yeah. Because it’s not just [saving him from drowning]. It’s also the fact that when [the Savages] started selling off lots and building summer houses for the Eliot family, Fred was working there as a carpenter and a day laborer and he got noticed by Eliot’s son-in-law, Robert Peabody, the architect, as being skilled. That’s how he ended up going down to Boston to be trained as an architect.

Jenn:                He worked at Peabody and Stearns didn’t he?

Sam:                Yes. … What I see [in] my family history is that way back early on, there was an emphasis on [education] – it was worth it to spend money on education. … I think his father would’ve helped parlay that meeting into encouraging Fred, ‘You should go to Boston. Don’t just stay here. You should go down there and get trained.’ Wow, what a big opportunity that was for somebody from very-rural-at-the-time Maine, you know? … yeah, you’re right. It changed the physical landscape of this town and Bar Harbor too, to some extent.

Jenn:                I mean, [Fred Savage] did the … well, it used to be the [Bar Harbor] school, but the town office, right?

Image courtesy of Special Collections, Raymond H. Fogler Library, DigitalCommons@UMaine,

Sam:                Yeah, that was one of his.

Jenn:                And the [Bar Harbor] fire station.

photos from Bryan, Maine Cottages, 2005.

Sam:                That was kind of one of his last things because… post World War I, people weren’t building as many summer homes, and so he started doing industrial projects because that’s what was out there for work.

Jenn:                I’m [thinking] back to your thread of how the Eliots influenced [the island], and … one of the things I’m finding on this walk is the way what happens in one generation has these repercussions that just grow. One of my favorite examples is the Charles Tracy expedition. Tracy was, I think, a New York lawyer, came up here with a big party of people [in 1855] … They were one of the first rusticator parties … . His daughter Fanny married J.P. Morgan and brought Morgan here on their honeymoon, which led to the Morgan Men [summering here] and half of the mansions that were built in Bar Harbor. … One of the Morgan Men was Fabbri, and his son [built] the radio station at Otter Cove, so there’s this crazy connection between these first rusticators in their ox cart and … the submarine station in Otter Cove.

Sam:                Which, if you think about it, [the generational continuity is] amazing: historically uninterrupted by time – because sometimes I think these things happen [in other places] and then three generations later, it goes away, but up here there’s still… well, if you look at Coffeepot [for example, the current owners] have to be seven generations or at least five [from] when the Eliots first came here.

Jenn:                Yeah. … Now you’ve got me thinking about the Eliot family and how they came here: this almost accidental coming-up-to-visit and then these huge repercussions. [Ed. note: So yeah, Eliot Senior goes camping one summer, brings his son the next year; the following year Eliot Junior brings his college friends, then Eliot Senior builds a house, the Eliots’ friends start visiting, and the next thing you know Northeast Harbor is a summer colony, Eliot Senior has helped create Acadia National Park, Robert Peabody has trained Fred Savage, Edward Rand has written The Flora of Mount Desert Island, and Fred Savage has defined the Shingle Style cottage on MDI. Heaven knows what else we’ll find. Stay tuned.] …

We wandered into discussion of non-Coast Walk things, and eventually came back around to demographic changes in Northeast Harbor:

Sam:                I often think, ‘Will my kids stay here at some point in their lives?’ or it might not be possible in terms of economics?

Jenn:                Yeah, but they might come back.

Sam:                They might, but I do think about affordability [and] the whole population of this particular village as part of Mount Desert. Even in the ’80s when I grew up here, I would describe it as peak population, and there were probably three times more year-round people that lived in the village – maybe it was 1,000 year-rounders in the village, and now it’s less than 300. When I was a kid, I can remember riding my bike downtown. You always easily found five or six other kids to play with, and it was a great little village because it’s got all this infrastructure. I think it’s a little different now. The infrastructure’s still there and that school’s still a magnet and the library’s still a magnet, but it’s much more of a commuter village and a commuter school, if you will, where kids get picked up and then they might go off to Somesville where real estate’s more affordable and middle class people can afford to live. It’s not the same as it was 30 years ago when I grew up and … my mom as a teacher could afford to live here. I don’t really think that’s feasible anymore. … But even given all that, I am always surprised at how resilient certain historical trends or family trees or whatever are around here. I think it is unusual compared to other parts of our country, which were historically up until very recently very mobile. I’ve been reading lately that Americans are a little less mobile than they used to be. … With industrial decline in our country, I think people are a little more stagnant than they used to be.

Jenn:                Well, I know for us, it’s a choice. … There was a time when we had to figure out, “Are we going to pursue our careers or are we going to do what it takes to stay here?”

Sam:                Yeah, and so you made the latter choice.

Jenn:                Yeah, which is why I’m now a [vacation] rental “mogul”. … That’s where I earn my living mostly. Photography brings in some money, but we certainly don’t live on that.

Sam:                The funny part is I don’t think that’s any different in some ways than the generations before us because they did whatever they had to do to get by.

Jenn:                Oh yeah, your family is classic.

Sam:                I think the whole getting into the hotel business here was an improvisation.

Jenn:                Yeah, and renting out boats at one point. Just whatever people wanted, they supplied. More or less.

Sam:                Because A.C. and Emily Savage, who I think of as the third generation, he was pretty much a schooner captain. I think of him as a glorified truck driver, right?

Jenn:                Yeah, he was coasting, right? [Ed.note: ‘coasting’ was the 19th century term for short-range shipping along the coast.]

Sam:                Yeah, and so he’s just delivering stuff up and down the coast. He might have deforested the hillside here and sold the logs to make money. Then he was in the Civil War, so he got to get out and see the world a little bit… [but] because he was in the Navy, I don’t think he saw much action. He was just patrolling the Potomac River. He came back home and then postwar it’s kind of like, “Well, what do we do now?” The steamship era started. He probably started to see, “My days might be numbered as a schooner captain,” then saw these educated kids coming up from Boston camping out in the field and buying dinner from him up at his house and he thought, “Oh, I’ll turn this into a cottage industry.” That’s how the hotel got built. It seemed like everybody moved out of their big house in the summer, rented it out. Lived wherever they could, … you know, that was just one way that you made money, and I think that’s still true around here to a large extent.

Jenn:                We do that.

Sam:                There’s good and bad I think probably that comes with all that.

Jenn:                Yeah. Well, the good is that you get to stay [on the island] and the bad is, well, it’s a pain in the butt.

Sam:                It’s disruptive, but I suppose your kids learn to be adaptable.

Jenn:                [shrugs] What it takes to stay on an island.

Photo courtesy of Sam McGee: “My mother, Marcia Savage, and my Uncle, John Savage on the front steps of the Red House around 1955, just after it was built.”

Jenn:                When you were growing up here, where did you live?

Sam:                I lived in the red house right down the road there apiece that my cousin Tom now lives in. It’s funny, I think about how many people lived there and originally, I think it was a little bit temporary in intention.

Jenn:                The house?

Photo courtesy of Sam McGee: “A picture of the barn in the 1930’s after it was moved from south of Cranberry Lodge, north to where the Red House now is.”

Sam:                Yeah. At one point, where that red house is, there was a huge barn that was there and the barn actually used to sit next to where Cranberry Lodge is, but apparently after the Asticou Inn burned in 1900, my grandfather’s grandfather was so worried that the barn might ever catch on fire that they moved it. The building is huge. I’ve got pictures of it. I can show you. I’ve got a picture here in the other room. This is only half of it.

Jenn:                Oh, wow.

“Left to Right: little girl: Mary “Mame” Savage on her mother’s lap (my great Aunt). I live in what was her house. Emily Nicholson Savage (my great-grandmother), John Chase Savage (my great-grandfather) – the horse he is holding … was named Jill, Richard “Dick” Savage (my maternal grandfather), John Nicholson Savage (great uncle), Samuel Savage (great uncle), hired hand, Harry Merchant. The barn to the left in the picture was moved from South of present day Cranberry Lodge to the northwest in Asticou Way to where my cousin Tom’s house now is.” Photo courtesy of Sam McGee.

Sam:                This is sitting kind of where the red house is now. That’s my grandfather. Those are his two older siblings, these are my great grandparents, and this is my Aunt Mame who owned this house. This picture was probably taken in 1911. When the horse and buggy era declined, and my great grandparents both died late ’30s, early 1940s, my grandfather and his brother and my aunt inherited the barn, and they kind of turned it into a storage garage for the taxi business. … They were school teachers in the winter and they had a chauffeur service in the summer, and in those days, people would come to the hotel and spend the whole summer there, and it was very formal. They’d have these Irish Catholic guys dressed up in black suits that were their chauffeurs, and so my family started giving summer lodging to the chauffeur people in various buildings around the neighborhood, storing the cars, taking care of them, all that, and so at some point, my grandfather got the idea of, “Well, I’m going to tear the barn down and we’re going to build a garage.” So they did, they tore the barn down and they used the leftover parts from the barn and built this really long garage to store all the cars in.

Jenn:                I think I’ve seen pictures of that. Oh, you know, your article, … “They should’ve built the houses on wheels?” I loved that.

Sam:                I talked about it a little bit in there. Then after the Bar Harbor fire, I think one of the places that survived was this mansion called the Stotesbury estate, which sat right where the ferry terminal is now.

Sam:                The Stotesbury Estate was so big that when they tore it down and sold off all the pieces of it, they actually had to have a magazine printed for when people came to bid on all the stuff. My grandfather used to brag that he spent $1,500 building the red house because he built it out of spare parts from the Stotesbury estate – he bought flooring, he bought windows, and the house has these big, really thick doors in it. He dragged my uncles over there and had them tear apart this junk and bring it over here, and they built that red house, and so that was the house my mom grew up in with her brothers, and then later on we moved into it when I was a kid. Now my cousin Tom lives there. I think my grandfather had always intended it to be somewhat temporary in nature – at the time both my grandparents were schoolteachers. They’d go to California in the winter and teach school out there, then drive across country every summer, come back here, and run the taxi business.

Jenn:                That sounds exhausting.

Sam:                It does. I think at a certain point they got tired of it. They did that for five or six years, and I think my grandfather at the time was probably reaching middle age and tired of hauling three kids out to California, teaching, and then coming back, so they originally built the red house as a place to stay in the summer when they ran the taxi business, but then it became their home. Then later on in life, my grandparents built the house down on the shore where Story Litchfield lives now and moved out, and that’s when ultimately we moved into the red house when I was a kid. It’s funny to me to think of this house that I think was sort of done in a very haphazard fashion has seen a lot of families come and go through it. … I get a kick out of it.

Jenn:                Is it kind of like every generation winterizes or puts a foundation under it or something? Like you did with this place?

Sam:                The red house does not have a great foundation under it, but it is winterized. … When we moved into it, my mom did renovate it quite a bit, and my sister used it as a summer rental for quite a while because she doesn’t live up here, and then my cousin Tom bought it from my sister. It is nice that it’s in the family and that there’s kids down the road. I like that.

Jenn:                Was there a neighborhood of people up here or was it all family?

Sam:                Mostly family, at least through my childhood. It’s becoming more and more seasonal as time goes on, this particular little neighborhood back in here, but it was all family at one time. The original property was 105 acres that went roughly down to the Asticou dock [and] all the way up over the hill. Do you know where the cemetery is up on the top of the hill? Well, if you go in the driveway right before Brown Mountain Gatehouse, it’s called Gatehouse Hill Road and you drive straight up, there’s a cemetery at the top of the hill. It’s mostly a community cemetery for people in Mount Desert, but technically it’s still a private cemetery that was created under a deed of trust by my great-great grandparents, and my uncle’s the successor trustee of it right now. Joseph Curtis was the one who laid out the plan for the cemetery. [Ed note: Curtis’ name may sound familiar – he built the terraces and lodge at Thuya Garden and donated the property to the town.] It’s got his name all over it because he was a civil engineer by training and did a lot of public projects down in Boston. … He would have been a rough contemporary with my great-great grandfather. They were both in the Civil War. They probably shared that common history with one another, and he was really, if not the first, then the second summer person to come up here besides the Eliots, and so my family sold land off to the Eliots and to Curtis and built some of the first summer houses for them. That’s another way they supplemented their income was selling off lots that used to be wood lots or whatever. Anyway, so the family property extended all the way up to where that cemetery was. My Uncle Rick still lives next to the cemetery. … When I was a kid, my mom’s younger brother John and his wife Diana lived up the hill from here, and they operated a riding stable.

Jenn:                Seriously? Cool.

Sam:                They taught kids English riding …, and they used to cater to all the summer people. As a kid, what I remember is that they had that operation going on up there. There were always summer people coming back and forth on this road dropping their kids off for riding lessons, and when we were kids, we all learned how to ride horses and kind of had the run of the neighborhood around here because it was still largely mostly in the family. My uncle always liked animals, so in addition to the horses, there were chickens or sometimes they had pigs up there.

Jenn:                It sounds awesome.

Sam:                It was fun. It was a great way to grow up … . A lot of times, you were doing chores to help out, but you got to play all these places. I have a sister who I grew up with and my Uncle John and Diana had two daughters … Melissa’s a year older than I am and was in Jen’s class [Sam’s wife], and my cousin Bethany is two years younger than I am. Those were contemporaries, and then my Uncle Rick had two children who lived next door in the gray house when you turn the corner in here. I have a cousin, Laura, who’s my age, and a cousin, Tom, who lives in the red house now who’s about four years younger than I am. We all grew up as six cousins with an age span apart of eight years maximum, and so we all played together. … Lots of shenanigans over in the Azalea Garden that I probably shouldn’t talk about. It was fun. It was a great, great way to grow up. We were always building forts and ice-skating.

Jenn:                Yeah, I ran with a pack of kids like that too.

Left to right: Tom Savage, Sam McGee, and Laura Savage skating on the pond at the Azalea Garden circa 1982.

Sam:                We used to go fishing over in the pond. It was a little bit less formal than it is now. Subsequent generations, these properties got sold out of the family and I think my cousin Tom and I are in a way the last holdouts…The dynamic of the neighborhood’s changed a little bit. … Then my other neighbors growing up were Charles and Katharine Savage. [Ed.note: Charles Savage designed the original Asticou Azalea Garden and the gardens at Thuya. He and Katharine also ran the Asticou Inn for about 30 years.] I don’t remember Charles as much because died in ’79, but Katharine lived to be 92 or 93 or something … so I knew her pretty well and as a kid growing up, she used to hire me to do chores like mow the lawn or help clean her basement out. I can remember going down there and Charles’ whole shop was set up in the basement where there were some unfinished carvings that he had done and he had a whole photography studio down there. He was a big stamp collector. I have some of his stamps that Katharine gave me over the years and old letters from the hotel and stuff like that.

Jenn:                Oh, cool!

Sam:                As a kid, I was always fascinated by all that stuff and maybe more interested than my contemporaries in it, but it was great, having her. She was a little bit formal as a person, but she and her husband ran that hotel single handedly for decades. Basically from the ’30s until the ’60s. It was pretty much all extended family in the neighborhood up through the ’80s, I would say. Things started getting sold off in the ’90s, some of it as a result of divorces and some of it as a result of demographic shifts and it being less and less affordable and more people buying places to be a summer residence.

Jenn:                Does it feel like a community in the summer when people are in residence? …

Sam:                Yeah, that’s a good question. In some ways, yeah, because the people that bought Katharine and Charles’ house – the house had fallen into decline and I thought somebody’d buy it and tear it down, honestly – but an architect bought it and he saved it – they’ve been great neighbors. … They come up in the spring and they go to North Carolina in the winter, so yeah, to some extent it definitely gets a little bit more active in the summer. … Then there’s of course the whole hotel operation, which seems to still muddle along.

Jenn:                Who should I talk to over there? Who would have the good stories?

Sam:                I don’t know because I think a lot of the people that had long history there have either moved on or died, honestly. It’s kind of this consortium of summer people that are … the shareholders in the hotel, and in recent years, they just hired the Acadia Corp to run the operation. I think Sue Kropf might be one of the people who’s in charge over there. You may want to chat with her a little bit. … I think it’s largely a board of mostly summer people that aren’t super involved with the day to day of it. They may have some history with it, but … it may be that the shareholder of today is a child or a grandchild of a shareholder of yesterday who helped save the hotel … [when it] was struggling financially in the early ’60s. … I think Charles got a little distracted with the projects up at Thuya and Azalea – they were passion projects for him – and even though he had the support of Rockefeller, I know he put a lot of his own time and money into it too. There was also a huge hotel downtown called the Kimball House that the Kimball family owned … . [You should talk to] Alex Kimball, who’s Danny’s son. I think what ended up happening is this corporation formed of summer people that cared about it, plus members of the Kimball family, and they decided, ‘well, we’re going to be able to save the Asticou Inn, but Kimball House has got to go,’ and they tore it down. It was one of these big grand dame hotels just like the Asticou.

Jenn:                That’s so sad.

Sam:                … I think a lot of things changed post-war. How tourism was done changed. People came up by automobile. There was more of the middle class that might come post-Bar-Harbor-fire and stay at a motor hotel, and that was the way that you traveled, right? Even over here, summer people either built their own places or they didn’t stay at the hotel for a month [anymore] like they did a generation before, so a lot of these ancillary services started to fall off. Eventually my grandfather didn’t do the taxi business anymore and didn’t store as many people’s cars and definitely wasn’t housing … chauffeurs wearing black tie, you know? … [The hotel] used to be very formal – Charles didn’t allow alcohol over there.

Jenn:                Really?

Sam:                That would’ve been verboten. … The fact that they serve alcohol over there now, he’d probably be rolling over in his grave about it. …

Another digression, and then we started talking about the path that used to run from the Asticou Landing to Seal Harbor.

Path to Seal Harbor from Asticou Landing, ca.1940-1950. Photo courtesy of Sam McGee.

Sam:                One of the things you might notice when you’re down there is that if you take that sidewalk that goes down to the Asticou dock, the path used to keep going.

Jenn:                Yeah, Rodney was telling me about that.

Sam:                You can see some remnants of it when you’re down there. I’m sure you’ll notice it, but my mom told me … when she was a teenager still that there used to be this series of sidewalks that went all the way to Seal Harbor from here. I think some of them went up across people’s properties and that there were little wooden bridges here and there.

Jenn:                Oh, what fun!

Sam:                They widened the road at some point – I think it was either the late ’50s or early ’60s that that happened – and so a lot of that got wiped out just because there was no room for it, but I think you’re going to see some sort of archeological remnants, if you will, of that path. Especially down by the Thompson’s property and all the way to the dock. That’s worth checking out. I think … you’ll see little pieces of where they fenced it off, kind of like they did up at the terraces. It’s cool to think about the fact that it was a little bit safer to get there than it is now. … Mom told me that when she would babysit for summer kids over at the Seaside Inn that she could ride her bicycle from here to there on the sidewalk.

Jenn:                If only we could still do that.

Sam:                … Apparently over near Harbor Brook, there used to be a campground.

Jenn:                Really?

Sam:                Yeah. As you’re going up the hill, before you get to the parking lot, the upper parking lot for Little Long Pond, some of that property on the left I think was at one point a commercial campground.

Jenn:                You’re kidding.

Sam:                For a very short period of time. Probably in the ’40s and ’50s. You don’t think about [recording] this stuff, and there’s certain periods … when things just aren’t that well documented, you know? Some of it’s overwhelming. There’s plenty of [documentation for some things], but there are other periods where people probably didn’t think it was going to last or it wasn’t that important to document things.

Jenn:                Yeah. You need to write down your childhood memories of growing up here.

Sam:                I plan to at some point, but I’m not quite there yet.

Jenn:                Well, it’d be really neat to see the different generations’ memories of the same place.

Sam:                Yeah, absolutely.

Jenn:                My mom’s an immigrant, and on my father’s side, his father came to this country from Ireland, and [Dad’s] mother was born here, but his grandparents weren’t. We’re all pretty recent, so I’m just fascinated by this history of people who have stayed in one place. …

Sam:                I think that’s more normal for a lot of people than staying in one place. For sure. I often think about it – at some point, some people in my family, in my mom’s family, were immigrants too. As I understand it, the John Savage who first came here and settled at Harbor Brook was a Protestant Scottish immigrant. I think in his lifetime, the choice was, “I can either basically stay an indentured servant or I can, as a 14 year old, jump on this boat and go to America and take my chances,” … Things must have been pretty extreme for you to [take that risk] … Or you must have thought that the opportunity was so great that even at that young age, you decided, ‘I’m out of here.’ Right?

Jenn:                Yeah, my grandfather came over at 18 for the same reason. …

Sam:                I think that my great-grandmother, who married into the Savage family on my mom’s side, she was a first generation American, an Irish immigrant in Philadelphia who came up here and worked for their summer lady who stayed at the hotel, and that’s how she met my great-grandfather.

Jenn:                Oh, that’s so romantic!

Sam:                Yeah, so a lot of these people were imports of one kind or another.

Jenn:                Well, you need us for the gene pool, right?

Sam:                Right. Somehow, I’m related through marriage to Dan Falt. There’s this whole line of Falts who are really from Nova Scotia that came down here and worked. They were immigrants that worked at the hotel, and some of them ended up staying and marrying into the family. …

Jenn:                I just hope our kids can manage to stay.

Sam:                Yeah, that’s what I think about a lot. I hope if it was something that they wanted to do, that it could be an option for them. …

Jenn:                Yeah. I think they need to go away first.

Sam:                Oh, yeah.

Jenn:                Then come back.

Sam:                I think that’s a really good thing to do. I did it. I was gone for a while, and I think it’s a great way to get some perspective on things.

Jenn:                Yeah. That’s what Brian did. He went away, found a wife, brought me back.

Sam:                Yeah, I joke [about that] with some of my island friends that I grew up with . My friend Chris Dorr, who grew up in Bar Harbor, he’s like, “Yeah, the pull of the mothership is pretty strong.” He’s so right about that.

Jenn:                We were fine traveling around for years and then it was like, “We should probably have kids sometime soon,” and bam, back on the island.

Sam:                You know, that can definitely be a driving force. I know for us, we would come up here in the summers and at the time we were renting this place out just to pay for it, and at one point you’re like, “Wow. Seems like the school system’s great.” … We thought that it’d be a really cool place for the kids to grow up and experience something a little different.

Jenn:                It is an awesome place to be a kid. It’s also, I have to say, a good place to be a parent. There’s a really strong community. …

Sam:                Yeah, definitely.

Sam:                I’m a little bit of a map collector … You’ve probably seen this map before, but I love this one.

Jenn:                Oh, is this the 1807?

Sam:                Yeah, it’s a copy of the Peters map.

Jenn:                Oh, fantastic. I’ve only seen tiny reproductions of it. …

Sam:                This is that French line that they talk about that divides the title to the eastern side of the island separate from the western side.

Jenn:                Yeah, this is all De Gregoire, right? [Ed.note: Louis XIV granted ownership of MDI to Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, an officer of his army, in 1688. In 1787, the newly-formed USA confirmed the grant to his granddaughter, Marie Therese de la Mothe Cadillac de Gregoire. Her name survives in a Hulls Cove neighborhood and street, where it is usually spelled DeGregoire or Degregoire.]

Sam:                Yeah, you would’ve had to get your title from de Gregoire ultimately if you were over here.

Jenn:                Well, I thought, wasn’t this English down here? No?

Sam:                No. What happened I think is that de Gregoires had it, and at first, you might have gotten your lot from them and the Manchester side of the family. The deeds go right from the de Gregoires to them, the early ones, but the later settlers, there was this rich guy named William Bingham that bought out all of the de Gregoire.

Jenn:                That’s who I’m thinking of.

Sam:                Once you needed clear title, you had to go buy your deed from Bingham’s estate. It took me forever to find the deed to this property. … I searched the Hancock County registry. I had a file here at the house that my mom had, and I could get the chain of title back to just before 1900 … I’ve been told informally that it was around 1818 that the second generation of Savage and his brother-in-law, William Roberts, who came from Seal Harbor, bought this property … . The problem was that they had the deed, but they didn’t record it for another 20 years.

Jenn:                Oh gosh.

Sam:                It was like hunting for a needle in a haystack. I finally found it – those early deeds are handwritten, so they’re not indexed very well. It’s not like you could ‘control-find’ a person’s name because it’s done in penmanship.

Jenn:                Where did you finally find it?

Sam:                There’s some guy that did a website where he researched all these lots and found the deeds []  …, and he did all the Salem lots over in Southwest, plus a lot of the stuff on here, and I finally found it [there.] It just didn’t get recorded until the 1840s.

Jenn:    Wow. It’s so cool going back through the original documents. … My favorite map on the whole island is that enormous hand-drawn one in the basement of the library. … I can stare at that for hours because it has so many personal notations on it.

Sam:                Yeah, that’s great. … Sometimes I use these to help me figure out timelines if I’m reading something.

Jenn:                Yes! Because so many things that you read, they’re like, “We were near so-and-so’s property,” or “This was located just above so-and-so’s house,” and you’re like, “Okay, so we’re in 1872, which means the so-and-sos lived there” [and you get your bearings.] …

Sam:                … My second cousin, … Charles’ son, Ken, just passed away, but Ken had this original oil painting in his house, and so to give you an idea, this is where the hotel is now. That’s Cranberry Lodge, and this is my house when it was attached to Cranberry.

Jenn:                Oh my goodness.

Sam:                This was done from memory by a son-in-law who was a doctor down in Portland, but you can see how denuded the hillside was back then.

Jenn:                Yeah. It’s not even recognizable [as] the same place. …

Sam:                I am trying to digitize a lot of this stuff before it gets lost, but I’ve got a file cabinet down in the basement. It’s just full of stuff. I even have my aunt’s slides who lived here. I haven’t even gotten there yet.

We poked around in Sam’s collection of photos but it was time for me to go, so we agreed that I would have to come back and we’d spend some time going through his archives. I think we could have talked local history for hours.

Jenn:                Well, thank you so much for taking all this time to talk with me!




Baldwin, Letitia. Asticou Azalea Garden. Mount Desert Land & Garden Preserve, 2008.

Baldwin, Letitia. Thuya Garden: Asticou Terraces & Thuya Lodge. Mount Desert Land & Garden Preserve, 2008.

Brown, Margaret and Vekasi, Jim. Pathmakers: Cultural Landscape Report for the Historic Hiking Trail System of Mount Desert Island. Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation/National Park Service, Boston, 2006.   [Full text available here:]

Bryan, John M. Maine Cottages – Fred L. Savage and the Architecture of Mount Desert. Princeton Architectural Press, 2005.

Champlain Society Camp Asticou Log, Northeast Harbor, 1882. Handwritten MS in the collection of the MDI Historical Society.  Scan and transcription here:

Champlain Society camp log, Northeast Harbor, 1884. Handwritten MS in the collection of the MDI Historical Society.  Scan and transcription here:

“Historical records: early island ownership,” Bar Harbor Times, April 1917, republished on the Bar Harbor Times website, April 16, 2017. Accessed January 24, 2018.

“La Mothe – Marie Therese (La Mothe) Cadillac de Gregoire (1733 – 1811),” Southwest Harbor Public Library Digital Archive, accessed January 24, 2018, Item 14491

McGee, Samuel Savage. “The Savage Family of Mount Desert,” Mount Desert Island: Shaped by Nature. Maine Memory Network, no date. Date accessed: January 24, 2018.

McGee, Samuel Savage. “They Should Have Constructed Their Buildings on Wheels,” Mount Desert Island: Shaped by Nature. Maine Memory Network, April 2013. Date accessed: October 9, 2017.

Phillips, Cora Savage. Early History and and Personal Recollections of Northeast Harbor. Undated typewritten manuscript. Location of original unknown; scanned pdf provided by Sam McGee.

Reynolds, Emily Phillips. Recollections of Grandfather and Grandmother and their Family. Typewritten manuscript, 1982. Location of original unknown; scanned pdf provided by Sam McGee.

Reynolds, Emily Phillips, Down Memory Lane. Bacon Printing Company, Bangor, Maine, 1966.

Savage, A.C. Memories of a Lifetime. Undated typewritten manuscript. Location of original unknown; scanned pdf provided by Sam McGee. Published in  Chebacco 2017.

Savage, Charles K. Asticou Terraces Trust: Report of the Trustee 1937-1965. Typewritten manuscript with tipped-in watercolor illustrations and photographs, 1966. Original in the Northeast Harbor Public Library.

Tracy, Charles. The Tracy Log Book, 1855. Bar Harbor, Acadia Publishing Company, 1997. [Full text available here]






Addenda – Dr. Kittredge

The most recent issue of the Southwest Harbor Historical Society showed up in my inbox last week and answered some of the questions I’d raised after my interview with Douglas McMullin at Maine Coast Heritage Trust last fall about the brook’s name. I’d found several names for the tidal creek running through the preserve there, and wondered where they came from. The earliest maps label it “Doctor’s Creek,” followed by “Kittredge Brook.” MCHT calls it “Babson Creek,” although I haven’t found that on a map yet. Many thanks to the SWHS for clearing up two of the names. Dr. Kendall Kittredge, who arrived in 1799 with his wife, Sally Whiting, was the first doctor on the island.


from “Dr. Kendall Kittredge,” The Sou’West Voyage, February 2018.

I also wondered about the spelling of “Kittredge,” which has a lot of variants here on the island. I found this genealogy in a family Bible, which confirms the spelling:



unattributed, “Dr. Kendall Kittredge,” The Sou’West Voyage, Southwest Harbor Historical Society, February 2018.

“Early Years on Mt. Desert Island,” Maine Memory Network,



Coast Walk 19 Still Life: Asticou Stream, January 25, 2018

Coast Walk 19: Asticou Stream, January 25, 2018

Top to bottom, left to right:

Row 1: Foliose lichen (possibly Tuckermannopsis sp.), sea glass, Rockweed (Ascophyllum nodosum), Common Periwinkle (Littorina littorea), broken bottle neck (not sea glass)

Row 2: Common Periwinkles, Paper Birch bark (Betula papyrifera), slightly weathered bit of broken glass, periwinkle

Row 3: Common Periwinkles, broken glass, acorn (Quercus sp.), tampon applicator, Blue Mussel (Mytilus edulis)

Row 4: Common Periwinkles, bird leg bone, periwinkles

Row 5: Rockweed

Row 6: Common Periwinkle, Soft-shell Clam (Mya arenaria), periwinkles

Much as I’ve been enjoying the interviews, I miss being out on the shore, so I went back to the mouth of Asticou Stream last week. It was sunny, with a slight breeze, and relatively warm at 23ºF (-5ºC).

There are definite challenges to winter beachcombing – things are frozen to the ground:

But the mud flats are still semi-liquid:

On the other hand, ice is fun to photograph.

And this poor guy seemed to have frozen to death. Anyone know what it is? It was a little longer than my finger.

July 10, 2018: It’s a young American Eel (Anguilla rostrata.)


Interview: Darron Collins at the College of the Atlantic

On October 20, 2017, Darron Collins, President of the College of the Atlantic, and I walked down to the college dock. It was 68ºF, sunny and cloudless – a perfect fall day – so we sat out on the floats and watched the boat traffic in the bay.

Darron:           Nice out, huh?

Jenn:               It’s gorgeous. It feels more like September than October.

Darron:           I’ve been looking forward to this discussion all day because I knew it would mean I could get outside and go for a walk.

Jenn:               That’s the good thing about hanging out with me! … So you graduated from here, didn’t you?

Darron:           Yes, 1992.

Jenn:               Wow. How is it coming back as a grownup?

Darron:           It’s great coming back. It’s progressed so much since I was here. I got here in 1988, it was five years after the fire burned the main building to the ground, so we were really just beginning to claw our way back into some kind of stability. … So how do we do this?

Jenn:               Well, I make it up as I go along. I don’t really have a formula.  … You said you want to talk about cruise ships?

Darron:           I do, but only because this beach and this cove is so crucial not just to my own personal experience but to so many COA students. One thing that’s definitely on my mind is how this stretch of land would be impacted if there were two 3000-person cruise ships, two 18-story floating buildings sitting right there [Ed.note: at the old ferry terminal.] … I think it becomes monstrous and difficult for me to imagine attracting students. … I’m not turning my nose up at cruise ship tourism. I think that that’s part of the economic mix of this town. I get that, … but I think we’re coming up to the point where the volume of tourists, both terrestrial and those that arrive from cruise ships are starting to have a negative impact on the overall user experience. Certainly the experience of those of us who live here year-round, students or otherwise.

I’m going to interrupt here and give you some background. Let’s start with the map. Darron and I are sitting at the red ‘x,’ at the end of COA’s dock. The town of Bar Harbor is trying to decide whether to buy the old ferry terminal (at left) back from the Canadian government and if they buy it, what to do with it. The consultants hired by the town recommended rebuilding the dock and berthing cruise ships there. Right now, cruise ships anchor in the bay and send their passengers in via tenders (small boats.) A typical ship among the current visitors would be the Maasdam, which I think has 10 passenger decks, so is about the height of a 10-story building, and is 722′ long, which is roughly 2 football fields, or 1.25 city blocks. Some ships are smaller. I think the largest one coming in 2018 is Adventure of the Seas, which is 15 decks tall by by maybe 3 football fields long. There are much larger cruise ships. Note that the tallest building in town is 5 stories, and most of the village is 2 to 3 stories. The proposal to park 2 ships potentially the size of 18-story buildings at the old pier raised what can only be described as a sh-tstorm of massive proportions among the town voters, with opinions ranging from ‘take all the cruise ships and make tons of money,’ to ‘some cruise ships are ok but not at the dock,’ to ‘ban all cruise ships.’ The issue was mixed in with broader questions about traffic and crowding on the island. Eventually, the town formed 4 committees to look at 4 different ways of using the ferry property, and at the time of this interview, the committees were still gathering info and drafting plans, and the citizenry were arguing bitterly on Facebook, at the hardware store, in cafes, and in line at the grocery store. The committees filed their report in November 2017. It is available online here: Most people seem to approve of the report’s recommendations, but the issue is ongoing.

Looking toward the old ferry terminal pier. I’m going to guess the top of that building sticking up on the pier might be 4 or 5 stories above sea level.

Darron: Anyway, this cove is just so key. We are the College of the Atlantic, so this is our front door. From the experience of … the Bar Island Swim to our docking of Osprey – that’s our boat there, which allows us to get out to Mount Desert Rock … – to the work on Great Duck Island. So many colleges have their ‘quad.’ This is kind of the College of the Atlantic’s ‘quad.’ It’s not precious, [except] in the sense that it’s very meaningful … . I have such fond memories of the floats, the pier, that beach, and for so many people that have come through the College of the Atlantic, this is like the geographic epicenter for them. …

Jenn:               Well, it’s what I think of when I think of COA.

Darron:           Right? Yeah, that’s really different. Most colleges, even if they’re on the coast, they have a kind of terrestrial front door, and I think our front door is an oceanic or marine front door. It’s very unique, and … it defines who we are as an institution. That’s why it’s important.

Jenn:               What do you want to see happen over there?

Darron:           I would really like that to be a public marina and a [place] where the public of Bar Harbor can have the same kind of exposure to the marine environment as our students have from the campus. I think as a center for local ferries, … even a Portland ferry. I would love to have better connection to Portland. I don’t know if that’s at all economically feasible. … For low-impact tourism around boating and kayaking, for local people to have access to Frenchman Bay for moorings.

Jenn:               I’ve heard some people talk about having kayak storage there where you could rent basically a locker.

Darron:           Yep. I would love to see a dock, but it’ll have to have a revenue-generating mechanism. All those things have a small one, but I would love to have a whale and island museum there.

Jenn:               That would be cool.

Darron:           That’s been part of the College of the Atlantic – we used to have the Whale Museum on West Street, and I would love to have that again here. That would be important to the college, but we would be putting money into that, renting space in one way or the other. I could see it having a working waterfront component. I know there are fishermen who aren’t going to move from [the Town Pier] but there might be other lobstermen who would want to use a pier that’s not in downtown so they could move their product. I would love to see Parsons have a fish [shop] … The college is going to start exploring possibilities for aquaculture, so have some kind of center for aquaculture there. I think over the next 20 and 30 years, people who depend on the lobster industry are going to begin to diversify their economic portfolio.

Jenn:               The smart ones.

Darron:           Yeah. I would love to see that be a resource for people trying to do that. I think there’s also great potential there for parking, potentially figuring more into a transportation plan that needs to happen, that needs to relieve some of the pressure that we receive from land-based tourists. Some kind of a transportation hub of one sort or the other to mitigate some of the congestion. I think a marina is the best way that all of those things might be able to happen at once, and the work that Anna has done, …

Jenn:               Anna Durand?

Darron:           Anna Durand has been really exciting to see. That group has put a lot of really good, solid thought in it. [Ed. note: Anna Durand led a committee researching the installation of a dock for cruise ship tenders (but not the ships) along with multi-use public facilities.]

Jenn:               I’ll tell you flat out, I think the town should just buy the damn property outright and take like five years of citizen workshops, figure it out, get everyone on board. Do it properly. I’m so tired [of it] – you can’t go on Facebook anymore without people like, bicker, bicker, bicker.

Darron:           Yep. I think so too. I would love it to remain in the public domain in one way or the other. Obviously I don’t want to see taxes go up because of whatever happens or because of whatever bond, … whatever financing [we use] to buy it, but I don’t want to see anything that has the ability to potentially drive … the doubling of the number of cruise ship passengers that need to come here because we need [to pay for it] …

Jenn:               I don’t think that was, at least in what I’ve read – I thought the cruise ship passenger cap stayed the same?

Darron:           The passenger cap would stay the same, but I’m on the committee, one of the four committees in town.

Jenn:               Oh you are? Awesome! Which one are you on?

Darron:           I’m on the berthing committee, which is antithetical to what I believe should happen, but I’m participating in the process anyway. We’ve been instructed to imagine a situation where we’re going to need to take on a debt of 40 million dollars or so to build out the pier that would allow cruise ships of 2, 3, 4000 passengers to dock there, and it wouldn’t necessarily mean increasing the daily passenger cap, but it would definitely require increasing both the fee and the annual number of passengers, which would be expanding the season, because in order to pay for a 40 million dollar procedure, a 40 thousand dollar plan, we would need to increase the total number of people that we ran through the town via cruise ships. That’s worrisome.

Jenn:               Yeah. That’s the first I’ve heard of increasing the numbers. I haven’t really made up my mind. I’m still listening to what everybody has to say. I’m definitely not anti-cruise ship. I think it’s like a bus, it’s a way to get people around in a more efficient way than everybody coming in their own cars, but there’s a limit to how much the town can handle.

Darron:           I think so. I actually think that cruise ship tourism is problematic for what we’re trying to do here. I’ve been on a cruise ship before. I worry about creating the Disneyland version of Bar Harbor instead of an authentic Bar Harbor, and I think cruise ships do tend to encourage that kind of tourism. Very short term, get off the boat. I think the fundamental property of what makes Mount Desert Island spectacular requires people to spend more time here. That said, I still think there’s room. I’m not approaching it as a snooty, “I’m above cruise ship tourists somehow,” but I think we need to be really careful about it. This status quo, I could live [with.] I’m also wearing the hat of the president of the college, so I’m really worried about the proximity. In one sense I am a landowner that has very serious concerns about how two cruise ships there would negatively affect my business in the same way that if I owned the Atlantic Oceanside, I might worry … Maybe it wouldn’t change at all, but I think there’s the risk.

Jenn:               A 10-story building there would definitely change things.

Darron:           Yeah. Some people might argue, “The aesthetic thing, that will go away … You’ll get used to it.” You will, but how much longer do we want to just get used to things? … We [don’t] need to maintain Bar Harbor as a museum specimen, nor do we need to revert to the ‘good old [days]’ …

Jenn:               … You know, I don’t mind the cruise ships out in the bay like that. I certainly don’t want more.

Darron:           I wouldn’t want more, and I … also know that people avoid coming here, terrestrial-based passengers avoid coming here, when they know cruise ships are in town. There’s a problem with traffic too, I know. In many ways it’s a more efficient way to deliver people here, but I also think it’s a very limiting way to come to know a place. …

Jenn:               But still, what’s the alternative, to just do land-based [tourism]? Or to say that you can only come for a certain length of time?

Darron:           I think maintaining the kind of diverse experiences that we have. Maybe re-thinking the kind of cruise ships that we want to cater to. There’s part of the industry that is going toward building larger and larger ships … . There are ships in production now that won’t be ready until 2018 but that will house 5000 passengers. … There’s the second path that is the more boutique cruise ships that are catering toward people that want more adventurous [vacations], spend longer times at port and cater to clientele that have more financial resources and that might be willing to spend more locally. Again, that sounds kind of classist, and again I don’t think it’s a question of one or the other, but I believe that if we continue to cater toward larger and larger ships, that has a negative impact on both the terrestrial visitor and the smaller cruising class that is also developing. … What I hate to hear, and it’s been pervasive in Bar Harbor is, “Oh my god, the cruise ships are going to leave Bar Harbor altogether if we don’t bend to their [will.]”

Jenn:               I don’t think so.

Darron:           I really don’t believe that. I really think that this experience in terms of the northeastern Atlantic has no rival. We should be in control, and we should set the boundaries.

Jenn:               I do think we can set our terms a little more than some people seem to think.

Darron:           Yeah. Actually I think that meme is kind of evolving. I think that is understood more. … So I feel good about that. Actually I think in 2012 when we had … the consultants, I think the way we engaged with them early on set us off on a very negative trajectory. They published a graph that showed five different lines, and one of them was labeled as ‘target.’ The target line of annual cruise ship visitors went like that [hand gesture showing the graph skyrocketing], and they said, “We’re recommending a large berthing pier to be able to cater to increasingly large cruise ships. In order to pay for that, this is the kind of trajectory that the town of Bar Harbor is going to require.” That really stuck in a lot of people’s craw. As it should have. I think that set a tone, and whether it’s true, or the truth has evolved or not, it really set the tone and scared a lot of people.

Jenn:               My question when I saw that was, “Who commissioned this and what question did they ask that this was the answer?”

Darron:           Yeah, exactly.

Jenn:               Because the consultants don’t have some mythical ideal. They’re answering the question they were asked. …

The conversation wandered to my project, the high school football game scheduled for that evening, and back around to the COA shoreline

Darron:           There’s a trail system in the woods that is not [marked] … You wouldn’t know it’s there. You can see there’s forts in the woods here. See that? …

Jenn:               Oh cool, I hadn’t seen that!

Darron:           Yeah, there’s a fort there. … On this ridge is the north lawn, and the college is in the initial stages of designing a new building. Actually not even designing because we don’t have the architect yet.

Jenn:               Programming?

Darron:           We’re doing the building program for the new building. It’s going to be the new academic core for the college. One of the preferred locations is on that ridge. We’re thinking about the view of the college from the water, and from the college to the water, but we definitely want the ocean to feature prominently in the construction of the new building. That’s kind of exciting. That will change the way that landscape looks.

Jenn:               Yeah. A lot.

Darron:           Another interesting conundrum we have is people always say …, “Why don’t you cut the trees? … Why don’t you increase the visibility of the ocean from the campus?” Trustees say this a lot. What I think we’re involved in [now is deciding] what the right balance looks like. We would like to prune some of the vegetation along our coast to increase the visibility, but doing so is really expensive and highly regulated, as you might know.

Jenn:               Tell me about it. My first reaction when you said you wanted to cut the trees, I’m like, “Well, one, erosion, and two, the DEP. Two big problems.”

Darron:           We’ve started to do that kind of mapping and planning along our ocean front.

Jenn:               Good.

Darron:           But really, there’s limited, as there should be, there’s limited flexibility in what you can do. What you can cut, and what you can’t cut. Even invasive Norway maples are bulwarks against erosion, so are weedy poplars …

Jenn:               But you can take them out and plant natives.

Darron:           Yeah. But that’s expensive.

Jenn:               True.

Darron:           The whole process of working with the silviculture expert, it’s expensive, but it’s important. We’re always balancing things, we don’t have unlimited finances, so putting money in that is theoretically taking away scholarship money. But are you improving the experience? We’re always doing cost-benefit analysis for different projects. The visual access to the ocean is one of the most amazing things for being a student at COA. … My first year I was in Ryles, which is Deering Common.

Jenn:               Oh okay.

Darron:           And Deering Common used to have a servants’ quarters built off of it, and Mrs. Ryles, we couldn’t go in her proper house, but she let the college use the servants’ quarters as student housing. That was my freshman dorm. I remember, I didn’t have an ocean view. Other students who lived in Seafox do have an ocean view, but I could smell the water, especially in the fall that slightly sulfuric …

Jenn:               That iodine.

Darron:           Iodine.

Jenn:               Yeah. But you’ve got [that] classic relationship where the trees are thinned enough that you catch glimpses of the water, but you don’t have any open panorama views.

Darron:           Which is good.

Jenn:               It’s what I like.

Darron:           When David Rockefeller, when we had his memorial service here, David McDonald, the head of Friends of Acadia had a beautiful, beautiful vignette of taking people by boat around Ringing Point, and he would say, “That’s Ringing Point, that’s where David Rockefeller senior lives.” And people would say, “Where?” The fact that you can’t really see the house, that’s the perfect balance. You get the measured vistas of the water, but it doesn’t become glaring.

Cormorant on one of the floats nearby.

Darron:           The other thing that I love [is] Bar Island. … When the first cohort of students came to COA in the fall of 1972, there were 36 of them, but people don’t know that in the summer of 1971, we actually tested a pilot program. We didn’t have anything, we didn’t have faculty, we … had the old building that burned down, but we didn’t have staff beyond Ed Kaelber and Anne Peach and Millard Dorrity – but in that summer we did this pilot, a human ecology summer pilot program, the question was something along the lines of “What might the future of Bar Island look like?” They would have daily excursions over to the island. Every time I walk across the Bar, and I go a lot, I still feel like I’m either one of those students for the first time walking over there, or like the first human being to come to the island. Even though in the summer it’s packed with people walking over there, there’s something magical about the fact that that island becomes accessible and inaccessible, accessible and inaccessible twice a day.

Jenn:               And you can walk on the bottom of the sea to get there.

Darron:           Yeah, so I really love that this [gesturing to the dock and the campus] becomes a platform for looking at that island. … Was that useful?

Jenn:               Yes. I knew you’d have good stories!

We were heading back up the path toward Darron’s office when I spotted someone on the COA beach – you remember Kelley Sanborn, right? From Coast Walk 9? That’s her daughter, Tessa.


Kelley:            Hi! …   Do you have a minute to see something?

Jenn:               Sure. Let me just say goodbye to Darron. I’ll be down.

Darron:           Thanks. I’ll see you tonight. [At the high school football game.]

Jenn:               Thank you so much. Yeah. I’ll see you tonight.

This is what Kelley and Tessa wanted to show me – they’d been making rock people! Love the seaweed hair, Tessa.



Bar Harbor Ferry Terminal Property Advisory Committee, Report to the Bar Harbor Town Council, Nov.14, 2017. Available as a pdf online.



Interview: Jane Disney at the MDI Biological Laboratory (Star Point)

Dr. Jane Disney is the Director of Education for the MDI Biological Laboratory. On October 18, 2017, we walked down to Star Point at the Bio Lab for a chat. It was 66°F, sunny and brisk with a strong wind gusting out of somewhere northwest-ish. I’ve known Jane for a few years through the Frenchman Bay Partners, a coalition of people working in and around the bay, and back when I first dreamed up the Coast Walk, she was one of the people who helped me think it through and encouraged me to make it real. She mentors a lot of people that way, officially and unofficially, and I was looking forward to catching up with her.

That’s Star Point in the background – from certain angles the hole is star-shaped. The wind was to strong to sit out on the dock.

Jenn:          So what are you working on these days? …

Jane:          The Anecdata project has really been expanding. [Ed. note: is a citizen science website designed and run by Jane’s department.] … We were invited by the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center to submit an article to the Maine Policy Review [that was] an audit of all of the projects in Anecdata. We contacted different project leaders to find out how their projects were progressing, if they felt they were meeting their goals. We got so many interesting stories from people. … There’s a woman named Gail McCullough who used to work with Frenchman Bay Conservancy. …  All her adult years she’s been tracking seals, so she had a lot of data in journals that she wanted to make publicly available. She has been meticulously going through and integrating that data into Anecdata.

At the beginning of her project she had all hand-drawn sketches of seals, because she started in the 1980s, then as time went by she got a digital camera. … It’s serving as an archive of historical data on seals, which is really wonderful. … Seal populations were quite depleted. After the Marine Mammal Protection Act went in [Ed.note: in 1972], they started to recover, and then Gail got interested in tracking that recovery. She looked at seals that were on exposed ledges at low tide, and [others] that seemed to be returning to rock outcroppings that were out of the water at high tide, so she had these low tide and high tide location users. The same ones came back to the same places year after year. … She’s been a citizen scientist, in essence, all these years, collecting this data by herself.

Image from Disney et al., “Next Generation Citizen Science”

[Massachusetts Audubon] was tracking meadowlarks.  When I contacted them and said, “How’s it going?” they sent me these amazing maps that they had made for reporting out to their project participants. [They used the] presence/absence data [function that] is why we made Anecdata to begin with. We wanted to show where eelgrass was and wasn’t, and on most websites that were available for citizen science data, you could only put in what was present, but there was no way to indicate missing information. [Mass Audubon] had a present/absent [question], so you ‘did or not’ see meadowlarks when you went in these areas. Then you could see how many areas where you couldn’t see them, versus areas where you could. Then they’re tracking over time how that map is going to change. … We wrote about this because it gave us a better understanding of how people were using that site.

Two projects that have come to our site are what are called King Tides projects. I don’t know if we’ve talked about that.

Jenn:          Yeah, the really high tides. [Ed. note: King tides is a colloquial term for the unusually high tides that result when the Earth, Moon, and Sun align at the closest points of their orbits. It can also refer to any unusually high tide. Tracking king tides is a way of measuring sea level rise.]

Jane:          They happen twice a year, but then we sometimes have [sea level] higher than King Tides that will happen with a storm surge or something like that. We’ve been doing a little investigation as to how many King Tides [data-collecting] sites there really are around the nation. Not all of them call themselves King Tides. There’s a project out of Miami called Eyes on the Rise. We’ve been interested in what kind of platform these different projects are using, and what the outcomes are for some of these. We’re thinking of adding features to Anecdata that make our two projects more able to accomplish the kind of goals they’ve laid out for themselves. We have the Gulf of Maine King Tides, and we have Washington State King Tides on there. We’re in the process right now of submitting a big NSF grant [National Science Foundation] that’s due in one and a half weeks, and we’re collaborating with the University of Maine on that proposal, [with] environmental communications people who are going to do some … research around why these participants are involved, how their data are being used, whether or not they’re achieving outcomes.

Then we’re going to be adding some new communication and specific-action tools to the Anecdata site and see how that shifts our projects relative to other projects. We’re trying to get a handle on more from the research end: what are ‘best practices’ with citizen science, and how do we know whether or not people are getting out of it what they want to, and whether or not the projects are achieving the goals that they’re hoping to. I think that there’s a lot of data collection that goes on without it getting us where we want to go. Part of that project would be doing some interviews with sites. We’ve picked three – one in South Carolina, one in California, one down in Miami – we’ve been learning from them that even with all the data that they have and with all of the processes that they have in place to share data with coastal planners and municipal leaders, that still there’s overdevelopment continuing to happen at low-lying areas. Flooding continues to be a problem.

These problems aren’t being solved just because you have identified the problem and collected information that should be guiding your decision-making. We’re interested in the role that citizens could play in pushing those agendas. The citizens have collected the data, they know, they can see.  …

Jenn:          What do you mean by a civic action component?

Jane:          We’re asking ourselves that question, “What does it mean to be involved?” … We’re calling the grant ‘Data to Action.’ We’ve delineated levels of next steps that people can take: writing letters to the editor, writing an opinion piece, showing up at a planning board meeting, talking to legislators, trying to organize a public hearing …, voting. … People sometimes don’t think about, “I’ve been involved in this project and I’ve learned this,” and then asking that question, “The people I’m voting for, how do they stand on these things that I’ve been working on?” In Maine we have this wonderful League of Women Voters.

Jenn:          There’s also the Conservation Voters.

Jane:          Both of them will give you information on how your legislators are doing. It’s sometimes surprising. To me what’s surprising is how divided everything is. You can almost – all the Republicans will vote one way, all the Democrats another. On some key environmental issues, you’ll find that, like Brian Langley for example, 50% of the time will vote the way Democrats will. He’s one of those Republicans who I think is really looking at the issue and thinking about what’s best for the district. I like him.

Jenn:          Good.

Jane:          I have to be honest with you, I have the same bias everyone else does, and if I wasn’t looking at his record, I might just put him in that category with everybody else and say I don’t like him. I think that … recognizing that we can look for these things, they do exist. We’re going to be creating what we call Toolkit on the site, a civic action toolkit that’s going to give a lot of links, and we’re going to try to figure out how to create some place-based links, too, that get people to local news outlets based on their [location] – when you log into the system, it can geo-locate you and knows that you’re in North Carolina and can get you to legislative contacts and  your local newspapers and that kind of thing.

Then one of the most important tools we’re putting in the Toolkit is a civic action tracker. It’s kind of like what people do with their health or Fitbits or anything else, but it’s a place that you can keep track of your actions, and then track outcomes as well, so that way we can have an idea for a particular project based on website analytics – once we put this tool in place [we’ll know] how many people have written letters.

Jenn:          That’s really cool.

Jane:          We think it’s feedback for the individual, like, ‘look at all I’ve done’. … I think that that self-tracking will be an incentive for people to take action. Also there’s going to be a way for them to communicate with other people involved in their local project … – they could actually upload the letter to the editor that they wrote. …

Jenn:          Oh excellent, so you’ve got a complete record.

Jane:          Right, and … other people can respond to it. It’s kind of like Facebook in that way. People can say, “I like this.”

Jenn:          Or they can use it as a template for their own.

Jane:          Or they can say, “This is a great idea, do you mind if I use some of your ideas?” That’s the communication piece. We have a forum in there, and I think that we’re going to push [information] out of the tracker into the forum … so you don’t have to enter it in two places. … People can just engage in regular conversation. We’re trying to build community around these groups because that’s another thing I’ve noticed with some of these citizen science projects is that people log in and enter their data … but then unless the project manager is communicating with them, there’s no real conduit for them to be talking to [other participants.] … On our site, we’ve now put in the capacity, once someone’s uploaded a photo, for someone else to say, … “Can you give me directions to this site,” or, “Oh I never thought to look at boat ramps.” … We’re just trying to imagine how people would use these tools.

Then after we implement them, the research team at U Maine is going to have three points of interview where we get feedback from people … so that we have a better understanding of how it is working for them now, what are their motivations. It’s not even always clear – the project goals might not be the personal goals of people, and I think it’s going to be powerful for project managers to know – [maybe] they think the goal is to get some ordinance in place, but all of these people really want something else. [The managers] could be aiming way outside of [the people’s goals], and that’s okay, they can aim out there, but they can aim where it’s meaningful for people too. …

I just got an email from a guy in Otter Creek, there’s a bunch of people worked up in Otter Creek. … All of them keep asking me the same question – something is bothering them out there. They feel like their habitat is gone, or things are missing. They keep saying that the cove is toxic, but I reached out to the Department of Maine Resources, and they certainly have some good data out there. [The DMR have] heard these things and responded and done some monitoring, but … the water is clean, there’s no bacteria, they’re not finding anything. … I’m not really sure what it is that’s missing for them. … I sent him to Anecdata, and I said, “We don’t have the capacity right now to set up some sort of study of habitats in the Otter Cove area. But if you are interested in doing that, then this site could support your data management, data sharing, you can upload photos there, we can help you get set up with that.” … I told him he should go to the Marine Resources Committee in Bar Harbor because they certainly initiate clam flat surveys, they’ve done some clam seeding work, they work with College of the Atlantic. Chris Peterson, … is doing some mussel census work. DMR is getting ready to track mussels more closely. … We get calls like that in the Community Lab. [Ed. note: Community Lab is a citizen science program at the Bio Lab.]

We spent the summer doing the same thing we’ve done for many, many years. [Ed.note: water quality monitoring.] We help the Maine Healthy Beaches, we did all the beach monitoring for Acadia National Park and for Bar Harbor and Mount Desert this summer.

Jenn:          This is what you’re doing in your lab?

Jane:          In the lab. So that’s been going on for decades. Every summer we do all the beaches – bacteria monitoring. Then we’re part of Maine Healthy Beaches, we upload the data, we can send out alerts, we can get the beach managers to post advisories. [Ed. note: Healthy Beaches is a partnership between UMaine Cooperative Extension/Sea Grant, the Maine DEP, and local municipalities that monitors water quality at public beaches and issues advisories if, for example, coliform levels are too high.] This summer was so dry, I don’t think we had a single advisory. … Then we have for years and years been involved in the Maine phytoplankton monitoring program, and of course this was a terrible red tide year. I don’t know if you’ve heard about it.

Jenn:          No, I hadn’t.

Alexandrium catenella. Photo by Gert Hansen via World Register of Marine Species.

Jane:          I think [it was] the largest and longest closure we’ve ever had in Frenchman Bay and the surrounding area. A lot is still closed. Halfway down into Bar Harbor, all the way up to Machiasport, all the way out to Isle au Haut. It’s still closed to mussels. Further downeast there’s a large swath still closed to mussels, clams, and everything. What happens is when a red tide comes in, mussels filter very fast. Mussels will be the first thing closed. … Clams filter slower, maybe because they’re in the sand and not up in the water column, so it takes longer for them to go toxic. … We’ve got different closures depending on where we are, and the toxicity is waxing or waning. … Typically you’d have these red tide blooms caused by a dinoflagellate called Alexandrium [which has] a neurotoxin that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning, and people usually die … because it paralyzes your muscles, and so you can’t breathe in and out. It affects the respiratory system.

Psuedo-nitzschia. Photo by Dr. Rozalind Jester via Wikipedia.

The big closures we’ve had recently [are] new. This is an organism called Pseudo-nitzschia, and this also [produces] a neurotoxin, but it affects short-term memory. It’s called amnesiac shellfish poisoning. But in higher doses, it causes so much neurological problems that it affects the whole body. It can kill you, too. They’re both deadly at a certain level, but their modes of operation are different. So why is Pseudonitzschia blooming now? There’s actually a lot of different types of them, there’s maybe 40 different species, so researchers [are] trying to figure [it] out. They all kind of look the same. Some are small, some are big, but they’re all pennate diatoms that can form chains. You can’t see it. It doesn’t look red, so there’s no indication, but this one shut everybody down. …

We’re now finally open, but it was weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks. … I used to have a lot of schools involved [in monitoring red tide.] … Over time there was turnover in the teachers, … [and] we don’t have any specific funding to be in schools. Occasionally over the years I’ve had grants that have helped support our work in schools, and at one point I turned to the schools and asked if they could budget for our efforts, and the decision was no. It’s a great project for kids because they can identify these organisms, … they do the collection, and all the water quality parameters that go along with it, then they get a microscope and they identify the organisms, and then the data gets shared back with the DMR, so it’s one of those real-time …

Jenn:          It’s really useful.

Jane:          We call ourselves the first alert system because the organisms show up before the toxicity does, so we’re [a] “heads up” to the DMR that the toxicity is coming, and then they check the shellfish meat, then make closure decisions based on actual toxicity in the organisms.

Jenn:          Do you have certain areas around the bay that you sample regularly?

Jane:          Yeah, once a week from April to October … for 20 years we have done the Bar Harbor town dock and this dock [at the Bio Lab.] Then for many years I did Bass Harbor, but it’s just a big haul out there. For years I had Tremont School looking at Bass Harbor …, because that’s the first place it hits. These organisms move in from off shore.

Jenn:          Is it temperature-driven?

Jane:          Wind-driven, temperature-driven, there could be nearshore nutrients that encourage their replication at the site, or cell division, bloom at the site. … I used to go out to Swan’s Island and Frenchboro, and had those kids involved. … They were like the first of first alert. That’s what I told them. … This was back … like 2007. We managed to hold onto Bass Harbor with volunteers for a number of years, but a year came when I was like, “I don’t have anyone that can run out to Bass Harbor.” So the DMR took it over and we just do Bar Harbor and this upper bay site here, the Bio Lab dock. Tons of data. We’re starting to move it into Anecdata so it’s all publicly available.

Jenn:          I was just going to ask if you’ve got it up.

Jane:          Yeah, but it’s messy. It’s in there and you can look at it, but I’m not happy with it because the method changed over time … And that’s one of the reasons why it was hard to keep schools involved, too, was that it got more complicated over time. It got more quantitative, which required a lot of counting that takes hours, and schools don’t have hours, so I had to work up a simpler system for them that was like first alert to us, so that we can go in and do more detailed samples so that we can be first alert to the DMR. It got more complicated for the work to be authentic. …

That’s actually the subject of one of our research questions in the grant we’re submitting in the next week and a half – we’re going to introduce these tools … – the communications and civic action tools – to some projects that have been in place and [where] people have been taking photos for a bit of time. [It’s going to add complexity.] Then we’re going to start a brand new project with fresh people that have never been involved before. When they get started I’ll have these tools already in place, so [they’ll] never know that life was ever any different.

Jenn:          Right.

Jane:          Mystic Aquarium [is] going to launch a [King Tide] project in Long Island Sound. The Gulf of Maine project is at New England Aquarium, and they’ve offered to mentor Mystic Aquarium. … The thing I anticipate is that the citizens who are already involved in these projects, all they’re asked to do [right now] is go out and take a picture at the high tides. If now we ask them to participate in online forums and track their civic actions, I think there may be people that drop out of the project or are resistant to those additional tasks because it wasn’t what they signed on for. … [We’re going to ask] some sample of people … the question, “When these new tools appeared, how did it make you feel, on a scale of one to five.” … We’ve held onto a few historic projects, which have been great, because not only have we contributed at the state level, but they’ve … been like living laboratories for us on how people work and operate and under what conditions people become engaged. …

This almost gets me more into the social science end of things. This is not my typical kind of questioning or science, but it’s time. After decades of engaging people in the field and on the shore and collecting all these data and then seeing groups like ours coming to the Anecdata site and embarking on the same journey, I’m starting to ask these broader questions about citizen science as a field. I do think that we have something to contribute to it … . It’s not like we’re world-famous, but some of these King Tides projects are. The South Carolina project has been very front and center. Charleston is very low-lying and has experienced a lot of problematic flooding, so they’ve attracted a lot of interest. One of the things about their project though is that it’s run by a state agency, not by, say, the aquarium. As a state agency, they can’t do any advocacy.

Jenn:          I see, so they can just get the data, but they can’t do anything practical?

Jane:          They can make it available to anyone who wants to do advocacy, but on the other end, I think advocacy is almost something that has to be nurtured in communities. I still think people just don’t know how. [We can give] them tools to do it. I’m arguing that that’s not advocacy, giving them the tools. … I’m like, “You’re just using a site that happens to have these tools on it. You don’t have to encourage your participants to do anything.” … If you were to say, “Take this action over that action,” or, “Vote for this person over that one,” that’s encouraging advocacy on your part. …  In terms of other projects, we just finished this EPA environmental education grant that had people monitoring their wells for arsenic.

Jenn:          Where was that?

Jane:          In Maine and New Hampshire. It was a big project. We worked with Dartmouth on it. It was what I call school-based citizen science. We had three schools in New Hampshire and four schools in Maine, and the kids all were able to go home and sample their tap water. Then the teachers were able to mail the samples to this trace element lab at Dartmouth at no cost, and then the data came back to our project coordinator here. She uploaded it into an Anecdata-like site on an arsenic website. We didn’t put it on Anecdata, but we are going to move it over there, in part because we had to work out privacy issues on that data. We think we have good strategies whereby all of the place-based information that we need is in the system, but the only thing that people can view will be the arsenic levels. People don’t need to know whose house it was.

Jenn:          Right. Do they know what town?

Jane:          They’ll know what town. It’s important to know the community, but they won’t be able to trace it back to individual households. … The bigger data set is being sent to the Center for Disease Control. That’s why we really needed to have all the data. It wasn’t an exercise in looking at the community level, at whether or not there was an arsenic problem. We really needed to get the details into the state database, and the same in New Hampshire. They have what’s called their New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, DES. They don’t have a [CDC.] It’s interesting, there isn’t a Center for Disease Control in every state, but there are other agencies that function like a Center for Disease Control. Down in South Carolina it’s called the Department of Health and Environmental Control, which is the worst name, I think. Environmental Control. It sounds like you’re going to do something that nature doesn’t want you to do.

Jenn:          It sounds like an oxymoron.

Jane:          … I’m working with Bridie McGreavy from University of Maine. She’s been very involved in the Frenchman Bay Partners, and working closely with the Frenchman Bay Regional Shellfish Committee

Jenn:          Is she the one who was doing the opioid studies?

Jane:          She proposed to. She didn’t get that funding.

Jenn:          Oh damn. That’s a fascinating project.

Jane:          Yeah. I don’t think she’s given up on it, but I think she needs to find the right funder. Like a lot of the work I’m venturing into now, it really falls between categories. It’s kind of a scientific project, but it’s kind of a social science project, and it’s crossing boundaries. … Even as universities are beginning to create more across boundaries, across discipline endeavors, trying to solve complicated problems by pulling people from all disciplines, our funding agencies are still stuck within disciplines. It’s very hard to … I think our funding agencies haven’t caught up with what’s going on on the ground. [Bridie’s] not going to give up. She’s committed her career to the intertidal zone, so that’s why this King Tides project became really interesting to her. The impact of King Tides, or changing ocean chemistry and all of that, has different impacts depending on where you are. Some of our bigger issues here are the loss of these nearshore fisheries [Ed.note: clamming, worming, etc.] in part because we took all of our big fish so we’re left with digging in the mud, whereas down in Charleston and Miami, the bigger issue is loss of property and tourism impacts and that kind of thing.

This person from Miami that we’re working with that does the Eyes on the Rise program down there, interestingly, she’s also a journalism professor, which is what Bridie is, technically. … Some of this science-and-advocacy is coming out of environmental journalism, which I find really intriguing. [Eyes on the Rise] have all these amazing sea level predictors. There’s an app they developed where you can zoom in to Google Earth at your own property and then there are these predictive models that lay on top of it and show you what your house is going to look like in 2050.

Sea Level Rise Tool Kit from Eyes on the Rise  (it only works for part of Florida, but it’s pretty cool.)

Jenn:          Oh god. That’s scary.

Jane:          Yeah, the scary thing about it is if you knew that about a house, you wouldn’t buy it. So this can impact property values and all kinds of things, but maybe that’s incentive to think about what to do. Apparently Miami, in response to all of this media work and all of these visuals and integrating NOAA data, NASA data, weather data, … people’s photos …, short videos – all kinds of media that they’ve been generating – Miami is putting in a huge pump system, a multi-billion dollar system that takes water from heavy rain and storms and then instead of it just percolating down into the ground like it does here, it treats it and pumps it out to sea. … There’s a real social justice issue around what communities can afford pumps and which communities can’t … It would be like Bar Harbor being able to deal with storm water and Tremont’s drowning out there or something. …

What is the differential in goals and outcomes of [these projects?] I don’t know. … Some of them are about media campaigns and raising awareness, and others are more about feeding the scientists more information to create more detailed predictive models. It depends on where you are as to what everyone’s motivations are and who’s in charge of it and what agencies are in it and that kind of thing. Interestingly, they all grabbed onto this King Tides hook. That’s the other thing I find interesting. It’s one of the few citizen science projects where it’s been replicated like 27 times in different iterations. … It’s kind of like a ready made experiment because you’ve got all of these projects out there with all these variables at play, and I don’t think anyone’s studied it.

Jenn:          Comparing the difference between all the different King Tide projects?

Jane:          Yeah. I’m only choosing a few of them because I think it’s too much to take on, but we’ll see. If we get into it and realize, “That didn’t take long at all …,” we would reach out. It’s hard to predict how long it’s going to take to gear up and then get people on board and get people to give you feedback. Depending on what kind of data you get back, what the challenges are to analyzing it and making sense of it. Anyhow, that’s the new thing that’s happening. Anecdata has been driving this new thinking.

Jenn:          That’s fantastic.

Jane:          … What I’m trying to also do is let people see that Anecdata might be a project site, but it also could be a research platform. … If you have a site that you can use as a research platform, then you can start tweaking the system and seeing how does that change things, and how does that change things? Because if you just look at what’s going on, it still might not ever get you the answer if you can’t control anything or tweak anything. That’s experimentation. That’s the scientist in me thinking. How can I manipulate this system to get the answer … with people still being willing? There will be a lot of that because this is using human subjects. There have to be a lot of disclosure forms and approval at the university level for the kinds of survey questions you have to ask.

Jenn:          Oh so doing the surveys makes them human subjects?

Jane:          If you’re doing it for research purposes. If we’re only doing it for evaluation purposes, sometimes you can get away without what’s called ‘internal review board approval.’ IRB approval.

Jenn:          Aka jumping through hoops. Wow.

Jane:          Yeah, because people need to know what the data are being used for, and oversight of the survey questions assures that you aren’t starting to ask questions that aren’t related to your research. That’s easy to do, when you start asking questions like, “How many people live in your household.” Maybe if your research question is about household size as it pertains to citizen participation – people from big households don’t have time to participate, so I’m interested in how household structure affects citizen engagement. If that’s my research question, then it might be legitimate to ask that question. If that’s not my question, if I’m only interested in what motivates this person to take pictures …

Jenn:          So you have to think really carefully about your project parameters before you even start.

Jane:          You do. Right. … [The Bio Lab has] a brand new system for education where everybody applies for courses, conferences – they send in applications for summer research programs or the visiting scientist program. Now it’s all in one integrated database for the first time ever, which is great because we have a lot of people who cross programs. … But you have to log in and set up a profile. For students who are on an NSF grant doing an internship or an NIH grant doing an internship, I need a lot of demographic information … because you have to report that … to the granting agency. We have a uniform profile, and a person who is writing a letter of reference for a course applicant has to log in the same way into the system, and then they were being asked all this demographic information, and we were getting emails like, “I don’t understand why I have to tell you all this personal information about myself just so I can write a letter of recommendation for a course applicant.” … We realized that we needed to not assign so much to the profile, and we started to create separate forms that would be attached to each program. It was labor-intensive, but every single one of our 35 different programs has a different set of forms associated with them. Some of them ask for demographic information, some of them don’t ask for demographic information. Some of them-

Jenn:          Wait, is this all within Anecdata?

Jane:          No.

Jenn:          This is a different …

Jane:          We call it Lab Central. Anecdata was a means of collecting information. Duncan was able to take all that thinking and apply it to an entire institution. [Ed.note: Duncan Bailey, Systems Developer at the Bio Lab.]

Jenn:          So this is the Bio Lab’s education program?

Jane:          It was. It started out as a system that we called Education Central where all our education information came in, but other people got jealous and said, “I wish I could track all my chemical inventories that way, I wish I could track all my grants that way, …” So we started to build it out, so now we call it Lab Central. … It’s been amazing. Duncan did it all by himself. … He’s written all the code for it – it’s so customized [and] we are so unique. To get a big course-application software [program] that might be used at a university or something like that was cost-prohibitive and still didn’t deal with the fact that all our courses aren’t the same. We have short courses for undergraduates, we have modular courses for medical doctors. We’re really excited that this is all customized now.

Jenn:          That is amazing.

Jane:          That’s been some diversion of my energies to try to get the whole Bio Lab in good shape, not just my program. But I have Duncan and Anna and Ashley [Ed.note: Anna Farrell and Ashley Taylor], and I’ve cobbled together salaries from multiple small foundation grants.

There’s a guy who does arsenic research from Dartmouth, Bruce Stanton, and he wanted to have an environmental summit here a few years ago, and he really wanted to focus it on arsenic and well water because they were seeing this as a bigger and bigger issue in New England, so we decided to host that here. It was very successful. Many people came from different sectors, and we broke into action groups, and we talked about the need for arsenic education.

[Arsenic education] was kind of a fit for my lab because … we’re all about water, so ground water was just a stretch for me, not a disconnect. And water quality …, and then our long history of working with schools and communities and pulling stakeholders together. … I thought it was such a good idea that I went for a more national, less regional, EPA grant, which was a little risky because it was very competitive. Like, damn, we got that thing. So we spent the last two years in this groundwater thing, but it funded everybody, it funded part of my salary, it funded part of Duncan’s salary, part of Anna’s salary, so we’ve been operating on that for a couple of years. I talked to EPA, it was a national models grant, and I said, “We’ve created a national model. Where do we go with it now? …” They actually said they don’t have any additional funding for same projects. EPA has nothing to offer.

That’s why we’re taking this whole project to NIH, National Institutes of Health, and going at it from a need for people to understand data. The name of this grant is the same thing, Data to Action. I have two data-to-action grants going now. … This EPA thing with uploading the arsenic data and and all of that … – one of the requirements was that [the teachers] integrate arsenic into some science lesson. They had to collect water samples as part of that and get their data back and look at it, and then they had to share their data with their community. The way they shared it was through stories and through role playing and short videos and trifold displays, but what they didn’t do was make graphs. What they didn’t do was data analysis because we didn’t give them the tools.

Jenn:          I see.

Jane:          I made a lot of assumptions about what middle school and high school science teachers would do with data. We had external evaluators on that project who interviewed everybody at the beginning and end, and … the questions I had them asking were about their understanding of the data. What we found out was they learned a lot about arsenic, the dangers of arsenic. “A lot of arsenic is bad. There’s things you can do to mitigate it. It depends on your well. Well filtration is good.” But they couldn’t tell you whether Maine or New Hampshire was worse.

Jenn:          Wow, that seems pretty basic.

Jane:          Or which communities were, right? [With] this next National Institutes of Health grant we’re going to reach out to more teachers and kids in Maine and New Hampshire, including the ones we’ve already worked with, and we’re going to get help with this. We’re going to get partners at Colby, Bates, Bowdoin, and some of our other partner institutions in our states. They’re all on board. They’re going to be data mentors. We’ve got scientists out there [saying,] “This is a problem,” and they’re going to be mentors to teachers in schools so that once they get their data, they have help with the data.

Jenn:          That’s awesome.

Jane:          Yeah. Then when I said they didn’t have the tools, well we were thinking about inventing those tools, then I found a company that’s inventing those tools. It’s called Tuva.

Jenn:          It’s called what?

Jane:          T-u-v-a. I don’t know what the heck it stands for. They’re on a mission to increase data literacy in schools. They have this capability to upload any data set, and then give teachers and kids all these cool options for ways to look at it: like let’s look at it like that, let’s look at it like this. It also has all these sample data sets on there that they can … ask questions like, “What way would you like to look at this data? Do you think you should use a bar chart? What’s a bar chart really going to tell you? Maybe you need a box chart …,” you know, so the whole thing talks them through, “What kind of choices will you make to help you visualize the data,” then you can answer questions, and if you … answer them wrong, fail the quiz, then the system takes you back and walks you through again. We’re going to have teacher workshops, we’re going to teach them how to use the software.

Jenn:          It sounds like a fantastic resource.

Tuva K-12 – Demo from Harshil Parikh on Vimeo.

Jane:          I’m so excited. And, turns out a woman I’ve worked with many years at University of Maine, Molly Schauffler, she’s in the Climate Change Institute there, she’s an educational consultant [with Tuva]. She will come and teach a … mentoring workshop for the scientists who want to mentor. They’re going to have to understand how Tuva works, too. We’re going to become a Tuva state. We’re writing that into the grant, the cost of that. During the five years of this project, all these teachers in Maine are going to have free access to this software for whatever purposes that they’re trying to grapple with data.

Then of course after that, there’s a cost for a school district. They’re a for-profit company, but I don’t think their costs are high compared to what I see for software. Of course it means some school districts will be able to afford it and others might not. I think it’s the kind of thing a school district would spring for if all their teachers were clamoring for it. Also I think the tool would work well across departments. I think that social studies teachers have data, math departments have data. Computer science. …

Jenn:          The school itself probably has data it needs to understand.

Jane:          Yep. They are actually building out – they started for schools, but I can see that they’re building out sites for institutions, and I see they’re interested in citizen science, so I think they’re thinking they’re going to learn a lot by working with us and our arsenic data. This data-to-action, that’s what I have. I have collected data, I have watched other people collect data for a lot of things. It is time to turn data into action. … Does that get at any of the things you wanted to learn from this interview?

Jenn:          Yeah, you’re up to big stuff!

Jane:          I’m trying. I might get swatted down.

Jenn:          Yeah, but you don’t tend to stay swatted down.

Jane:          But I am venturing beyond my expertise in the well water monitoring, the arsenic, even the data – because honestly we struggle in our own lab with our own data analysis. I make this bold claim in the introduction to this grant, “Everyone struggles with data.” I don’t think there’s ever been a more important time. This is the other argument I’m trying to make … – that people who are rejecting that climate change is real are people who are uncomfortable with data. There have been studies done … where they’ve taken people and given them, like if they’re entrenched on an issue, they’ve given them some data to help sway them and they’re still not swayed, so they give them more data, and they’re still not swayed, so they present them with a storm of evidence, then people actually get – they’ll believe it less.

Jenn:          Wow.

Jane:          The more data, the further away they move from acceptance. Data is starting to be problematic, which is why I think these people down in Miami are on to something using all these visual-media-based tools. It’s like people made to see their house underwater, not a CO2 graph. The CO2 graph is the thing that’s disturbing.

Jenn:          To people who know it means.

Jane:          To people who know that the whole planet, it’s the whole planet.

Jenn:    But other people need to be like ‘Well we haven’t had a shrimp season in five years for a reason.’

Jane:    Yeah.

Jenn:    Right.

Jane:    There’s complicated layers … but I actually think the shrimp thing … Bigelow Laboratory did a huge study that showed that our plankton level is way down. I don’t know how that might interplay with these … it’s like a whole food chain problem. … It could also be nutrient-driven. We have certain nutrient regimes that have been established over millennia, the way rivers bring nutrients onto land and the ocean. Now we have ice caps melting and diverting, offshore currents with fresh water inputs. I can’t explain it, but it’s what people are looking at are these offshore nutrient regimes that feed systems. Yes it is ultimately temperature-related because we’re losing the ice caps. Again that’s so removed from people’s reality.

Jenn:    Those of us who are just thinking about [whether the water is getting warmer.]

Jane:    Oh yeah, and as a matter of fact, it might not be all that much warmer. … If you just look at our local water temperature data, it doesn’t look dramatic, but actually it doesn’t take much of a change [to affect marine ecosystems.]

Jenn:    I haven’t seen data for the bay, just for the Gulf.

Jane:    Well, the Gulf of Maine has had good years and bad years, too, like in 2012, it was the hottest year ever on record, but five years later we’re not having anything that severe going on. I think when you have these oscillations that people “believe it, don’t believe it, believe it, don’t believe it” – they’ve given up trying to understand data. This is the thing that Molly Schauffler wants students to get out of this project and … this data literacy software in particular is that what’s important to understand is variation, and how things vary around the data. Everyone wants to get to a number, but it’s the array of numbers that’s important. … Maybe it takes a whole lifetime to start to get at what the real problem is. It’s about how people perceive things, and how people receive things, and what will motivate people to move to action. I would like to think that behind all of that activity are sound data, but our strategies may not be data-driven. … We’ve made lots of improvements in reading literacy in this country. … We’ve had First Ladies go on their reading literacy campaigns and … everyone has recognized how important reading literacy is and maybe in another generation [we’ll get to] data literacy, have an understanding of numbers. Most of us can’t – I can’t deal with my own finances. I just got my report back on my retirement account that says my fund grew by 1.9% last month. That doesn’t sound that good. Maybe it is.

Jenn:    … I have to force myself to focus on [those reports.]

Jane:    So then there’s this whole array of choices of different funds that I can reapportion my retirement into. I’m not that good at dealing with those data. On the down low, I don’t even like to tell people what I can’t cope with because I’m trying to help them cope with it. But I think that that generalized data do feed into all aspects of our lives. In ways that somebody would have to do research projects on. You know, 20 years from now all the kids that got this data literacy curriculum, do they have more or less money in their retirement accounts?

Jenn:    And are their houses under water?

Jane:    Or to be movers and shakers in their communities and get land use ordinances passed that move back development from the shoreline, or decrease the amount of impervious surface. … We’re in a conundrum, and all I can do is take my little piece that’s based on my couple decades experience and hope that keeps driving some conversations forward and making some ripple effects. I always admire those people that get on the national stage and change things … I’ve always been more interested, I think you are too, at how things play out for people right where they are. I think it’s going to take a hundred King Tides projects, not a King Tides project. I think it organically grew just the right way. I think one of the things we might find is that the Gulf of Maine King Tides project is too big.

Jenn:          Really?

Jane:          Well no one around here takes pictures. We feel disconnected from that project. I think there needs to be ‘MDI King Tides,’ ‘Schoodic Penninsula King Tides.’

Jenn:          I don’t think most people here know about it.

Jane:          No, they don’t know about it. And if they did know about it, like if they saw in the newspaper …, ‘Go out and take a picture on this day,’ is there anyone going to go with me? [Ed.note: The newspaper did run an article after the November King Tides, but I don’t know if it increased participation.]

Walking back through the Bio Lab campus

Jane:          Well this was so wonderful to get you up to speed on everything that’s going on.

Jenn:          It sounds like you have some really, really cool projects.

Jane:          I’m very excited. You know my kids are off in the world and it’s a good life stage to try to get some things off the ground that have been languishing in my mind.

Jenn:          The last awkward thing is, can I take a picture? …

Jane:          Sure. … I’ve had many a picture taken here on Frenchman Bay. My kids, I think I told you, they were like, “Oh when you die, Mom, we’ll scatter your ashes on Frenchman Bay.” … I said, “Could you scatter my ashes on Somes Pond?”

Jenn:          Why is that?

Jane:          Because that’s where I play. Don’t put me out in my workplace. I’ll feel obligated to do something.

Jenn:          Fertilize the eel grass.

Jane:          So funny. … I’d like to stay in this place anyhow. No matter where I go, I just want to get back here. Do you feel that way? I did a lot of traveling last year. … South Carolina, … Tampa Bay, … out to Santa Cruz to see my sister, … back to New Jersey. … My other sister lives there. I had this big year of travel. It didn’t matter where I went. I was like, Santa Cruz was nice, but it’s crowded and I don’t recognize any of the trees. You know what I mean? … I just want to get home to where I know every bird and every tree.

Jenn:          I love to travel, I really enjoy being in new places, but I have to come home.

Jane:          Yeah. I’ve never ended up in a place where I was like, “I could just stay here forever.” …

Jenn:          That would be this island.

Jane:          Yeah. I knew it when we came here to interview. We came from Washington state. I interviewed at the Jackson Lab in 1989. …We didn’t even know there was an Acadia National Park, let alone that it was here. … When she showed us around the island, we were looking at each other like, “Oh my god. Hope we get these jobs.” We both had PhDs in genetics, so didn’t we luck out that there were a couple of research labs here.

Well, what a day! I have to go back in, but thanks for getting me [outdoors!]


Looking back at the Bio Lab campus from the dock. You can see Star Point at the left.


Disney, Jane, Duncan Bailey, Anna Farrell, and Ashley Taylor. “Next Generation Citizen Science Using” Maine Policy Review 26.2 (2017) : 70 -79, Visited January 13, 2018.

“Gulf of Maine and Beyond: Changing Food Webs in the Gulf of Maine and Beyond,” Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, undated. Visited January 13, 2018.

Shepherd, Samuel, “December King Tide Reached 13 Feet,” Mount Desert Islander, Dec.12, 2017

Shetterly, Susan Hand, “Profile of Gail McCullough of Hancock, who studies harbor seals in Young’s Bay” (1994). Maine News Index – Maine Times. 740.  Visited January 13, 2018.