The Coast Walk Project

Coast Walk 4: Compass Harbor to Bear Brook


Contributors: Hilda Roderick, Paul Richardson


The red lines show the portions of the coast where I walked, with permission from the property owners (more about that below.)



January 17: 12-12:30pm, about 10ºF, some wind, bright sun but bitterly cold

January 18: 2:30- 4:30pm, low 40s, overcast with light to moderate rain.

January 19: 2:30-3:40pm, 46ºF, sunny with passing clouds.


I started Coast Walk 4 on Sunday the 18th, right on schedule, but this was another week where low tide and sunset were inconveniently close together, and a late afternoon rain shower meant that by 4:15pm the light was too uncertain to be wandering around cliff tops. In short, I only made it part way around Sols Cliff, and had to go back the following day. Fortunately it was 46ºF and sunny on Monday, making that by far the most pleasant walk yet.

web1-IMG_3241You might have noticed that the map for this walk is a little spotty. This is the first walk that has been entirely on private property with no common area of shoreline, so it required an awful lot of research and communication. I have to remember in the future to leave myself a LOT more time for this step! It took days, and there were a lot of people I just couldn’t reach in time. First I went through the town tax maps to see who the owners were, then I asked my friends and family to see who might be able to introduce me. If I’d had more time, I would have written letters to the remaining people. The yellow highlighted properties are ones whose owners or property managers gave me permission to walk there, and most of the others I was unable to contact. Only two people refused outright, which was encouraging.

Many shoreland property owners have to deal a lot of trespassers, and often those trespassers are destructive or invasive of the owners’ privacy. I can sympathize. I live on Ledgelawn Avenue, which gets a lot of foot traffic, and you would not believe the things people throw in my front garden. Smokers will sit on the stone wall, then stub their cigarettes out in the garden; people have even come up onto the front porch after dark and hung out on our swing. So while I’m disappointed when property owners refuse, I completely understand why.

As you can imagine, figuring out where a property line is in real life is tricky. Only one property owner in the whole area had the courtesy to post their line with ‘No Trespassing’ signs and surveyor’s tape every few feet. For all the others, I did my best to work it out from the house and driveway locations, and when in doubt, I cut it short.

_DSC5729-webThe walk began on Sunday around 2:30: I walked out to Dorr’s Point in a light rain, passing the the ruins of George Dorr’s estate, Old Farm, which gave its name to Old Farm Road.*

from "Lost Bar Harbor" by Helfrich and O'Neil

The house at Old Farm, from “Lost Bar Harbor” by Helfrich and O’Neil

from "Opulence to Ashes: Bar Harbor's Gilded Century" by Lydia Vandenbergh

from “Opulence to Ashes: Bar Harbor’s Gilded Century” by Lydia Vandenbergh

Picking my way down the icy rocks to the small cove southeast of the point, I was very grateful for my brand-new ice creepers.

_DSC5738-web©This is one of my favorite beaches on the island: the rocks are perfectly rounded and seem to have an infinite variety of patterns, the cliffs are striking, and the waves break so dramatically on the ledges. I wish I could find a name for it, but it seems to be unnamed.




_DSC5855-web©Wildlife was scarce that day, maybe because it was raining, although the tidepools were full of life. I managed to photograph a Blue Mussel with its siphon extended, amid a crowd of periwinkle of all sizes

_DSC5803-web©and to my astonishment, a live Rock Crab (Cancer irroratus) washed up in the surf and landed practically at my feet. I put her in a tidepool so she wouldn’t get pounded by the incoming tide. This is me taking an iPhone video of the crab with my left hand while photographing myself doing that with the right hand. Given that the camera in my right hand weighs a good four pounds, I’m rather pleased that the photo came out. The video didn’t.

_DSC5789-web©I found a live Smooth Periwinkle (Littorina obtusata), too. They look so unlike the other periwinkle species; the colors are almost tropical!

IMG_3230-web©There were also two ducks (possibly female mallards) in a tidepool who scarpered off as soon as I arrived, a couple of crows, and some herring gulls in the distance. Just as I was leaving, a large raft of something went swimming by off in the distance:

_DSC5881-web©It seemed to be a mix of species: loons, mallards, black ducks? They were too far off to get a good look through the rain, and even blowing up the photo I can’t really tell.

I had planned to return to Sols Cliff at the end of the week but the following day was warm and sunny. Not only was it in the 40s again, but two full days above freezing meant that most of the ice and snow had melted. I figured I wasn’t likely to get a safer day to walk along the cliff, and headed up the hill. The views were gorgeous, and the surf was still crashing hard against the rocks:
web©-_DSC5936-EditIn the photo above, I’m standing about 40 feet above the water (on a flat lookout area with a bench and safely back from the edge), so that spray you see at the bottom of the photo is about 30 feet high.

web©-_DSC5930-EditUnfortunately I was out of town for most of this week, so my ability to do research was somewhat limited. I was curious about the name ‘Sols Cliff,’ and had heard stories that “Sol” had thrown himself off the cliff, sometimes because of a woman, other times with no explanation of why. According to Paul Richardson, who volunteers at the Historical Society and is an avid local historian (and if I’ve got this straight is a descendent of Sol), “Sol’s Cliffs gets its name from Solomon Higgins who fell off the cliffs in a snowstorm when he was ninety years old.  He was said to be suffering from dementia and had wandered off from his house.  His footprints were followed to the edge of the cliffs, which are now named for him. He and his brother Israel Higgins came up from Cape Cod and settled in Bar Harbor right around 1780.  They were the first two to settle in what is now the village of Bar Harbor.  They were up by Eddy Brook (corner of West Street and Eden Street.)”

web©-_DSC5917-EditI saw even less wildlife on this segment than the last: a couple of chickadees were hopping around, a deer stopped and stared at me, and there was deer scat everywhere. I noticed two kinds, one rather larger and much darker than the other, and wondered what made the difference (if you aren’t a fan of wildlife poo, I apologize.)


web©-_DSC5929-EditHere is a really nice stone wall to make up for the poo. I have always admired this style – it takes skill to make a stable wall with round stones.


web©-_DSC5953-EditThe last segment of the walk was the cove where Bear Brook empties into the ocean (haven’t been able to find a name for this one either.) As I mentioned, low tide has been in darkness all week, and I had to go out of town, and my family needs attention, and the next Coast Walk is scheduled for Monday, so in the interest of finishing this post, I’ve had to use my photos from Jan 17, when I went down to get a sense of the kind of terrain I’d be walking through. It really bothers me to do this: I’m something of a perfectionist, and I wanted to do the walk in order, but real life is not cooperating any better than the tides!

_DSC5713-web©This area was once the estate of the Joseph Pulitzer family, Chatwold (Pulitzer was the founder of the prize that bears his name.) There are so many fabulous stories about this place! Many people know about the Tower of Silence, the large square tower closest to the viewer in this photo:

Chatwold, bar Harbor, Maine, antique, vintage, postcard

Photo courtesy of the Bar Harbor Historical Society

Pulitzer was blind, and apparently suffered from some kind of “nervous disorder” that made him sensitive to sound, so the tower was soundproofed with “a floor on ball bearings, double glazed windows, and walls insulated with steel wool.” I’m not clear on how the ball bearings blocked the transmission of sound. Every tour guide tells the story of Pulitzer’s feud with the foghorn at Egg Rock – it is the stuff of local legend. My favorite tidbit about this place, though, comes from a letter written by the housekeeper (which I found in a marvelous article on servant troubles in pre-war Bar Harbor):

“The appearance of the Pink Drawing Room is at this hour a disgrace to a first class housekeeper. So I walked to and through the housekeeper’s forbidden ground, namely the Dining Room and Butler’s Pantry to find the 2nd footman — who it was agreed between the Butler and myself should daily care for the Pink Drawing Room (while the 3rd footman cleans the Yellow Drawing Room and Main Hall and stairs) — I find…the family butler engaged in the Dining Room but, the third footman, who ought to be cleaning or at least tidying the Pink Drawing Room set to sweeping the Dining Room for our lazy family butler. The First footman cleaning silver and the third washing and wiping dishes. This arrangement in order that the five men hurry through the Dining Room work to allow two to do nothing for a couple of hours before luncheon is served … . It is impossible for me to send either of the chambermaids into the Drawing Room during the forenoon — and I neither can nor will do a parlor maid’s work properly apportioned to a footman that he might lay down in his chambers and smoke cigars in the middle of the day.”  So very Downton Abbey! That’s Thomas lying down and smoking cigars.


The Bear Brook outfall (right) and location of the former Pulitzer estate (center) the stone terrace seems to be all that remains from the previous photo. Photo courtesy of Hilda Roderick.

web1-_DSC5700-EditOn the Saturday before the Walk, I met with Hilda Roderick, who has lived on Seely Road for 50 years. Hilda told me, “At the end of our cove when you’re looking eastward is an island – Thrumcap – along with the Porcupine Islands that are further to the north. When we first came to Seely Road, which was in ’65, … the little island was covered with evergreens, and was inhabited by cormorants. Double-crested cormorants. They laid their eggs around in these trees on the shore. And the cormorants were a threat to the fishermen, because cormorants are wonderful fisherbirds, and really were interfering with the livelihood of the fishermen. So the fishermen would go out onto the little islands, … including the Thrumcap, and stomp on the cormorant eggs. A double-crested cormorant is huge. Oh, it’s as big as your arms can spread. So this was a way for the fishermen to carry on their livelihood of fishing. … So then, in 1972, the US Fish and Wildlife Service made an amendment and [gave] federal protection for the cormorants. And the cormorants thrived, and multiplied, and as they grew and roosted in the trees, their guano, which apparently is very hard on evergreens, killed all the trees. So now there are no trees.  In my mind this is a kind of … evolution that has happened right here in front of our eyes!”


The Thrumcap seen from Sols Cliff.

I found that fascinating, and had to do a little research of my own. Apparently cormorant guano is quite acidic. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website says “Accumulated fecal matter below nests can kill the nest trees. When this happens, the cormorants may move to a new area or they may simply shift to nesting on the ground.” The University of Rhode Island Environmental Data Center says, “When these birds nest in trees on isolated coastal islands, their droppings (guano) destroy the leaves and eventually kill off the trees in the nesting colonies. Some small islands on Narragansett Bay have been almost completely defoliated by double-crested cormorant guano.” I’ve been hunting online for “before” photos of the Thrumcap, but no luck. If anyone has one they’re willing to share, I’ll add it in here later.


The Thrumcap seen from the Bear Brook cove.

The part about the fishermen stomping on the eggs also got me curious, and I asked a friend about that who has studied sea birds for many years. He thought that it might have happened in the past, but found it unlikely that any modern fisherman would get out of their boat at the Thrumcap. He had some other ideas about the increased cormorant population, which he will share on next week’s coast walk: next week we’ll meet David Folger and Matt Drennan, who will tell us about the sea birds living around this section of MDI.



*Feb.5, 2015: I’ve just found out that before the Dorr family bought the Old Farm property in 1868 it was the Conners Land Grant, one of the oldest farms on the island. I always wondered why they named a summer estate ‘Old Farm,’ suddenly it makes sense. In fact, I’ll bet people still called it ‘the old farm’ when they bought it, long after it stopped being farmed, the way we all still call the local supermarket ‘Don’s’ even though it’s been a Hannaford’s for ten years.



18 thoughts on “Coast Walk 4: Compass Harbor to Bear Brook

  1. Amy

    Love reading these Jennifer. As somewhat of a “newbie” (yes, 10+ years still makes me a newbie) to the Island I find these very fascinating and informative. Thanks.

  2. jane

    I love that this shows us places most people never see without causing the damage that we would all inflict if we went on our own. Plus its awesome social history and/or folklore

    1. Jenn Post author

      Thanks Karen! I hope my English teachers would be pleased to see how carefully I attribute all those stories. Who told me the story is often as interesting as the information!

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  4. elaine (oli) klein

    I would love to photograph some of these places the next time I visit. Thanks for documenting your journey & posting it. Well done~

    1. Jenn Post author

      hi Elaine, Thanks so much – I’m glad you’re enjoying the trip! Be careful choosing places to photograph, though, as except for Compass Harbor this section of the coast is private property. (I had permission from the owners to be there.) On the other hand, you could spend a whole day shooting at Compass Harbor, which is gorgeous!

      1. Nick

        Since I’ve written more extensive comments twice and lost them when your software thought my e-mail address was invalid, I’ll be more to the point this time! Trespassers are seriously unwelcome along Old Farm Road and Sols Cliff Road (both of which are private), as well as anywhere along Sols Cliff.

        I’ve had one trespasser who apparently was used to hiking along Sols Cliff, knowledge of which he attributed to your blog. I evicted him (peacefully, this time).

        Good luck with the rest of your walk. By the way, I’m a fellow alumnus from Bancroft!

        1. Jenn Post author

          Hi Nick,
          I’m really sorry to hear you’ve had trouble with trespassers. If you’ve read this blog post you know I made it very clear that the area is private property and that I had received permission for the areas I walked through – the first four paragraphs of this post go into that in detail. I repeat that every time I write about privately owned areas, and I repeat it whenever I give a talk or write about the project. I don’t know where your trespasser got the impression that I advocate hiking along Sols Cliff, but if you give me his name I will give him a piece of my mind about that!


          P.S. Yay, Bancroft! What year did you graduate? I was ’85.

  5. Judy Hines

    Love the photos and the interviews! I’ve been curious about Sol’s Cliff, and enjoyed what you WERE able to do. But was wondering if you would be going back, when you get permission, to walk the other properties?
    Thanks for the tour! FORWARD!


    1. Jenn Post author

      Hi Judy, Thanks, I’m glad you’re enjoying it! No, I won’t be going back – it’s going to take at least 2 years to walk around the island just moving forward, and the point is really to understand how the different areas of the coastline relate to each other. I feel I saw enough of the Sols Cliff area to understand it.

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