In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Mount Desert Island: Shaped by Nature

Early Years on Mt. Desert Island

Higgins Saw Mill, Somesville, 1890
Higgins Saw Mill, Somesville, 1890Higgins Saw Mill which is believed to have been located in Somesville.Item Contributed by
Southwest Harbor Public Library

In the 1790 census of the town of Mount Desert which included the outer islands, there were 132 heads of families for a total of approximately 648 individual persons which include Junior Neptune and Nathaniel Gatchall who are listed as “all other free persons” and the names of many families still found on the island today. Additional information about many of the these families may be found in the series Maine Families in 1790 which was published by the Maine Genealogical Society beginning in 1988.

Besides building their homes, these families farmed, fished, dug clams and sold wood to ships which arrived here from distant places. Sawmills, woolen mills and grist mills were built near the sound and other areas on MDI. Shipbuilding was also one of MDI’s early businesses.

The sea has always played an important part of the survival of MDI. Generations of men and women have worked the sea to support their families. And as gravestones through Mt. Desert show – many were lost at sea.

There also were numerous craftsmen who built the necessary provisions needed to survive on this isolated island far from Boston and the major cities of the time.

Dr. Kendall Kittridge Chair
Dr. Kendall Kittridge ChairItem Contributed by
Great Harbor Maritime Museum

The women worked along with the men in raising crops, tending the animals, preserving the food, spinning and weaving the clothing, cooking and tending the children.

The first physician came to Mt. Desert Island in 1799. Kendall Kittredge, along with his wife, Sally Whiting, arrived on MDI in 1799. (See picture of chair at left that once belonged to Dr. Kittredge.)