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Mount Desert Island: Shaped by Nature

The Founding of Acadia National Park

George B. Dorr, Mount Desert Island, ca 1940
George B. Dorr, Mount Desert Island, ca 1940
George Dorr said of Acadia National Park, "The spirit and mind of man will surely find in it in the years and centuries to come an inspiration and a means of growth as essential to them ever and anon as are fresh air and sunshine to the body."
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Mount Desert Island Historical Society

The island's growing popularity raised concern, mainly among summer people, about over-development. Many felt that this unique place needed protection. There is a certain irony here, because in a way they were trying to protect the island both for and from themselves. Many of them had the means to do something about it. Lead by summer resident turned year-rounder George B. Dorr and summer residents Charles Eliot and John D. Rockefeller Jr., an organization was formed to acquire Mount Desert land.

They started with a tiny piece in Seal Harbor and a hilltop overlooking Jordan Pond. Soon they held the top of Cadillac Mountain, and in 1916 they offered the federal government more than 6,000 acres. Rockefeller himself ultimately gave about 15,000 acres.

The government first made it a National Monument. In 1919 it became Lafayette National Park, the first east of the Mississippi. Then in 1929 it was renamed Acadia National Park and now protects almost half of Mount Desert Island. In a way the park redefined the island and the way of life here. It preserved much of the beauty while promoting tourism and providing a living for many islanders.

Eventually came John D. Rockefeller Jr.'s development of the island's carriage roads. By the time he finished, he had created 57 miles of roads, 17 granite bridges and two gate houses, all built with local granite. The roads, which were mostly within the park, were open to walkers, bicycles, skiers and, of course, carriages -- but no motor vehicles.