In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Mount Desert Island: Shaped by Nature

Indians & Rusticators: Wabanakis & Summer Visitors on Mount Desert Island 1840s-1920s

Adapted from an exhibit at the Abbe Museum ; narrative text by exhibit curators Bunny McBride & Harald E.L. Prins. Adapted for the web by Julia Clark, Curator of Collections, Abbe Museum, and Phe Crampton, George Stevens Academy. Images from the collections of the Abbe Museum and other Maine Memory Network partners.

In the latter half of the 1800s, Mount Desert Islanders marked the start of the summer season by the arrival of two distinct groups: Wabanaki Indians and Rusticators.

Wabanaki encampment, Bar Harbor, ca. 1890
Wabanaki encampment, Bar Harbor, ca. 1890

Item Contributed by
Abbe Museum


In the olden days, from about 1860 to 1900, I well remember that Indian encampments were the order of things in Bar Harbor. . . . When we saw the first of their little tents being set up, and the hunters racing in the Bay for porpoises, we were sure that the ‘season’ had really begun.
-Albert L. Higgins, Bar Harbor Times, 20 June 1934

Rusticators on Sargent Mountain, Mount Desert Island, 1909
Rusticators on Sargent Mountain, Mount Desert Island, 1909

Item Contributed by
Maine Historic Preservation Commission


Rusticators
were visitors who flocked to the island from cities, seeking relief from the noise and pollution of crowded urban life. After tramping about in nature, they desired good dining and entertainment, followed by the comfort of a real bed. At first, they stayed with islanders pleased to welcome paying guests into their homes. By the early 1870s, rusticators had plenty of hotels from which to choose, and by the early 1880s, many had built their own “cottages.” For the wealthiest rusticators—such as the Astors, Pulitzers, Rockefellers, Sears, and Vanderbilts—these cottages were magnificent summer homes.

Wabanaki Indians (especially Passamaquoddies and Penobscots) came to Mount Desert Island seeking relief from the confines of reservation life, along with the economic opportunities presented by a popular resort. For them, the island was a familiar place long frequented by their ancestors for fishing, hunting, and gathering. No longer able to survive solely on the old lifeways, Wabanakis now marketed their traditional arts, crafts, and canoeing skills to rusticators who visited their tented encampments. At its peak in 1885, Bar Harbor’s summer Indian village at the foot of Holland Avenue was home to 250 Wabanakis.