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Mount Desert Island: Shaped by Nature

Arriving in Bar Harbor

Bar Harbor steamboat landing, ca. 1885
Bar Harbor steamboat landing, ca. 1885

Item Contributed by
Maine Historic Preservation Commission

Arriving at the Bar Harbor wharf, rusticators found the place “alive with vehicles and tooters for the hotels, who swept them up in buckboards and whirled them at a gallop to their hotels.” -Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Aug. 1886, p.417.

In the latter 1800s, visitors traveled to Mount Desert Island by yacht, train, steamboat, or stagecoach—or a combination of these. As for Wabanakis, some followed tradition, paddling age-old canoe routes. Others rode the same trains, steamboats, and stagecoaches as everyone else, placing their belongings—including canoes—in the cargo holds. Most Wabanakis had third class tickets. Travel fares were sometimes reimbursed by Indian agents who controlled the tribes’ annual budget of state-allocated funds comprised of money set aside from the sale or use of Indian lands.


The steamer Electa recently took home the Indians who have been at Bar Harbor for the season. There were twelve families on board with all their baggage, canoes.
-Mount Desert Herald, 10/11/1883

Before 1857, steamboat service to Mount Desert Island had just one port of call: Southwest Harbor. That changed when store and innkeeper Tobias Roberts built a simple wooden wharf at the end of Main Street in Bar Harbor, making it possible for the steamboat Rockland to add the town to its run. In 1867 the wharf was expanded, the Lewiston began regular stops there, and tourism took a great leap forward. In 1881 the Mount Desert Herald reported: “Thirteen years ago the little steamer Rockland made one trip a week between Rockland and Millbridge, touching at Bar Harbor. Now we have steamers City of Richmond, Lewiston, Mt. Desert, Little Buttercup, Acadia, and Queen City of Bangor all running to and from this port.”

City of Richmond steam ship
City of Richmond steam ship

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

In 1884, a railroad extension from Bangor through Ellsworth connected to a new Mount Desert ferry terminal. From there it was just a short ride to Bar Harbor by steamboat or canoe.