In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Mount Desert Island: Shaped by Nature


Louisburg Hotel, Bar Harbor, ca. 1900
Louisburg Hotel, Bar Harbor, ca. 1900Item Contributed by
Jesup Memorial Library

The list of Mount Desert Island inns is long and legendary. It begins modestly with the island’s first public house established in Somesville by Daniel Somes in 1820. Next, in Southwest Harbor, Henry Clark opened Island House (1850) quickly followed by Margaret & James Freeman’s Freeman House (1851). Then storekeeper Tobias Roberts took the lead in Bar Harbor with Agamont House (1855). After that, the hotel race was on – and Bar Harbor won.

Island House and slip, Southwest Harbor, 1893
Island House and slip, Southwest Harbor, 1893Item Contributed by
Southwest Harbor Public Library

Making Accommodations

By the mid-1880s, Bar Harbor boasted dozens of well-appointed hotels, including Rodick House at the corner of Main and Cottage streets. Established in 1866 and twice expanded, it had become Maine’s largest and most famous hotel, with 400 guestrooms accommodating up to a 1000 people, a broad wrap-around veranda, and sprawling lawns where visitors strolled and competed in playful sporting events with locals, cottagers, and encamped tribesmen.

Running a hotel such as the Rodick required chambermaids, butlers, chefs, waitresses, kitchen help, clerks and managers—a total of 180 people. In this photo, three-quarters of the staff are gathered on the hotel steps. -Opulence to Ashes: Bar Harbor’s Gilded Century, by Lydia B. Vandenbergh & Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr.

Jordan Pond House staff, ca. 1910
Jordan Pond House staff, ca. 1910Item Contributed by
Great Harbor Maritime Museum

Most Wabanakis who came to Mount Desert avoided the confines of indoor work, but Theodore Bear Mitchell spent many summers working at the Malvern Hotel. As recounted by his son, Theodore Norris Mitchell: “When my father was a young man he worked as a bellboy at the Malvern for at least ten years. I have a photo of him in his Malvern uniform. It was green.” Off-season, Ted worked in the woods and turned natural materials into items to sell: “My dad used to do quillwork when I was a boy – and I always had quills stuck in my hair. And he was a birchbark craftsman. He used to do a big business with birchbark frames. He didn’t have to go to Bar Harbor to sell them because people came to him.”

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