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Mount Desert Island: Shaped by Nature

Rusticators on the Rise

At first they came solely for scenery and climate, drawn by the island’s dramatic geography and the “peculiar and delicious” quality of the air. Here one could purify body and mind with the balm of cool ocean breezes, the inspiration of scenic vistas, and the exhilaration of vigorous mountain hikes.

Kebo Valley Golf Club, Bar Harbor, 1907
Kebo Valley Golf Club, Bar Harbor, 1907Item Contributed by
Jesup Memorial Library

Yet for all the joys and solace of nature, some wanted more. The call of the wild was one thing, but what about the tug of social preening and pure entertainment? Bit by bit, these appeared on the scene: in the increasing numbers of “agreeable luxuries” offered by hotels, in fashionable changes of clothing, masquerade balls, musicales and lectures, yachting parties, horse shows, tennis tournaments, and an array of clubs which included swimming, canoe, and golf. And then there were the “cottages,” growing in number and opulence with each passing year.

Bar Harbor Swimming Club
Bar Harbor Swimming ClubItem Contributed by
Jesup Memorial Library

By 1890, Mount Desert Island boasted some 20,000 “summer people”—both visitors and cottagers. Its gilded age had arrived, with Bar Harbor’s reputation as one of the most fashionable resorts firmly set. In truth, a wide range of people comprised the island’s seasonal population. Anthropologists conducted research at the Indian encampment while stunningly wealthy capitalists focused on conspicuous socializing or devoted themselves to conservation and social causes. However, for successful academics and physicians, along with other relatively regular folks, nature’s offerings remained paramount.

Green Mountain Railroad
Green Mountain RailroadItem Contributed by
Jesup Memorial Library

Bring half-worn winter garments, with boots ditto, to be prepared for tramping and excursions.
-Eliza Brown Chase, 1884

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