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Mount Desert Island: Shaped by Nature

Charles K. Savage (1903-1979): The View from Asticou

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Asticou Inn employees, Northeast Harbor, ca. 1910
Asticou Inn employees, Northeast Harbor, ca. 1910Item Contributed by
Mount Desert Island Historical Society

Maintaining Asticou

After World War II, more people came to Mount Desert Island than had in previous generations. Acadia National Park was popular, well established, and attractive to a growing and mobile summer population. The 1947 island fire had ravaged Bar Harbor and brought an end to much of the already declining wealthy summer colony there while hardly touching the Western side of the island, including Northeast Harbor and the hamlet of Asticou. Life as usual continued in the residential summer colony near Asticou but more transient visitors came, demanding different services and seeking more short term pleasures. The wealthy, middles age visitors who wanted a long term comfortable and homey stay at Asticou, bringing their domestic help, were fast becoming the minority. Charles began to expand his vision of Asticou at this time – moving into the role of defender of a genteel way of life that was trending elsewhere while also making gestures to attracting a new clientele by developing public attractions and notable destinations. Affiliating with the Jordan Pond House, a public tea house located in Acadia National Park, and participating in other island institutions and committees such as the Max Farrand Association at Reef Point estate in Bar Harbor, Charles sought community partnerships and leadership roles in institutions that upheld his view of Mount Desert.

Road Signs after re-painting, Northeast Harbor,  ca. 1955
Road Signs after re-painting, Northeast Harbor, ca. 1955Item Contributed by
Mount Desert Island Historical Society
Road Signs, Northeast Harbor, ca. 1955
Road Signs, Northeast Harbor, ca. 1955Item Contributed by
Mount Desert Island Historical Society

Of particular note is Charles's passionate campaign to protect the road entering Northeast Harbor from "unsightly intrusions."

"Before we got through with this matter I could count about 70 poles which were taken away. Even if the general public may no longer recall that these disfiguring lines formerly existed, I can still see in my mind's eye their unsightliness, and often recollect how the accident of a situation contributed to their elimination."

Charles worked with the utility companies to remove poles and wires along the corridor, proposing that many lines be put underground and where necessary, concentrating all lines on one string of poles instead of two.

A close working relationship with summer resident John D. Rockefeller, Jr. was forged in 1953 when Charles learned of the clearcutting of trees near Hadlock Pond above Asticou and on land bordering Route 198. Aghast at the prospect of a logging operation along the main road into Asticou and Northeast Harbor, Charles travelled to New York City in the night to meet with JDR, Jr., convincing him to purchase the acreage under logging threat, participate in an adjacent land exchange with Savage, and swap land that resulted in permanent protection of the road corridor from Brown Mountain gatehouse (Acadia National Park) to the entrance to Asticou at the junction of Routes 198 and 3.

Roadside configuration of Route 3, Northeast Harbor, ca. 1955
Roadside configuration of Route 3, Northeast Harbor, ca. 1955Item Contributed by
Mount Desert Island Historical Society
Route 198 meets Route 3, Northeast Harbor, ca. 1954
Route 198 meets Route 3, Northeast Harbor, ca. 1954Item Contributed by
Mount Desert Island Historical Society

During the late 1950s, Charles waged a personal campaign to curtail the number of utility poles and transfer stations leading into Asticou. He peppered electric and telephone company officials with visits, questions, and personal correspondence providing alternatives to their unsightly plans to extend utility infrastructure down the highways into Asticou.

When the telephone company wanted to buy a corner of his personal property for a utility building, Charles made another urgent journey to New York City to enlist a land swap with JDR, Jr., that enabled the proposed utility building to be relocated across the road to a less visible location on Rockefeller land. The open and scenic vista from the road, out across the field to the adjacent harbor and views of Asticou Hill, was saved. Again, Charles's aesthetic prevailed.

Map of Asticou Corner, Northeast Harbor, ca. 1954
Map of Asticou Corner, Northeast Harbor, ca. 1954Item Contributed by
Mount Desert Island Historical Society
Thuya Garden & Asticou Terraces, Northeast Harbor, ca. 1961
Thuya Garden & Asticou Terraces, Northeast Harbor, ca. 1961Item Contributed by
Mount Desert Island Historical Society
Asticou Azalea Garden, Northeast Harbor, ca. 1958
Asticou Azalea Garden, Northeast Harbor, ca. 1958Item Contributed by
Mount Desert Island Historical Society

It was also during this time that Charles created two public gardens to enhance the natural attraction of his community. In his role as Trustee of the Asticou Terraces Trust, Charles designed and built the English style border gardens in the existing orchard at Thuya Lodge and designed and formed the Japanese inspired Asticou Azalea Garden. Both have become world famous for their unique blend of natural habitats, unique design, stone hardscapes, and hand craftsmanship.

Ever vigilant of the natural landscape while not losing sight of furthering the commercial attractiveness of Asticou, Charles came into his own during the 1950s with many like-minded community partners and summer friends who shared his vision and tastes.