In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Mount Desert Island: Shaped by Nature

Harbor Cottage, The Old Ell (“Mame’s House”), and the Big Barn

Harbor Cottage at Asticou Northeast Harbor Maine ca. 1880
Harbor Cottage at Asticou Northeast Harbor Maine ca. 1880Item Contributed by
Northeast Harbor Library

Shortly after A.C. and Emily were married December 30, 1854, they built their first home, named Harbor Cottage, and moved in September, 1855. Like the Old House, Harbor Cottage has seen change, expansion, and movement over the years. Fortunately, unlike the Old House, two distinct portions of the original Harbor Cottage still stand today in 2013 and remain in use in separate locations. One portion, the Old Ell, remains in the ownership of Savage descendants.

Harbor Cottage Northeast Harbor Maine January 1928
Harbor Cottage Northeast Harbor Maine January 1928Item Contributed by
Northeast Harbor Library

Harbor Cottage, a two-story New Englander styled house with an ell on the South side, was built and located just uphill from A.C.’s parents and siblings living in the Old House. The majority of the original Harbor Cottage has remained in one place and seen editing and expansion over the years.

Today this portion of Harbor Cottage is part of the Asticou Inn properties owned by Asti-Kim Corp. and is known as Cranberry Lodge, located at 20 Peabody Drive, on a corner of Peabody Drive above the Asticou Inn where the main road of Route 3 meets the upper end of the Asticou Way as well as Asticou Hill Trail.

Harbor Cottage served first as family homestead for A.C. and Emily Savage who had eight children of their own. In early years from approximately 1855-1869, A.C., at times alongside his father John II, made his living coasting as a schooner captain, logging Savage family land, loading his schooners with lumber and trading in ports such as Boston, but also coasted as far South as Jacksonville, Florida, and seasonally went fishing as far north as Labrador. During the Civil War, A.C. also served in the Union Navy as a Capt on the revenue cutter USS Delaware patrolling the Potomac River.

Harbor Cottage Northeast Harbor Maine
Harbor Cottage Northeast Harbor MaineItem Contributed by
Northeast Harbor Library

A.C. spent extended time away from home in these years to make a living at sea and bring home necessities and a few small luxury items to his growing family. Meanwhile, his wife Emily, much of the time single-handedly and very capably, tackled many tasks at home of farming, child rearing, cooking, and caring for the sick, elderly, and dead.

She took on these roles in an era where there were no modern services as we benefit from today: no nearby doctors, hospitals, grocery stores or department stores. Long distance communication occurred by written letter and mail. Travel routes were primarily over the water; there were few and very primitive roads. Land-based travel kept towns logistically separated from one another.

Living in Asticou in this era was a relatively isolated existence and in order to survive and thrive, people had to make their own way and be very self-sufficient, serving as their own doctors, grocers, tailors, carpenters, fishermen, entertainment, and clergy. People spent their days toiling long hours to produce the basic necessities of life for themselves and their immediate family. These families were by necessity forced to be close-knit and rely on each other at work and at play.

USRC Louis McLane, built as USS Delaware in 1861
USRC Louis McLane, built as USS Delaware in 1861Item Contributed by
Northeast Harbor Library

Around 1870 following the Civil War an economic shift occurred including increased industrialization of northern cities in the United States such as Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. At this time a back to the land movement of sorts emerged. So-called Rusticators -- artists, wealthy educators, clergy, and later industrialists from these cities -- were seeking an escape to unspoiled nature from their rapidly developing urban surroundings.

One place they discovered was the relative backwater of coastal Maine. Seeing an opportunity, A.C. and Emily Savage, like other year-round settlers on Mount Desert Island, began taking in summer boarders at Harbor Cottage. From here on until the mid 1960s, the Savage family and neighborhood of Asticou dove head first into and played a key role in the hospitality business on Mount Desert Island. (The largest physical manifestation of this endeavor still stands today and remains open for business, though no longer under Savage ownership: the Asticou Inn).

Rusticators discovered the astounding beauty of Mount Desert Island’s bare granite mountaintops, its mix of boreal and deciduous forests, clear lakes, and bold seashore. The artists were the forerunners of this group and several landscape painters came to Mount Desert Island, and stayed with the Savages at Harbor Cottage. During these stays artists explored and interpreted Mount Desert Island’s landscapes through pencil sketches and paintings that were finished, shared and published back in their home cities.

According to A.C. Savage’s memoir entitled variously as Memoirs of a Lifetime or Memories of a Lifetime written in March of 1902, some of the first guests of Harbor Cottage included artists George Hollingsworth (1813-1882) of Massachusetts and Harrison Bird Brown (1831-1915) of Portland. Later on other famous artists, including Frederick Church (1826-1900), would be included in the Harbor Cottage guest register. From these first seasonal visitors who recorded the visual beauty of Mount Desert Island in their artwork, the tourist industry on Mount Desert Island was born. As a result, the A.C. Savage family started spending less time at sea and more on land – expanding their own properties, as well as buying, developing, and selling land to summer residents along the Eastern shore of Northeast Harbor.