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Mount Desert Island: Shaped by Nature

The Old Ell is Born

Old Ell, Rye Field Lane, Northeast Harbor 1939
Old Ell, Rye Field Lane, Northeast Harbor 1939Item Contributed by
Northeast Harbor Library

By the year 1898, despite having previously built the first Asticou Inn in 1883 (a 40-room hotel with only one bathroom, which was located approximately where the current Asticou Inn is located), the Savages needed more rooms to rent, and Harbor Cottage underwent a major renovation.

According to a Bar Harbor Record newspaper article dated 1898 and entitled "Harbor Cottage. An Old Landmark Which is Being Remodeled," A.C. Savage,

"…removed the old ell, and built a new extension containing a kitchen, butler's pantry, and storerooms. The interior of the main house has been greatly improved. It now contains, on the first floor, a handsome reception hall, a library, and a parlor or dining room. The second floor has six roomy chambers so arranged as to be let in suites with private bathrooms… A new piazza has been built to the house, and a front porch, with a bay window and balcony above it on the second floor… Mr. Savage is personally superintending the work; Messrs. Savage & Stratton… [fred l. savage, son of a.c. and emily and milton stratton (1871-1938)] are the architects of the new building.”

As the newspaper article references, during the renovation and expansion of Harbor Cottage, the Old Ell was removed from the southerly side of Harbor Cottage and relocated down the hill and northwest behind the horseshoe road of Asticou Way along present day Rye Field Lane. Like the Old House, the Old Ell saw more than one move. Its first move was just to the east of the present day Sand Garden feature in the Asticou Azalea Gardens.

During the early part of the 20th century, The Old Ell belonged to A.C. and Emily Savage’s son John C. Savage (1874-1938) and his wife Emily Nicholson (1875-1941) who used it for summer quarters for themselves and their five children while they rented their larger house, Hilltop, a 3,700 square foot, 5-bedroom, 2-bath home located directly across from the Asticou Inn, which had been designed, built, and originally owned by John C. Savage’s older brother and noted architect, Fred L. Savage.

John C. & Emily’s four sons and one daughter may have found some escape and respite from the close confines of the Old Ell by playing and sleeping in the loft of the large family barn down the lane on Asticou Way.

Houses at Asticou from the Scrapbook of Mary L.
Houses at Asticou from the Scrapbook of Mary L. "Mame" SavageItem Contributed by
Northeast Harbor Library
Hilltop House Floorplan
Hilltop House FloorplanItem Contributed by
Northeast Harbor Library

The Big Barn

The Old Ell, a small 850 square foot structure, was configured with a single downstairs bathroom, eat in kitchen and living room with two upstairs bedrooms accessed from a steep, narrow, winding staircase. A shed with unfinished walls was also attached to the Old Ell and served dual purposes as a childrens' sleeping quarters and catch-all storage closet for family belongings aptly named "Fibber's Closet." Like the Old House owned by John C. Savage’s nephew Gus Phillips, the Old Ell must have been close quarters for a family of seven during the summer months.

The Big Barn, Asticou Way, Northeast Harbor, Maine ca. 1930
The Big Barn, Asticou Way, Northeast Harbor, Maine ca. 1930Item Contributed by
Northeast Harbor Library

John used the big barn as a base of operations for his farming and livery stable endeavors. These businesses existed largely to supply food and transportation to the Asticou Inn’s summer guests. The livery stable operation was short-lived, however, with the advent of the automobile in the early part of the 20th century. The big barn, while continuing to stable horses and farm equipment also became part of a taxi and vehicle storage business established in 1926 by John’s son, Richard.

The big barn is another building in Asticou which experienced a remarkable move. It was originally built by A.C. Savage and located south and adjacent to Harbor Cottage (present day Cranberry Lodge) along Peabody Drive across from the Asticou Inn. According to family legend, after the 1900 fire burned the original Asticou Inn, A.C. Savage was concerned a future fire might engulf this nearby barn. He feared the barn risked being tinder for the entire neighborhood had the hay inside ignited. The structure was therefore moved northwestward around 1900 to a location along the bottom of the horseshoe of Asticou Way roughly where the present home of Tom Savage at 8 Asticou Way is located.

Given the size of the barn structure evidenced in surviving pictures, the move must have been quite a feat. One wonders if the barn may have been cut at least in two in order to be moved. According to a memoir entitled My Recollections of Grandfather and Grandmother and Their Family written in 1982 by Emily Phillips Reynolds (1889-1984),

"…Uncle John and Aunt Emily had a barn dance in the big barn after it was moved and set up new. I was a small girl, but was allowed to go and stay until 10 o’clock. Lots of older folks and young ones to came from Down Town. A violin player played for dancing – a jolly time, and it smelled so good – lots of hay…"
Following this move, ownership of the barn transferred from A.C. to his son John. Ownership of the big barn would later transfer to John’s children. Reflecting the permanent shift from the horse and buggy era to the automobile era, in 1939, his son Richard would dismantle the big barn, and, with the assistance of his brother Ralph, use the barn timbers and lumber to frame and construct a 13-stall automobile storage garage for their Asticou Garage summer taxi and vehicle storage business.

Elements of the big barn and its transformation into Asticou Garage survive today. A portion of the remaining garage is now connected to Tom Savage’s house at 8 Asticou Way, and one can still see hand-carved graffiti of John C. Savage’s hired hand, Harry Merchant, in the roof sheathing boards which were once part of the big barn.