by Catherine Schmitt
Creation of the Champlain Society
Champlain Society, Mount Desert Island, 1881
Item Contributed by
Mount Desert Island Historical Society
The origins of conservation on Mount Desert Island can be traced to a clear, cold night in March 1880, when Harvard student Charles Eliot gathered six of his friends together in 34 Grays Hall in Cambridge to discuss a camping expedition to Maine. With his father, Harvard President Charles William Eliot, in Europe, young Charles had use of the family yacht (the Sunshine) and camping gear. The Eliot family had been spending summers in the region since Charles was a young boy. The place was important to him, and he wanted to share the experience with his classmates. Charles was most certainly encouraged by his father, who believed in learning from nature, in the health benefits of outdoor pursuits, and in science education.
A crew consisting of “Captain” Charles Eliot, his younger brother Samuel A. Eliot, Marshall P. Slade, George B. Dunbar, William H. Dunbar, Henry M. Spelman, hired cook William Breyant, and hired boatman Orrin Donnell (of Sullivan, Maine), sailed Downeast from Boston. On July 4 they established “Camp Pemetic” on Wasgatt Cove in Northeast Harbor, just south of where Hadlock Brook empties into Somes Sound. They mowed the grass, and pitched their six canvas tents: a parlor tent, kitchen, pantry, three medium-sized sleeping tents, and one small tent. They made a flagpole, and raised the red, white and blue colors of their club, called the Champlain Society after Samuel de Champlain.
This was not just a vacation, however. Each member of the group would do some work in natural history or science during their time on the island. A bit of science and a reasonable financial contribution seemed a small price to pay to spend the summer amid the spectacular landscape scenery of Mount Desert.