The youngest of Mount Desert Island’s four towns, Southwest Harbor split off from Tremont in February 1905. It gets its name from its location at the southwest entrance of Somes Sound. The population in the 2010 census was 1,764.
The town seal features three words: Vacationing, Industry, and Fishing. Southwest Harbor ranks as one of the top commercial harbors in Maine, and the area is known for its fine boatbuilding and design, both by individuals like Ralph Stanley and firms like the Morris and Hinckley yacht companies. The local firm AeroHydro, Inc. is a leader in creating computer programs used to design boats, including America’s Cup racers.
One of the town’s best-known citizens is Wendell Gilley (1904-1983), a plumber who developed into one of the finest carvers of game birds and birds of prey in the world.
A museum dedicated to Gilley’s life work, featuring several hundred of his best carvings, opened in July 1981. It’s located just outside the village center, near what was Gilley’s garage workshop.
In 1937, for the last few years of the U.S. Lighthouse Service, a complex in Southwest Harbor was established as a lighthouse depot. Since 1945, it has been a U.S. Coast Guard facility for the Down East coast. As the base’s mission expanded, a new barracks was constructed in 1968, then remodeled in 1984 and 2006. Since 2005, the base has been a Sector Field Office (currently a logistics and support department) for the Coast Guard’s Northern New England sector.
FUN FACT: Southwest Harbor was used as a location (“Little Tall Island”) for filming the 1999 Stephen King TV mini-series Storm of the Century.