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People inhabited this area at least 5,000 years ago. They were hunter-gatherers who shaped stone tools and used them to gouge out the trunks of hemlock trees to make canoes. They made tools for cutting and chopping and pounding, and as weights for fishing lines in the deep sea. In more recent times, the Wabanaki, People of the Dawnland, carried on hunter-gatherer activities as well. They built wigwams and canoes of birch bark.
They traded up and down the coast with other Native Americans, and European explorers and fishermen. In the 1800s, they taught tourists and summer residents how to canoe on Frenchman Bay and crafted baskets for sale to the burgeoning tourist trade.
The French navigator-explorer, Samuel de Champlain, made the first reliable European record of the area in 1604, though because of the turbulence that followed between the French and British, it was not until 1762 that a permanent European settlement was established.
These hardy folk subsisted here, farming and fishing, and eventually opening their homes to paying tourists, called Rusticators, who enjoyed the rustic lodgings and the primitive and wild state of the island.
Tourism flourished beginning in the mid-1800s, and the island supported a population of wealthy summer residents who came here to escape the pressures of city life. Acadia National Park was founded by those who wished to see their favorite views and special places preserved for the future, rather than developed and harvested. Thanks to the stewardship and foresight of George B. Dorr and others, the island retains a little of its wild nature, which first attracted visitors in the 1800s. Today, 3.5 million visitors a year enjoy what the park founders fought to preserve.
Learn more about the stories of our past, the people of our present and the inspiration for our future.
John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

A great philanthropist and lover of the island, John D. Rockefeller had the foresight to recognize that traffic could potentially mar a place as beautiful as Mount Desert Island, and that there should be an alternative route of transportation for visitors: the carriage roads.

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Rusticators, Mount Desert Island, Maine

The Rusticators

The first summer visitors who came Down East to Mount Desert Island beginning in the 1840s, because of their appreciation for a vacationing ‘rustic’ lifestyle, became known as the Rusticators.

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The Fire of '47 on Mount Desert Island

Fire of ’47

The most dramatic event in modern Bar Harbor history was the 1947 wildfire that burned from October 17th to November 14th, much of that time out of control.

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