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An Acadia Timeline: Park History

July 8, 1916

Sieur de Monts National Monument Established. Following sustained advocacy by George B. Dorr, the conserved lands that today we call Acadia National Park attain federally-protected status when President Wilson signs the proclamation creating Sieur de Monts National Monument—the first unit of the national park system located east of the Mississippi River and the first created by donations of private land. At a celebration of this achievement, held in August at the Bar Harbor Building of Arts, Dorr tells the assemblage, “My thought turns forward, rather, to the great opportunity that springs from what is now achieved, than back toward the past, save for the memory of those I would were here to be glad with us at this first stage attained. It is an opportunity of singular interest, so to develop and preserve the wild charm and beauty of a spot thus honored by the Nation that future generations may rejoice in them yet more than we; and so to conserve, and where there is need restore, the wildlife whose native haunt it is that all may find delight in it, and men of science a uniquely interesting field for study.” Tellingly, Dorr and most of the other speakers at the event used the phrase “national park” (not monument), clearly indicating its stature in their minds. Dorr would serve as the park’s first superintendent until his death in 1944.

 

August 25, 1916

National Park Service Created. Seven weeks after the conservation of Acadia, President Wilson consummates the vision of President Theodore Roosevelt by signing the act to create the U.S. National Park Service.

 

1915 to 1941

Carriage Road Development. Acadia’s iconic carriage road system is conceived and constructed in parallel with the creation and development of the park itself. John D. Rockefeller Jr. was schooled by his father in the pleasures of road building and developed his skills on the family estate on the Hudson River. Soon after he acquires the Eire estate in Seal Harbor in 1910, Mr. Rockefeller begins building carriage roads on his own expanding property. From 1915 forward, he collaborates with Mr. Dorr to plan and develop a carriage road system that will cover much of the park between the western side of Cadillac Mountain and western flank of Sargent Mountain. Rockefeller and Dorr work closely to plan land acquisition, road routes, bridge building, and landscape design. The Simpsons, a father-and-son team from Sullivan, led engineering of the roads, and contractors and workmen from MDI and the mainland executed the work with enduring care. Road routes were carefully planned to open long vistas to the sea and the mainland. Seventeen distinctive stone bridges built between 1917and 1940 cross brooks and streams. Some summer colony members oppose extension of the carriage roads into the Amphitheater area but the ruckus is subdued by strong local support for the program and Mr. Dorr’s able communication with Congress. Eventually Rockefeller will donate some 11,000 acres of land with 45 miles of carriage roads to Acadia National Park.

 

February 26, 1919

Lafayette National Park Created. In 1919, after steady lobbying by Mr. Dorr, Sieur de Monts National Monument becomes Lafayette National Park by an act of Congress. The name is calculated to attract the attention and support of lawmakers at the high tide of American enthusiasm for our French allies in the Great War, and with attention to the 17th-century French influence in the Acadia region.

 

1922 to 1958

Motor Road Development. The campaign to conserve Acadia had coincided with the two decades when automotive transportation matured to become the inevitable American future. Summer colony resistance posed a brief obstacle to automobiles on MDI but this controversy had been resolved by 1916. The more challenging question becomes the role, if any, of cars in accessing park lands. John D. Rockefeller Jr. and George B. Dorr manage this challenge with aesthetic discipline and consummate political skill. They envision what is now the Park Loop Road and the Cadillac Summit Road as discrete passages built with least disruption through what will become or is already park land. Their goals are to afford car-based visitors some experience of the grandeur of Acadia’s vistas and key access to coast, carriage roads, and hiking trails. Between 1922 and 1941, their carefully orchestrated program of land acquisition, federal permission, and road development builds most of the system, with three final links coming after WWII and the Fire of 1947. Great care is taken to assure the surrounding landscape’s recovery from the construction, with counsel from Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. and Beatrix Farrand. Two generations of townsmen from the surrounding communities take pride in these roads, built with their labor and expertise.

 

January 19, 1929

Acadia National Park Designated. A final name change designates this Maine coast mountain reserve as Acadia National Park.

 

1929 to 1935

Acquisition and Development of the Schoodic Section of ANP. Like many parts of the coast of Maine, the Schoodic Peninsula across Frenchman Bay to the east of MDI was subject to real estate development ambitions from the late 19th century forward. The heirs of John G. Moore held much of the prime land when Acadia was first conserved as the Sieur de Monts National Monument in 1916. In 1922, Superintendent George B. Dorr had begun discussions with Moore’s widow about donating the land to the new national park. This gift was finally consummated in 1929, and it opened the way to further acquisitions, road development, and landscape work by the CCC. In the early 1930s, land near the end of Schoodic Point was selected by the Navy as the new site for the long-range reconnaissance operations moved from Otter Cliff on MDI—a move that facilitated development of the Ocean Drive plan of George B. Dorr and John D. Rockefeller Jr.

 

1933 to 1941

Civilian Conservation Corps’ Contribution to Acadia.One of the earliest of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal initiatives to cope with the Great Depression is the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), enacted on March 31, 1933. By the end of May, two CCC camps are established on MDI: one on McFarland Hill at the site of the current park headquarters and one near the south end of Long Pond. A third CCC camp is soon set up in Ellsworth. The CCC mobilizes young men from struggling families across America for six months of conservation work. $25 of their $30 monthly pay is sent home to their families. In total, more than three million young men serve in the CCC. They are fed well, work hard, acquire new skills and (in over 100,000 cases) learn how to read. Some 3,000 work in the CCC camps at Acadia, most of them Maine boys. The towns of the surrounding communities welcome the CCC workers, and some find wives and lives here. As Superintendent Dorr will note, beyond the road work supported by Mr. Rockefeller, the CCC is the Acadia National Park workforce during the Depression. They will leave their mark in fire roads, forestry management, thousands of trees now 80 years old, some public works beyond the park and, most enduringly, in Acadia’s trails, including the Ocean Drive Path and the spectacular Perpendicular Trail up Western Mountain.

 

1934 to 1938

Expansion of Acadia on West Side of Mount Desert Island. During the 1930s, Acadia National Park expands on the west side of MDI until it includes most of the mountainous areas, scenic lakeshores, the Big Heath, and the seacoast from Seawall to Bass Harbor Head. Some of this growth is through the strategic generosity of John D. Rockefeller Jr. but more than 5,000 acres are acquired through Superintendent Dorr’s artful use of federal Recreation Development Area New Deal funds to buy hillside woodlots from willing sellers on the west side, who need cash during the Depression.

 

1936 to 1941

Development of Seawall and Blackwoods Campgrounds. Acadia National Park is conceived, conserved, and developed during the four decades when automotive transportation transforms American life. The Park Loop and Cadillac Summit Motor Roads are a graceful accommodation to this transformation. So, too, are the campgrounds built in and near Acadia to welcome car-based visitors. The athletic field at Bar Harbor, the first site offered to these tourists, was superseded in the late 1920s by the Bear Brook Campground (today a modest picnic area). CCC labor, New Deal funds, and Rockefeller collaboration are all essential to the next step up in Acadia’s accommodation to the car-camping tourist: the development of the Seawall and Blackwoods campgrounds. These two large facilities are designed and mostly constructed before World War II but completed following the war lull.

 

1941 to 45

Acadia Quiet and Focused During World War II. The gathering storm of WWII looms over Acadia even before Pearl Harbor. Mobilization in anticipation of war leads to decommissioning of the CCC. (One sixth of all Americans in uniform in WWII are CCC men. Swift mobilization is possible in no small part because of the previous training received by the 2,600,000 CCCers who go to war.) The last labor of the young men here is to help prepare the way for war-effort installations within the park. During the war, the covert naval operations installation at the Schoodic Point park section make a crucial contribution. There are also military installations at Seawall and on the summit of Cadillac. The south-facing cliffs of Bald Porcupine are used briefly for torpedo testing. With the massive rededication of human effort, travel restrictions, and gas rationing, visits to Acadia nearly cease, falling from 409,960 in 1941 to 8,246 in 1943.

 

1944

Isle au Haut Section of ANP Established. From the late 18th century on, the white settlers of Isle au Haut lived from the sea like most Maine islanders. Point Lookout, the modest summer colony established on Isle au Haut in the late 19th century, never disrupted the year-round residents’ independent island outlook. The rusticators did assemble considerable land over three generations, of which 13,000 acres are donated in 1944 to become part of Acadia National Park, thus conserving some of the wildest lands and most dramatic trails in the park.

 

1947 into the 1950s

Great Fire and Recovery. Following a tinder-dry summer, forest fires erupt at many places along the coast of Maine in the fall of 1947. On MDI, a modest blaze begins on October 16th, spreading in a few surges during the next six days. On the fateful afternoon of October 23rd, winds up to 70 mph swiftly drive an uncontrollable conflagration over most of the northeastern side of the island, burning more than 17,000 acres—some 10,000 of which are within Acadia National Park. Eighty Bar Harbor summer colony cottages and 120 homes of year-round residents are lost. All of Jackson Laboratory and its 90,000 carefully bred mice are lost in minutes. The western edge of Bar Harbor burns, but a heroic stand along Eden Street by firefighters from many island and mainland communities saves most of the town. One car caravan of 1,000 Bar Harbor residents evacuates south, taking the long way around to the bridge. Some 2,500 more seek refuge at the Bar Harbor town pier, of which 400 are brought to mainland safety by boats that risk turbulent Frenchman Bay. The rest make a late-night caravan up a bulldozed Route 3 to reach the bridge.

Recovery is resolute. Ground is broken in May 1948 for a new Jackson Lab, which soon rebuilds its research mouse colony through gifts from laboratories around the world. NPS funds and charitable contributions support work to reduce the visual damage to the park, gradually clearing and reopening trails and rebuilding bridges and signage. There are no well-documented precedents for the total loss of a conifer-climax forest, in which much of the duff-soil burned with the trees. Will recovery come in 50 or 500 years – or ever? Today, we can see that the decades, natural processes, the Green and Gray, and Acadia-loving volunteers have healed the wounds.

 

1950s and 1960s

Visitation Surge and Mission ’66 Development. In the two decades following WWII, a growing American economy and then an expanding Interstate Highway System brings many more visitors to the national park system, including popular Acadia. In the 1960s, annual visitation to Acadia averages just under two million. To honor the 50th anniversary of the National Park Service and lever the popularity of our national park, the Mission ’66 Program supports many capital improvements in the system, including the Acadia Welcome Center in Hulls Cove.

 

1971

First Conservation Easement. The first conservation easement is conveyed to the park. Today, conservation easements protect more than 12,000 acres of privately-owned land around Acadia. These encompass on 184 properties in 18 towns, all but one on islands within the Acadian archipelago. Some, like Long Island in Blue Hill Bay and the Schoodic Woods lands adjacent to the Schoodic District of the park, allow for public access and enjoyment. Others are not open to the public, but are protected in perpetuity from development and environmental damage.

 

1986

Acadia Boundary Resolution. Acadia National Park was built over several decades, from land previously held in parcels great and small by private owners. No grand decree set the park boundaries. By the latter half of the 20th century the park surrounds many private holdings and borders more than a dozen towns. Ambiguities of state and federal law cloud responsibility for lakes and ponds partially bounded by the park. After more than two decades of vigorous discussion among the surrounding communities, the park, and Congress, the final boundaries of Acadia National Park are set in 1986. Since then, ANP has worked with Friends of Acadia and the Maine Coast Heritage Trust to acquire for the park the more than two score private in-holdings contained within the park boundaries.

 

1986

Friends of Acadia Founded. Inspired by models from elsewhere in the national park system and motivated by opportunities for volunteer work in Acadia, a hardy group of Acadia-lovers founds Friends of Acadia in 1986. Over the next three decades, Friends of Acadia becomes one of the most resourceful and resolute of the friends groups supporting our national parks, contributing substantially to most of the good works noted in the following sections of this historical timeline, and making more than $20 million in grants to ANP and surrounding communities. The more than 3,700 members of Friends of Acadia volunteer their time and talent to the continuing conservation of our park. Friends of Acadia serves as the core enabler of the Acadia Centennial in 2016, welcoming new friends to its banner and inspiring a secure future for our beloved park.

 

From 1991

Carriage Road Restoration. Until his death in 1960, John D. Rockefeller Jr. personally funded maintenance of the carriage road system he had created for and within Acadia National Park. Thereafter, care of this iconic, complex road network became the direct responsibility of a park not provided with resources adequate for the job. Grass grew, coping stones shifted and settled, water eroded roadways. In 1991 a significant public-private partnership is launched to restore this magnificent cultural resource and endow its maintenance in perpetuity. A skilled ANP crew reclaims the carriage roads and from 1992 forward, Friends of Acadia supports an expanded park crew with funds for equipment and more crew and with many thousands of hours of volunteer back labor.

 

From 1999

Island Explorer Bus System. Assuring a quality experience for 2,500,000 visitors each year in a space as compact as Acadia National Park requires innovation. The most important response to this challenge is the Island Explorer, a fare-free, seasonal, propane-powered bus system that runs through the park and its surrounding gateway communities. Since its first day of operation in 1999, more than 5.1 million passengers have ridden the buses. An estimated 1,710,939 private vehicle trips have been eliminated, along with 24.5 tons of smog-causing pollutants and 15,942 tons of greenhouse gases. The Island Explorer is funded by the state and federal government as well as grants from L.L.Bean, Friends of Acadia, local towns, businesses, and passenger donations. It is Maine’s largest public transportation system.

 

From 2000

Acadia Trails Forever. Following the successful model of the carriage road endowment, Friends of Acadia and Acadia National Park establish Acadia Trails Forever to restore and maintain the park’s historic 130-mile hiking trail system. This gives Acadia the first endowed trail system in the country, and today serves as a model for other national parks and their partners. The initiative inspires more than 1,100 donors of $35 and up, including the then-largest donation to a Maine environmental organization of $5 million from Ruth and Tris Colket. In all, the Acadia Trails Forever campaign raises $9 million in private donations and $4 million from national park fees. The Acadia Trails Forever partnership rehabilitates Acadia’s historic hiking trail system, reconstructs selected abandoned or unmaintained trails, builds village connector trails to restore the once-abundant walking connections to the park, and endows the ongoing maintenance of the trails into the future. The partnership provides jobs for seasonal trail crew members and supports volunteers who provide thousands of hours of physical labor each year to keep the trails in top condition. It funds the Acadia Youth Conservation Corp, a crew of 16 teenagers who work with park trail and road crews every summer, and the Ridge Runners, who serve as roving educators, hiking and doing field work with park staff.

 

2007

Publication of Asticou’s Island Domain. The NPS Northeast Region Ethnography Program in cooperation with the Abbe Museum publishes Asticou’s Island Domain: Wabanaki Peoples at Mount Desert Island 1500-2000 by Harald Prins and Bunny McBride, a definitive account of first people’s presence in the Acadian region during the five centuries of contact with Europeans and their descendants.

 

From 2008

Acadia Night Sky Festival. Inspired by some of the best night sky vistas in the eastern United States and energized by growing appreciation of the night sky throughout the national park system, the Acadia Night Sky Festival debuts in 2008 and grows to become a September weekend signature event in Acadia’s annual calendar. The festival, a collaboration of many nonprofit organizations and business, offers educational events, amateur astronomy and photography opportunities, exhibits, kids programs, a major keynote lecture, and celebratory night sky observations from sea, beaches, and mountains. Surrounding communities have adopted significant night sky light management ordinances, partly in response to heightened awareness resulting from the festival.

 

From 2008

Schoodic Section Protection and Development. Gateways to national parks are subject from time to time with development efforts incompatible with the value of the natural and cultural resources we conserve as our most important commons through our national parks. At the beginning of the 21st century, such a threat arises to the Schoodic Section of ANP and the eastward vistas from ANP on MDI. Diplomacy and timely philanthropy remove the threat. During the same period, ANP assumes responsibility for the decommissioned Navy facility at Schoodic Point. This extensive complex is transformed into an exceptional campus for the Schoodic Educational & Research Center (SERC) by a $10 investment from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park now manages the SERC campus of ANP, a national resource for environmental research and education.

 

2016

Acadia National Park Centennial. During 2016, a year-long, community-based, world-welcoming celebration will celebrate the past and inspire the future conservation of America’s most beloved national park.

 

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