Mount Desert Island Historical Society
Mount Desert Island Cultural History Project

a research project of the

Mount Desert Island Historical Society - 207-276-9323

Welcome to the home page of the Mount Desert Island Cultural History Project.

Purpose of this project: The purpose of this project is to present information about Mount Desert Island's cultural history (subject to the limitation described below) that will be of use to visitors as well as to serious researchers and students of history. Topics to be covered by this project are listed below, and links are provided for subjects about which research is underway. It is hoped that the web pages of this project will become as rich a storehouse of information and images as are the historical societies, libraries, and private collections that can be experienced only by visits to those sources.

Limitation of this project: This project is currently limited to the cultural history of the primarily European visitors to and settlers on Mount Desert Island, and their successors; that is, those who displaced the earlier Native American visitors and inhabitants. It is an attempt to describe the lives and activities of those who claimed ownership of the land and subsequently made Mount Desert Island their home.

How to contribute: If you have any material that can be scanned or photographed, please e-mail, call 207-276-0323, or write to MDI Cultural History Project, c/o Mount Desert Island Historical Society; P. O. Box 653; Mount Desert, ME 04660. Also, your comments and suggestions for additional topics are encouraged.

Research Questions - The more one hikes on Mount Desert Island or reads about its history or researches the genealogy of its residents, the more one develops questions. Here is a place for those questions to be posed and for answers to be shared.

Businesses and Professions - Some of the business categories on Mount Desert Island have been the same since the late 1800s—hotels, insurance, drug stores—but some have passed into extinction (livery stables, for example). A list of early businesses and professions, with links to their advertisements, reveal an interesting aspect of life on Mount Desert Island.

Carriage Roads and Bridges

Cemeteries - There are nearly 100 cemeteries on Mount Desert Island. Directions are given to each cemetery, and the locations in latitude and longitude as well as UTM coordinates are given for most. A link is provided to a page for each cemetery where all the names and dates on all the gravestones and other markers are given.

Census Records - Every 10 years, beginning in 1790, there has been a census of people in the United States. A transcription of the 1790 census of Mount Desert (the only town on Mount Desert Island at the time) and transcriptions of the 1800 censuses of Mount Desert and Eden (now Bar Harbor) can be reached from the web page linked to here. Additional census transcripts will be posted as they are prepared. (Census data from 1890 are unavailable.)

Cottages - The word cottage was (and still is) an understated reference to one of the large, expensive, and relatively lavish homes of primarily summer residents. As a result of changing demographics and economics of Mount Desert Island, some of these cottages now serve as lodging and/or eating facilities. Others were reduced to rubble by the fire of 1947. Some still stand and are pictured on the cottage web page.

Deeds - Although this page may be the least frequently visited, it contains the information that is fundamental to all the rest of the pages in this project. Land ownership in our society confers the right to build cottages, hotels and boarding houses, and public buildings; to set up markers, monuments, and memorials; and to develop trails and memorial paths.

Genealogy - Many people are working on the genealogy of Mount Desert Island families but do not have a means for sharing this information. This growing web page provides that venue.

Hotels, Boarding Houses, and Tourist Homes - The earliest visitors to Mount Desert Island were called rusticators, and they often stayed in the homes of local fishermen and farmers. As more and more visitors came to the island and as their needs and wants grew beyond what individuals could provide, the first hotels and boarding houses were established. Tourist homes were the forerunners of today's bed and breakfast establishments.

Houses and Outbuildings - Structures in this category differ from the cottages (see above) largely in size (smaller), cost (cheaper), duration (year-round rather than seasonal), and fame (what fame?) of their residents. Some of these "houses" exist now only as cellar holes.

Markers, Monuments, and Memorials - The "assurance" that some people have for immortality is the third step in the (long) transition from "there ought to be" (immortality) to "there must be" to "there is". However, in the case that there is no such thing, as well as for a plethora of other reasons, humans create a "temporary immortality" for themselves and others by producing markers, monuments, and memorials that will last "forever" (that is, longer than any one person's lifespan).

Newspaper Archive - Thanks to the work of Friends of Island History, you can browse past issues of the Bar Harbor Times and its predecessor newspapers. The searchable archive of past issues covers the time period 1881 to 1969.

Public Buildings

Quarries and Mines

Roads and Streets


Town Records - Town records provide insight into what was important to the residents of a town as well as telling about some of the important developments in the town's history and who was involved in those events.

Trails and Memorial Paths - Walking on a trail is but one method of getting from point A to point B. Although it is not the most expeditious, it is perhaps one of the most pleasurable. A memorial path, in addition to being a medium for a satisfying journey, fulfills two other roles: it assures at least temporary "immortality" (see "Markers, Monuments, and Memorials" above) for the trail's namesake(s) and, on a more practical level, it provides an incentive for contributions for its maintenance.