Hi. Barb here. I got to spend last weekend with many of your favorite Maine Crime Writers (plus Katherine Hall Page and Hank Phillippi Ryan) at Murder by the Book at the Jesup Memorial Library in Bar Harbor, Maine.
I was particularly happy to be invited this year because this summer I read Lost Bar Harbor by G. W. Helfrich and Gladys O’Neil. My fictional family, the Snowdens, are grappling with what to do with the deserted and now burned mansion on their island, so I have been vacuuming up information about Maine mansions and their architects.
Bar Harbor makes a compelling case study. In the late nineteenth century, it was a resort not unlike Newport, Rhode Island. In the 1880s and 90s, 222 “cottages” were built for the elite of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington and Chicago. They came in the summer and lived in a protected and unchanging cocoon that lasted until World War I.
And then, almost as swiftly has it had started, it was over. In 1947, Mount Desert Island suffered a great fire. Two thousand people were evacuated in a caravan of 700 cars and buses, 400 more residents escaped by sea. (For a wonderful first hand account, see this article by Lance Tapley in Down East magazine.) Helfich and O’Neil write, “It is popularly believed that the Great Fire of 1947 finished off Bar Harbor as a resort. But the fire was for many a blessing in disguise. Although a third of the 222 cottages burned, many were already empty or for sale. Bar Harbor had tottered through the depression and World War II, and the summer of 1947 cottage directory reveals only 135 cottages were occupied that summer.” Indeed, Lost Bar Harbor is a catalog of change, “Demolished in 1938,” “Torn down in 1956,” “main section torn down in 1968, remaining are a wing added in 1928 and a library made into a cottage.”
I was determined to see some of this lost Bar Harbor, and for those purposes, the folks at the Jesup couldn’t have put us up at a better place. The Wonder View Inn is built on the foundations of Farview, later renamed Eaglesgate when it was purchased in 1937 by the writer Mary Roberts Rinehart, often called “America’s Agatha Christie.” Rinehart’s own cook tried to murder her there in the summer of 1947. The house burned in the Great Fire later that year, but you can still see its beautiful garden walls on the grounds of the Wonder View.
Just up the street from Farview was Sonogee, the summer home of A. Atwater Kent, an entrepreneur who received his first patent at age ten. His enormous parties were legendary in Bar Harbor. Now without its second story, and with two wings added, Sonogee is a nursing home.
We found The Turrets still standing on the grounds of the College of the Atlantic. We were actually looking for a house called Guy’s Cliff, but never found it.
Eventually, we got tired of the game and gave up. We drove up Cadillac Mountain, and in keeping with the “Lost in Bar Harbor” theme, it was entirely shrouded in fog. But that was sort of fun by itself, and just means we have to go back someday.