Lost (in) Bar Harbor

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.

lost-bar-harborBar 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.

The garden steps at Farview, Mary Roberts Rinehart's estate

The garden steps at Farview, Mary Roberts Rinehart’s estate

Garden steps

Garden steps

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.

Sonogee

Sonogee

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.

the Turrets

The Turrets

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.

Cadillac Mountain

Cadillac Mountain

Intrepid author emerges from the fog

Intrepid author emerges from the fog

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About Barbara Ross

Barbara Ross is the author of the Maine Clambake Mysteries: Clammed Up, Boiled Over, Musseled Out, Fogged Inn and Iced Under. The sixth book, Stowed Away, will be published in December, 2017. You can visit her website at http://www.maineclambakemysteries.com.
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11 Responses to Lost (in) Bar Harbor

  1. Nice post, Barb! I was sorry to be unable to be at Murder By The Book this past weekend with all of you. I’ve spent a lot of time in Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, especially when I lived in Hancock County. You are so right–it is a fascinating place.

    IMHO, off-season is the best time to visit. Hiking/biking the carriage trails is especially wonderful. And how cool that they are still called carriage trails, though carriages no longer traverse them.

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  2. Before moving here, I started building a small library of books on Bar Harbor’s fascinating past. As a writer, I think there is no more inspiring place to be. I’m so glad you got to explore some of our historic treasures. I’m still finding unexpected and sometimes unexplained remnants of “lost Bar Harbor” all these years later. What wonderful bits and pieces to store away in memory for some future story!

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  3. What a fascinating story and one I’ve never heard before!

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  4. Jacki York says:

    How interesting! And I learned something new- I’ve heard of the Atwater Kent Museum in Philadelphia but never realized who Atwater Kent was- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._Atwater_Kent.

    Thanks for the info!

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    • Barb Ross says:

      That is fascinating, Jacki. The name was vaguely familiar to me, too, but I didn’t really know anything about him. Wikipedia left out the racy bits–the crazy, lavish parties in Bar Harbor, and how during the depression he chucked it all, including his wife, moved to the west coast and had the same lifestyle out there!

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  5. Edith Maxwell says:

    Fabulous, Barb.

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  6. Pat Turnbull says:

    Very interesting post! Re the fire: I was a young child in 1947, living in Portland, and I remember a crew of men (including my father who was emphatically NOT a firefighter) going to fight the fire, not in Bar Harbor, but further down east in Cherryfield. It was really a huge fire, and made a big impression on me as a 5-year-old, maybe mostly because it was so unusual for my dad to go away from home for any reason.

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