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Articles Blog

Bar Harbor, Maine

Karyn Planett

Don't say, “Bah Hah-bah”

There’s another “don’t” according to John Steinbeck in his book Travels with Charley.

“Don’t ever ask directions of a Maine native, I was told.”
“Why ever not?”
“Somehow we think it is funny to misdirect people and we don’t smile when we do it, but we laugh inwardly.  It is our nature.”

Plus, you shouldn’t even begin to start the conversation with a local about Maine being a province of Massachusetts until 1820.  That really stirs ‘em up and they’ll definitely send you packing in the wrong direction!

And Speaking of Lost

The Vikings.  They were really far from home when they found themselves sailing along the coastline of North America some 500 years before any other navigator from Europe arrived.  At least this is what the legend says.  And scientists confirm that the celebrated Norsemen did carve out primitive settlements in parts of Canada.  Some believe they even came ashore in Maine, as well, during the 11th century.  But what is known is that John Cabot, the British explorer who sailed from Britain in 1497 under orders of Henry VII to discover a route to the rich Far East, did ply these waters.  He was searching for the Northwest Passage, to be exact.  Instead, he found Maine.  Nonetheless, because of his discovery the British laid claim to North America so, all in all, Champlain was pretty happy.

Native American Algonquins, known as Abenaki, were already here.  They were members of the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribes.  The British followed and founded a colony in 1607, but floundered a bit.  The French, German, and Scots-Irish followed.  Ultimately, it was John Smith who recorded the coves and islands of Maine’s rugged coastline.  You remember that he’s the lad who owes his life to Pocahontas.  Well, based on his hard work, viable settlements grew.

Shots Were Fired

Throughout the 17th century, the English colonists of Maine wrangled with French colonists from Quebec, assisted in their efforts by local tribes.  Peace was won only after many hard-fought battles.  1759 was the year the warring factions fired their last shots on Quebec’s Plain of Abraham.

Following the 1820 Missouri Compromise, the proud state of Maine joined the union as its 23rd state.  And something called the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, signed in 1842, demarcated Maine’s official border with Canada’s New Brunswick.

The State Today

Maine residents like to protect their well-kept secret that their state is as large as the five other New England states combined.  But, fewer people live in Maine than in any of those other states.  In fact, there are fewer than 1,500,000 residents in the entire state.  Factor in the five million visitors who arrive each year to enjoy the woods and waters of Maine, and it is just about a perfect destination.

Mount Desert Island

Odd name, that.  But, supposedly, Samuel Champlain declared this speck of land “L’ile des Monts Déserts.”  The French explorer had spotted Cadillac Mountain and remarked about its barren peak.  Never mind, he was famous enough to get a big lake named after him.

Bar Harbor is found on Mt. Desert Island.  The island measures 108 square miles and is remarkably unspoiled and lush despite Champlain’s decree.  The Jesuits were the first to set up camp on the island.  Within one short month, the British destroyed it.  For the next one and one half centuries, the French and the British fought over control of the island.  Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, a French fellow, was given the island in the 17th century by Canada.  He spent just one summer here before traveling west to create the city of Detroit.  (See the connection to the car?)

English colonists arrived by the score and controlled Mt. Desert Island until the 1783 Treaty of Versailles established the border between Canada and the US by acknowledging the Thirteen Colonies’ independence from Britain.

Bar Harbor Today

Today, Bar Harbor is home to 5,000 people.  Many support the tourism infrastructure for visitors coming to explore Acadia National Park.  Some 35,000 acres now belong to the park system.  Nearly one-third of this land was the generous gift of John D. Rockefeller Jr. who also created the fifty miles of carriage paths built so everyone had access to the wilderness.

Rich with history, blessed by Mother Nature’s bounty, Bar Harbor is picture-postcard-perfect.  Enjoy it all, including grilled lobster drizzled with hot butter.  You won’t soon forget its joy.