For riders interested in learning more about the daily routes, we are providing a route digest for each day. This summary is a compilation of history, culture and trivia that Maine native Fred Frawley uncovered along the route, and environmental information prepared by Kate Dempsey of The Nature Conservancy. If there is something you discover in your travels along the route and think should be added to the digest, please submit your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Castine to Bar Harbor
On to Bar Harbor! At the very beginning of today’s ride, you’ll be retracing your steps through Penobscot. Instead of turning back to Brooksville, however, it’s time to explore new territory.
Route 177 will take you back into Blue Hill. Keep your eye out for osprey and other sea birds that enjoy the coastal habitat. After East Blue Hill, you’re back into coastal Atlantic Ocean scenery.
Blue Hill Bay, dominated by Long Island, shimmers over your right shoulder, as you make your way north to Surry on Route 176. Frenchboro is the principal town on this Long Island. (There are at least 5 different “Long Islands” in Maine, including an island town of that name in Casco Bay outside of Portland).
Surry lies at the head of Union River Bay –still the Atlantic— and in previous times was an active shipbuilding center. There is less of that now, but the work of Maine craftsmen in boatbuilding is on display in Surry and all along your route today. The first Europeans who made it to these parts are reported to be the French. According to a 19th century history, Mr. Thevet, a French explorer, arrived in this general area in the mid-1500s. Shortly thereafter, Pierre Du Gua de Monts, a French merchant, explorer and colonizer received from the King of France the exclusive right to colonize lands in North America between 40°–60° north latitude. The King also gave Du Gua a monopoly in the fur trade for these territories. The explorer promised to emigrate 60 new colonists each year.
At about the same time, an English general, Weymouth, showed up and decided that England was the rightful ruler of the territory. It was not until after the American Revolution that the French relinquished their claim. All in all, it was messy business determining territorial lines over this beautiful and productive part of the New World.
Upon leaving Surry, you’ll roll north on Route 172 to Ellsworth. As you approach the Union River, you will come to Woodlawn, a 180-acre historic estate sitting on the crest of a hill overlooking the city of Ellsworth. Built in the 1820s by lumber baron Colonel John Black, it was the family estate until George Nixon Black, Jr., left the mansion to the public complete with all its original furnishings. When entering the home, guests feel they have entered a time capsule. Richly furnished and ready for daily life, the house evokes a sense of continued use accurately reflecting the privileged lifestyle of three generations of the Black family. It is open from 10-5 p.m.
Just after you cross Union River, at the Intersection of State and Main Street you will come to another of the Schoodic sculptures. In 2007, Ellsworth Arts collaborated with the City of Ellsworth and the Schoodic Sculpture Symposium to install Narihiro Uemura’s “I Want to Ride a Cloud” sculpture as part of the streetscape of Downtown Ellsworth, Maine. The granite sculpture is located on State Street in a grassy triangle, a short distance from the Ellsworth Public Library on the historic Peter’s Block and just before you take a right onto Franklin Street.
Ellsworth is the county seat of Hancock County, and the gateway to Down East in general, and Mount Desert Island in particular. Ellsworth, with a population just over 7700, is an economic center for a vast geographic area leading to Canada in the east. Most of Ellsworth’s downtown was destroyed by The Great Fire of 1933. In response, much of the replacement building featured brick. Outside the downtown area, you may see stately wood homes that predate the fire.
Joannes Bapst, a not so fondly remembered Jesuit missionary, has a featured role in Ellsworth’s history. Father Bapst had great success gathering the faithful from Old Town and Down East, but apparently struck an ill chord in Ellsworth. He was banned from the city, but returned, only to be welcomed unceremoniously by being tarred and feathered and “ridden on a rail to the woods outside the town.” Having recovered from his ordeal, he went north to Bangor and founded a Catholic Church. Bangor’s Catholic High School is named John Bapst in his memory and operates to this day.
Heading out of Ellsworth, the route takes a road-less-travelled … and for good reason. You are on your way to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, which attracts more than 2 million visitors per year. On some days in the summer it seems like they are all on Route 3 heading south into the park. So, we take a leisurely and less-traffic-centric spin on Route 230 toward Trenton. Route 230 hugs the Western shore of Union River Bay and then turns “inland” (or at least away from the shore) on Goose Cove Road, where it picks up Route 230 again at the head of—you guessed it! – Goose Cove.
Soon, you’ll slide into Trenton, the gateway to Mount Desert Island. Trenton is coastal marsh and flats, which boasts an airport for the folks who live on the coast. Trenton also sports some distinctive lobster pounds — places where seafood, notably lobster, may be eaten in great abundance and with superior ease.
After Trenton, it’s a short hop to Bar Harbor. As you make your way toward Acadia National Park, think about the wildness of the islands just off this coast. Many of Maine’s coastal islands have been protected by organizations like The Nature Conservancy, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, The National Park Service, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge for example, contains more than 55 offshore islands and four coastal parcels, totaling more than 8,200 acres. The complex spans more than 250 miles of Maine coastline. According to the Refuge, Native Americans have used the coast’s natural resources for more than 4,000 years. The Red Paint people camped on offshore islands in the summer and fished the deep ocean waters. Although they hunted seabirds and their eggs, they used sustainable methods, limiting harvest to certain islands and only hunted any one colony once every three years. Europeans began settling the islands in the 1600s, farming and raising sheep and hogs. The livestock disturbed nesting seabirds and trampled their habitat. The people hunted the birds and collected their eggs. At the start of the 20th Century, most seabirds in the Gulf of Maine were on the brink of extinction. Today, because of extensive policy efforts and conservation, these islands once again provide an important home for a diversity of sea-birds.
Bar Harbor has, for over a century, been the summer home for people of means from places lacking the natural beauty of Mount Desert Island. Initially, mostly artists, writers and scientists journeyed to Bar Harbor for inspiration. After the Civil War Bar Harbor enjoyed its first big burst of popularity and by 1870 claimed sixteen hotels. The Rodick House, initially built to handle 275 guests, expanded in 1881 to 400 rooms and a 500 foot long, 25 foot wide porch running along the front and one side of the building. The dining room could serve 1000 guests. The hotel era ran strong until 1900 or so, before being consumed by the “cottages” built by America’s rich and famous that quickly captured the landscape.
These so-called cottages were in fact stately manor homes built throughout the town. The town was decimated by The Great Fire of 1947 (actually a forest fire which ended up consuming over 17,000 acres and large parts of the National Park as well as Bar Harbor). Nonetheless, some fine examples of “cottage living” remain today.
Bar Harbor, true to its heritage as a haven to scientists, is also the home of Jackson Laboratory. The institution is a National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center and is a NIH center of excellence in aging and systems genetics. The Laboratory is also the world’s source for more than 5,000 strains of genetically defined mice, and is the home of the mouse genome database.
There’s much to do in Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, as you soon will discover.