Maine, The East

A Perfect Summer’s Day in Bar Harbor, Maine

A Perfect Summer's Day in Bar Harbor, ME
View across Frenchman's Bay by Cole

View across Frenchman’s Bay by Thomas Cole.

The painters noticed it first, the beauty of the place. To the Native-Americans it was mostly about the clams, how they littered the banks, the sandy shores strewn with their cast off shells, pried and discarded by the Wabanaki who came here to fish and hunt. In 1604 French explorer Samuel de Champlain took a look around and called it the “island of barren mountains”, which became translated as Mount Desert, downplaying its beauty. In 1796 it became a fishing village called Eden, which was closer to the mark. Then the painters arrived.

 

A Paradise in Oils

spacious lawns that slope to the sea in Bar Harbor

Along the shore were multi-roomed mansions set amidst sprawling gardens and vast lawns that sloped to the sea.

They were from the Hudson River School: Thomas Cole, Frederic Edwin Church, William Hart, those 19th century lovers of idealized nature. They rendered its rugged maritime shoreline in sumptuous blues and golds and sparked the interest of their wealthy benefactors who wanted to know where it was, this place called Eden.

In those days the cities were cesspools of stink and squalor in the heat of summer, and every man of means longed to escape to some faultless seaside paradise. They descended on Eden by the dozens. The biggest names, the Vanderbilits, the Astors, the Rockefellers, and the Morgans built summer homes here, places they called “cottages”, but to everyone else were extravagant, multi-roomed mansions with neo-classical adornments set amidst sprawling gardens and vast lawns that sloped to the sea.

 

The Long Bar and the Big Burn

Frenchman's Bay at Bar Harbor

Frenchman’s Bay at Bar Harbor.

Among the curiosities of Eden was a sand bar that appeared at low tide and connected the mainland to Bar Island a half mile out. One could walk across it. (One still can.) But in those simpler times this was a phenomenon worthy of distinction, so they changed the name of the town to honor it. In 1918 the town of Eden became Bar Harbor.

In 1947 it caught fire. Sparks at a cranberry bog ignited a wildfire that burned for the better part of month. It took out a third of the “cottages” and five grand historic hotels. 10,000 acres of Acadia National Park were consumed. When it was over, Bar Harbor had come down in the world, no longer the exclusive playground of the rich and famous, a humbler place, yet retaining traces of the Eden it once was.

 

Downtown Bar Harbor

Downtown Bar Harbor

Bar Harbor’s charming downtown escaped the fire of 1947 intact.

By some divine miracle Bar Harbor’s downtown was spared, and you can see it today as it looked before the fire. A good way to start is with breakfast at Café This Way, accessed through an alley near the corner of the Village Green. Tucked among the greenery beside a sun-drenched patio, this hip and cozy little eatery serves an eclectic selection of breakfast dishes and cocktails with loads of local atmosphere.

Abbe Museum

The Abbe Museum.

Practically next door you’ll find the Abbe Museum, an archeological institution focused on Maine’s indigenous peoples. Housed in an 1893 Cape Cod style building with distinctive cedar shake siding, the museum has 17,000 square feet of exhibit space devoted to the art, culture and history of Maine’s original inhabitants, the folks who were here before the millionaires, the painters or the fishermen, the folks who came for the clams and stayed for the lobsters.

 

Lobstering in Bar Harbor

Egg Rock video

Video of Egg Rock with lighthouse and seal rookery.

Today Bar Harbor is synonymous with lobstering, and no trip to Bar Harbor is complete without a trip on a lobster boat. Lulu Lobster Boat is the first choice among travelers who want an authentic lobster fishing experience. The two hour tour takes you on a traditional Downeast Lobster boat to pull lobster traps along the coast. On the way, you cruise past Egg Rock where a picturesque New England lighthouse stands watch over hundreds of plump, bewhiskered seals who loll about on the ledges below. Then the lobstering begins.

A professional lobster fisherman pulls traps as your tour guide explains the process. Most traps have three to five lobsters in them. A few get plucked out and passed around, but not before their pincers are clamped shut by strong rubber bands. A lobster’s pincers can exert 100 pounds of pressure per square inch, enough to snap your fingers off, so the rubber bands are essential to an enjoyable experience.

A child gets acquainted with a lobster on board the Lulu lobster boat

A child gets acquainted with a lobster on the Lulu lobster boat.

The lobsters wave their claws around for a while, objecting to being manhandled, then go slack. Lobsters go into a dormant state when in distress, after which they can be handled without too much fuss. Lulu Lobster Boat is not a licensed fishing boat, so they are not permitted to harvest what they trap and must return every lobster to the sea. The kids who were with us on the tour were all in favor of that, having briefly befriended the unhappy crustaceans.

 

Acadia National Park

Having gotten up close and personal with the lobsters, some of us are still barbaric enough to contemplate eating them for lunch. For those of us whose hearts are so cold there’s Geddy’s. Located on Main Street in downtown Bar Harbor, Geddy’s serves up lobster in a variety of formats, but for lunch the traditional Maine lobster roll is the way to go. Geddy’s “King of Rolls” consists of fresh-picked lobster with seasoned mayonnaise over lettuce, topped with charred corn, and served on a New England style roll.

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park. The park encompasses 47,000 acres but the shoreline is where it’s at.

After lunch it’s off to Acadia National Park to see what is arguably the most scenic shoreline in the United States. Only the coastline of Big Sur on the west coast comes close. The park encompasses 47,000 acres, sprawls over half of Mt Desert Island and includes Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain on the Atlantic coast, but the shoreline is where it’s at.

To see it best, Ocean Path Trail is a 2.2 mile out-and-back with stunning views of the granite slabs and rocky cliffs that descend so spectacularly to the sea. The trail provides access to golden beaches and wave battered inlets like Thunder Cove where the tide sucks in and out of a subterranean cave resulting in awesome explosions of surf. The hike is not strenuous, but it can get crowded in the late afternoon and parking can become an issue. Allow 2-4 hours for a leisurely experience.

 

Shopping and Dining in Bar Harbor

The Terrace Grille at Bar Harbor

The Terrace Grille at Bar Harbor.

Wind up your afternoon by returning to downtown Bar Harbor for some great local shopping. My Darling Maine is a unique gift shop specializing in Maine-centric gifts and local ware. The Acadia Shop focuses on handcrafted items from local Maine artisans. And Sailor & Hook offers an eclectic mix of souvenirs, clothing and nautical décor.

When your shopping bags are full return shoreside for cocktails and dinner at the Terrace Grille at the Bar Harbor Inn. Relax on a spacious patio overlooking Frenchman’s Bay and enjoy the gentle sea breeze as you dine on burgers, salads and a variety of seafood options. And don’t forget to finish up your meal with a slice of their signature blueberry pie.

Sunset at Bar Harbor by Frederic Edwin Church

Sunset at Bar Harbor by Frederic Edwin Church.

As the sun sets, the bay is drenched in blues and golds, a scene worthy of a painting, although a photograph might do just as well. Bar Harbor is inspirational, and a visit here is memorable regardless of the medium. A former Eden, Bar Harbor provides a taste of paradise. A perfect location for a perfect summer day.

 

Check it out…

 

Cafe this wayCafé This Way
14 ½ Mt Desert St
Bar Harbor, ME
Website

 

 

 

Abbe MuseumAbbe Museum
26 Mt Desert St
Bar Harbor, ME
Website

 

 

 

Lulu Lobster Boat Bar HarborLulu Lobster Boat
55 West St
Bar Harbor, ME
Website

 

 

 

Lobster roll at Geddys in Bar HarborGeddy’s
19 Main St
Bar Harbor, ME
Website

 

 

 

Acadia National ParkAcadia National Park – Ocean Path Trail
2 Miles South of Bar Harbor on Rt 3
to the Sieur de Monts entrance
Website

 

 

 

Bar Harbor InnTerrace Grill at Bar Harbor Inn
1 Newport Dr
Bar Harbor, ME
Website

 

 

 

Previous Stop on the Odyssey:  Rome, ME
Next Stop on the Odyssey: The Kancamagus Scenic Byway, NH

 

My American Odyssey Route Map

My American Odyssey Route Map

 

 

Image credits

Two people at the beach in Acadia National Park, Malcolm Logan

Views Across Frenchman’s Bay from Mt. Desert Island, a painting by Thomas Cole

Lawn that slopes to the sea, Malcolm Logan

Frenchman’s Bay at Bar Harbor, Malcolm Logan

Bar Harbor Main Street, Adavyd

Abbe Museum, AbbeMuseum.org

Egg Rock lighthouse video, Malcolm Logan

A child gets acquainted with a lobster, Malcolm Logan

Acadia National Park, Malcolm Logan

The Terrace Grill at Bar Harbor Inn, Malcolm Logan

Sunset at Bar Harbor, a painting by Frederic Edwin Church

Cafe This Way, Malcolm Logan

Abbe Museum artifact, Abbe Museum

Lulu Lobster Boat, Malcolm Logan

Lobster Roll at Geddy’s, Lee Coursey

Acadia National Park, Malcolm Logan

Bar Harbor Inn, Malcolm Logan