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Acadia National Park

The first national park to be established in the United States east of the Mississippi River, Acadia encompasses about half of Mount Desert Island, Isle au Haut and several other small islands, and the Schoodic Peninsula (a total of 41,888 acres).

close-up map of Acadia National Park
close-up map of Acadia National Park

map of Mt. Desert Island
map of Mt.Desert Island

The park contains several peaks, including Cadillac Mountain, which at 1,530 feet is the highest granite mountain on the eastern coast. Depending on the time of year, the first sunlight to touch the United States each morning strikes either this mountain or the village of Eastport, further up the Maine coast. The coast is characterized by wave-eroded cliffs. The inland portion of Mount Desert Island is forested with spruce and fir and contains lakes and mountains carved by glacial action. Mount Desert Island itself is almost cut in two by Sommes Sound, the only natural fjord on the eastern coast of the United States.

Cadillac Mountain
Cadillac Mountain

In September 1605, the ship of French explorer Samuel de Champlain struck a shoal near present-day Mount Desert Island. Champlain decided to do a little exploring while his ship was being repaired. As he approached an island where granite bluffs plunged in steep steps to the sea, he made note of its numerous mountains, and of their bare summits. Coming ashore, he met the people who lived on the island. The Abnaki called the island "Pemetic" -- the sloping land. Champlain, however, dubbed it "L'Isle des Monts Deserts" -- the island of bare mountains.

By the mid-19th century word about Mount Desert Island had spread down the northeastern coast. Painter Thomas Cole discovered its beauty in 1844. After steamship connections to the island were established in 1870, a steady stream of Bostonians and other travelers eagerly booked passage. As the number of visitors grew, so too did the status of the village of Bar Harbor. America's wealthy and prominent families began spending their summers there, and by the turn of the century almost every tycoon in the country -- from Astor to Morgan -- had a summer house on the island.

In 1901 a small group of Mount Desert admirers decided to set aside land on the island for the enjoyment of everyone. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. spearheaded the effort, donating more than 11,000 acres. In 1919 the donated land was dedicated as Lafayette National Park, and in 1929 it received its current name. Acadia National Park was, therefore, the first national park to be created by citizens who gave their land to the government.

Schoodic Point
Schoodic Point

Eagle Lake
Eagle Lake, one of the lakes carved out by retreating glaciers

National Park Service

Samuel de Champlain

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The Robinson Library >> American History >> United States: Local History and Description >> New England >> Maine

This page was last updated on September 29, 2017.