Mount Desert Island (MDI) is the largest island off the coast of Maine and widely known as the home of Acadia National Park and the town of Bar Harbor. If we viewed the island from the air (a look at the Acadia map will do), we would notice north and south aligned gouges scooped out of the land as if by a very large hand. Indeed! In this case, the hand was that of a huge, slow moving, continental glacier over a mile high,... almost 2 miles thick in some places. When this giant glacier finally melted and retreated, it left rounded and bare mountain tops, elongated ponds and lakes, many boulders, and the seven mile long Somes Sound. (Once designated as a fjord, it is now, more accurately, called a fjard.)
A good place to see the impact that these enormous glaciers had on the land is with the distinctive shape of Sheep Porcupine Island, located offshore to the northeast. Elsewhere on Mount Desert Island is the massive Cadillac Mountain. Even after being sheared off by the glaciers, it remains the highest point along the North Atlantic Seaboard at 1,530 feet (466.34m) above sea level and provides spectacular panoramic views of the land, ocean, and communities far below.
To the original coastal Abnaki Indians, Mount Desert Island was known as “Pemetic” (the sloping land). Historical accounts said that the Abnaki's permanent villages were located on the mainland and that they regularly fished and gathered shellfish from MDI in the warmer months. However, recent Archeological evidence supports just the opposite scenario. The more temperate coastal weather kept them in places like Mount Desert Island during winter months. In the spring, they ventured further inland to hunt and fish for the salmon in the rivers that were returning to spawn. (See Abbe Museum for this history.) The island got its current name from the French explorer Champlain who's ship ran aground here in 1604 AD. (Refer to the story about the “Spindle” on the Otter Cliff page.) Champlain was so struck by the appearance of the mountains on the island that he named it "Isle des Monts Desert," or "Island of barren Mountains." Today, MDI is best known as the home of Acadia National Park, where land and sea, mountains and shore, meet in a natural and spectacular setting.
There are many people who are surprised to hear that there are actually only four official townships on the island. They are Bar Harbor, Mount Desert, Southwest Harbor and Tremont. Bar Harbor encompasses the sections of Eden (once the original name for Bar Harbor), Hulls Cove, Salisbury Cove and Town Hill. Mount Desert, although having no official town “center,” consists of Hall Quarry, Northeast Harbor, Otter Creek, Seal Harbor and Somesville. With Southwest Harbor comes Manset and Seawall. Bass Harbor, Bernard, Seal Cove, and West Tremont are part of the town of Tremont. To view a list of the various towns and villages, including those near Schoodic Peninsula, click on Towns & Villages of Acadia.
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