Acadia National Park History

One of the most unique historical aspects of how Acadia National Park formed is that it is due to the vision and donations of private citizens like George B. Dorr and Charles W. Eliot who anticipated the dangers that over-development would bring to this coastal wonderland and acted quickly to prevent it. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., played a critical role by building the now famous carriage roads (1915 - 1933) and by donating over 11,000 acres of land. There have since been countless others who have donated their time and resources towards the continued realization of this dream so that we may all experience its raw natural beauty.

In a sense, we have all inherited these hallow grounds from those dedicated visionaries who came before us. But, it has not come without responsibility, but as an unspoken agreement in which we acknowledge the absolute necessity to remain responsible stewards of this National Treasure. To this end, we should all agree to nourish and protect the land, ocean, and nature so that the magic will continue.

How Acadia Got Its Name

Acadia was first established as Sieur de Monts National Monument in July 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson but then was changed to Lafayette National Park in February 1919 when it became the first national park east of the Mississippi. It was not until January 1929 that it officially was named Acadia National Park. The word “Acadia” likely stems from “Arcadia,” a part of Greece that this area reminded the explorer, Giovanni Verrazano of as he sailed by in 1524. Today, it encompasses approximately 47,748 acres in three main areas. The largest is located on Mount Desert Island. Next, is an approximate 2,366 acre tract of land to the Northeast on the mainland at Schoodic Peninsula. Thirdly, to the Southwest (accessible only by boat) is Isle Au Haut. Baker Island (Southeast coast) and Bar Island (north side of Bar Harbor) also have National Park land.

Cadillac Mountain view of cruise ship in Bar Harbor
Large crashing wave at Thunder Hole in Acadia

The Work Continues

In order to preserve scenic values and define its permanent boundary, the park began purchasing small tracts of land and easements in 1986. True to the spirit of the original vision, many landowners continue this tradition today by placing easements on their property in order to limit any potential future development. The success of this is noticeable to anyone who is familiar with Mount Desert Island and elsewhere in the region.

There is an unusual amount of diversity here. Rocky coastlines, granite mountains, lakes and ponds, moss and evergreen, crashing waves and wildlife mix in a New England style gumbo. Borders of the Park are accented by picturesque harbor villages such as Somesville, Northeast Harbor, Bass Harbor and many more. Preserving this is important to many who dwell here as well as to those who visit each year.

What We Gain From This

All the beauty of Maine comes together in Acadia National Park. Mountains, conifers, and wildlife meet the ocean in a spectacle that, once seen, is never forgotten. Our memories, and even our very cells, become embedded with the sights, sounds, and smells that exist here. Yet, the true gift of Acadia goes far deeper than its natural beauty. For through its pristine qualities, we gain a clearer vision of ourselves. And, through this vision, we enrich and improve our lives, and those whom we love. The many who came before us, who made this park possible, knew this and chose to make the commitment so that we may all benefit. We must honor this, and protect it for future generations.

View of Ocean Path near Otter Cliff

Some Interesting Stats & Facts

  • The word “Acadia” likely stems from “Arcadia,” a part of Greece that MDI reminded the explorer, Giovanni Verrazano of when he sailed by in 1524.
  • There was a major fire in 1947 referred to as “The Year Maine Burned,” that burned more than 10,000 acres within the park - 17,188 acres total acres on Mount Desert Island.
  • Much of the physical labor required to build the park's carriage roads and trails was provided by the Civilian Conservation Corps beginning in 1933.
  • Average Winter Temperature: 27 ° Fahrenheit (-2.77 Celsius)
  • Average Summer Temperature: 67 ° Fahrenheit (19.44 Celsius)
  • Annual Precipitation: 47 inches (119.38 Centimeters)
  • Altitude: 0 - 1,530 feet (0 - 466 meters)
  • Mountains in Acadia: 26 (seven are more than 1,000 feet or 304.8 meters high)
  • Ocean Shoreline: Over 40 miles (64.37 K)
  • Visitors Per Year: Over two million

A Journey of Appreciation

Greg A. Hartford, photographer, author, publisherI admit, for many years my journeys into Acadia National Park were for sheer pleasure; the exhilaration of the moment experienced through such striking landscapes. But as I grew, so did my appreciation for the vision, dedication and hard work that was the lifeblood of this great National Monument. We all should be so lucky as to have had the amount of personal wealth and time to have accomplished so much. Yet, I am the first to say that I appreciate what was done and what continues to be done. The depth of what I experience and appreciate was enhanced even further by learning more about the history of this area, and the lives of those who truly did make a difference through their contributions, especially those who dedicated their lives and whose hands actually helped shape the land. To all of you, past, present, and those to come, I thank you. I invite all visitors to make the same journey of realization and appreciation by learning more about the park’s history, and even locations close by. A good place to start is at Sieur de Monts Spring.