Sounds like a Saturday night in downtown Boston or something, doesn’t it? But rest assured it wasn’t and there was no alcohol of any kind involved. Instead it was several walks around Bar Harbor and the Shore Path, plus a walk and a drive across the “bar” to Bar Island, an uninhabited tidal island forested mostly in pine and birch across from the town of Bar Harbor.
You wouldn’t think that walking or driving on a sand/gravel bar or land bridge that gets submerged twice per day would be fun, but based on how crowded the bar usually is at low tide, I guess there are people like us who think it is. Perhaps it is the thrill and excitement, or potential drama, of being caught by the tide that acts like a magnet drawing tourists to the bar. Or perhaps it is being able to say that you drove on the bottom of the ocean. Whatever it is, it sure is wicked cool!
If you do visit, be aware it the bar is only considered safe from about 2 hours before low tide to about 2 hours after. At high tide it is submerged under 8 – 10 feet of water! With an average 14 foot tide differential in this area the tide will come in very quickly so it is best to plan your visit while the tide is still going out to give yourself time to explore.
Although we had been here and done this before on previous visits to the area, the bar beckoned to us not once but twice on this trip. Within a few days of our arrival, we parked on West Street, walked to the intersection of Bridge St., then out onto and across the bar. Knowing that we had ample time, we hiked the trail that traverses the island to its eastern end which provides pretty views of the town of Bar Harbor against the backdrop of Mt. Cadillac and other Acadian mountains.
Ample time is the important phrase here – warning signs are posted everywhere. Guess there have been people, oblivious to the time or how quickly the tide comes in, who have parked their cars on the bar, have hiked over to the island, only to find themselves stranded and/or their cars submerged in the salty brine. That must be why there are Park Service trucks parked on the far side of the bar – these trucks have winches in the front, perhaps to help rescue the submerged cars? That would most certainly ruin anyone’s vacation!
Here’s an interesting factoid – since Bar Island is so close to Bar Harbor and is now part of Acadia National Park, you’d think that the island would be under the jurisdiction of Bar Harbor, but it isn’t. The distant town of Gouldsboro retains jurisdiction under its 1798 articles of incorporation, not Bar Harbor.
As we traversed the hard packed sand and rocks on the bar and got closer to the rocky shore of the island, lots of folks were building cairns on the rocks (Rob was having problems with his phone that day so he lost a number of photos he had taken). Building cairns seems to be a popular past time here these days, not only at this spot but along the Shore Path in Bar Harbor and at several places in the Acadia National Park. Kind of fun looking at the rocks stacked on one another, precariously balancing on each other. One even looked like a miniature version of Stone Henge!
The wide path or access road initially starts out flat but soon starts to climb gradually. At a fork in the path we went to the left which took us up a gradual incline, eventually opening up to panoramic views of Bar Harbor. Remembering that we had seen the remains of a house on one of our previous expeditions here, when we returned to the fork, we took the branch to the right. Ah, yes, there were the remnants of a stone foundation.
Here’s another interesting factoid – the island used to be the former location of a home, named Moosewood, of the commentator, war correspondent, journalist, anchorman and author, Jack Perkins. After moving to the island, Perkins wrote the book, Finding Moosewood, Finding God: What Happened When a TV Newsman Abandoned His Career for Life on an Island which chronicles the experiences he and his wife shared during the 13 years they lived on Bar Island in a cabin.
In 2003, the National Park Service purchased Perkin’s 12 acre property for a reported $1.4 million. In 2010, the main house, guest house, and shed were removed. Perkins now resides in Florida. There is some information that indicates the aforementioned stone foundation is in fact the remnants of Perkins home.
Heading back to the mainland, we made it well before the tide came in, didn’t really matter as there was no chance of our vehicle being submerged unless there was a really, really high tide that flooded the nearby streets!
Our next trip across the bar was with Rob’s aunt and uncle, Linda and Herb after we had breakfast at the Cafe This Way (more about that in another post). Good timing as the tide had just gone out. Without any hesitation or questions, Herb quickly maneuvered his Honda CRV down Bridge Street and onto the bar. In past years we have driven assorted vehicles onto the bar including our Honda Odyssey. You would think the bar would be soft and muddy, but in fact it is quite firm and solid. There is no problem driving any vehicle out there as long as the transition from the end of Bridge St to the sand of the bar is not badly washed out.
Want to enjoy the ride with us? Check out this YouTube video Rob made using his phone.
Besides bar hoppin’ we did a lot of street walkin’ around the very popular and very busy village of Bar Harbor on several different occasions during our stay. Bar Harbor has such a plethora of boutiques, gift shops, restaurants, ice cream shops (Ben & Bill’s is our favorite but more about that later), hotels, B & B’s and inns, there’s no lack of places to stay, or things to see and do here. Not a lot had changed in the downtown area since our last visit. Of course in a place like this there always is a certain amount of turnover but it seemed that the long term well established places were still there. One new addition since our last visit was the West Street Hotel which had replaced a block or so of small shops (many of them quite run down as I recall) and restaurants on the corner of West Street.
We were fortunate that on the days that we walked around the town, there were no huge cruise ships in port. Although on one particular day there were several smaller ships but it didn’t seem to cause a major swell of tourists roaming the streets. With the 4th of July approaching, the town in general was already very busy with vacationers.
One of our favorite walks in town is the Shore Path which was originally created in 1880 and starts at Agamont Park, goes past the Bar Harbor Inn, then continues on for about 1/2 to 3/4 mile, past the Balance Rock Inn and several private homes and mansions. Eventually it turns away from the shore, heading back to the retail area of Bar Harbor. Along the way there are several historic markers which are part of a walking tour of Bar Harbor. Speaking of history, here’s a few interesting facts about Bar Harbor and the Shore Path:
- Bar Harbor was original incorporated as a town in 1796 and was originally called Eden. It was changed to Bar Harbor in 1918.
- Although he was a resident of New York when he became VP, Nelson Rockefeller was born along Bar Harbor’s Shore Path.
- The McLeans were among the families summering along the path. They were the last private owners of the Hope Diamond which is now in the Smithsonian Institution. Legend says that the children and their friends would play with the gem on the cottage’s front lawn.
With a good pair of binoculars or a zoom lens on a camera, Egg Rock Lighthouse is visible from the path. Built in 1875 at the mouth of Frenchman’s Bay, it is a combination light tower and keeper’s house with a 40 foot square tower projecting through the square keeper’s house. Originally fitted with a fifth-order Fresnel lens, today it has an aerobeacon. It was named Egg Rock because of the bounty of eggs that could be collected there. But once the lighthouse was established the seabirds abandoned Egg Rock. Despite that, in 1998 the island’s lighthouse was transferred to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services for the protection of nesting birds. The light was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as Egg Rock Light Station in 1988.
Interesting story about famed Bar Harbor summer resident, Joseph Pulitzer who bought a 27 room summer cottage, which he quickly expanded to 50 rooms, named Chatwold, four miles from Egg Rock. Extremely sensitive to noise prompted him to build what was deemed the “Tower of Silence” by family and staff, costing him about $100K (about $2.7 million by today’s standards). Despite walls insulated with steel wool, double glazed windows and a floor on ball bearings, the sounding of the fog horn still infuriated Pulitzer so he complained (along with other summer residents) to the Lighthouse Service. The solution implemented in 1905 was that the “axis of the Daboll trumpet was changed to approximately magnetic south” away from Bar Harbor thus reducing the noise onshore. Not sure whether he was happy with that remedy or not. Pulitzer died in 1911 and Chatwold was demolished in 1945.
Whenever we walk the Shore Path, we always stop to wander inside the Bar Harbor Inn. More interesting history, originally built in 1874, named the Oasis Club and considered “an oasis of culture for the likes of the Vanderbilts, Pulitzers and Morgans.” It went through several iterations over the subsequent years, changing to the Mount Desert Reading Room for the purpose of promoting “literary and social culture”, followed by the Shore Club until it became an observation headquarters for the US Navy during WWII. In 1947 a fire destroyed most of Bar Harbor including most of the hotels so the American Red Cross used it to give assistance to those impacted. In 1950, a group of local townspeople developed the Hotel Bar Harbor. Numerous changes and renovations have occurred since then including the changing of its name to the Bar Harbor Inn in 1987. Today it has 153 rooms and is considered one of Maine’s finest oceanfront hotels.
Inside the hotel, there is lot of memorabilia on display including the interesting looking Pulitzer Lounge Chair pictured above. Framed on the wall across from the gift shop is a menu from the late ’70s showing a Shore Dinner for $5.80 or just a plain boiled lobster for $4 (compared to today’s cost of $37), the room rate during peak season of $39 (compared to today’s rate of $159 to $399). Imagine! I’m sure back then these prices were also considered quite exorbitant and beyond the reach of many people.
There’s so much more history associated with this area. If you visit be sure to pick up a walking tour map of the town.