Monday, January 22, 2007

Walking around Bar Harbor Villiage

Most people who come to visit Acadia National Park end up spending some time in Bar Harbor. Of the villages on the island, Bar Harbor has the widest selection of restaurants and lodging. Most visitors spend their time in the shops and restaurants on Main and Cottage Streets. But if you have some time, a walk around the village can be quite pleasant. Here is a route to follow and some items about the history of Bar Harbor.

Start your walk at Agamont Park, at the corner of Main and West Streets. This park was redone in the very recent past. It has new plantings and benches with wonderful water views. Lobster boats bounce on their moorings. You may notice the Margaret Todd, our four-masted excursion schooner. You will see the Bar Harbor beach, such as it is. There is sand there, but it isn't all that extensive or impressive. Nevertheless, one does occasionally see people sun bathing and wading when the weather permits. You might also catch the kayak outfitters using this beach to launch a paddling excursion or to take the kayaks out after a tour. There is always lots of activity in the harbor. Perhaps this will be a good place to just sit and watch the world go by for a while after you finish your stroll through town.

Just beyond the beach is the Municipal Pier which looks a bit like a parking lot in the summer. It was on this pier that the town folk of Bar Harbor huddled on that infamous night in October of 1947 when the wild fire raged and burned a huge swath through our side of the island. The roads off the island had been cut off by the spreading fire. The only hope was to leave by boat but the wind was so strong that the boat option wasn't all that feasible. Luckily, the wind changed direction after burning the western edge of the town. The flames moved to the south, burned Jackson Laboratory, with all its mice, to the ground and then burned out to sea at Great Head near Sand Beach in Acadia National Park. The fire ball went well out to sea.

After the town beach and pier, continue your walk by heading down West Street. Here you will see our latest oceanfront luxury hotel site, still somewhat under construction. Just beyond that is the historic Bar Harbor Club, now restored after decades of neglect. In its heyday, it was a private tennis and swimming club for the wealthy summer families. Further on down West Street you will see some of the summer mansions (what in earlier days were called cottages), a few of which have been turned into Bed and Breakfast inns.

When you come to Bridge Street be sure to look to your right and note if it happens to be low tide, which exposes the sand bar over to Bar Island. It's a pleasant walk over this sand and gravel bar. You only have to get halfway across before a wonderful view back to the mountains of the island appears. If you want to hike across to Bar Island, you will find a path along the length of the island which ends in a high spot that overlooks the village of Bar Harbor. If you intend to do that, be sure you check the tide table before you leave home. We don't want anyone stranded over on Bar Island for hours waiting for the next low tide. The bar will be exposed for three to four hours around the time of low tide.

At the very end of West Street, on your left is a large red-brick mansion, La Rochelle. It is now the home of the Seacoast Mission, which attends to the spiritual and physical needs of the people on the islands along the coast of Maine. Note the beautiful slate roof which was replaced a few years ago after the original slate did 100 years of duty. Just before you get to the brick Seacoast Mission, you will come upon Holland Avenue. Take a left there and walk the two blocks to Mount Desert Street. You will pass one of the village's hardware stores which carries a little bit of everything to keep the island going through all seasons.

On the corner of Mount Desert and Holland streets you will see the Primrose Inn, painted in shades of green with red trim. If you look across Mount Desert Street you see The Holbrook House. To the left of that inn is a street named Spring Street. Head down Spring Street, which is quiet and residential. In about two blocks you will come to Waldron Street which goes only to the left. Take that and walk past the wading pool, which is our ice skating rink in the winter. Take a right on the very first street you come to, Glen Mary Road, and then a left on Park Street.

Continuing on Park Street you will cross Ledgelawn Avenue which is famous in town as the street to go trick or treating at Halloween. The houses decorate and stock enough candy to give to every little kid on the island. Real estate agents actually warn new residents of Ledgelawn that the cost of Halloween candy must be figured into annual expenses.

Once past Ledgelawn, still on Park Street, you will see our three million dollar YMCA on your left. In the winter of 1993, the roof collapsed into the swimming pool of the old Y. That building stood on Mount Desert Street; it has since been remodeled and rebuilt to house the Abbe Museum. The consultants said that tiny Bar Harbor would never be able to raise the money to build a three million dollar YMCA. They were wrong. If you go inside, you will see a long wall of tiles with the names of the donors who helped in the effort. The big fish on the tile wall represent a $3000 donation, the small fish were $1000, and the border tiles were $300. It's impressive to see just how many people contributed. It also should be noted that Stephen and Tabitha King, our neighbors in Bangor, contributed substantially in the early going to help things along. The Y has a swimming pool, a gym with a walking balcony around the top, an exercise room on the second floor, a pool table room, plus offices and meetings rooms. It also has bathrooms available to the public just to the left of the front door. The exercise facilities of the YMCA are available to visitors for a small day charge.

Across Park Street from the Y is the Athletic Field. There is a softball diamond and tennis courts. This is the site where the July 4th parade is staged. Before the parade a blueberry pancake breakfast is offered here and after the parade the field is the site of a huge lobster feed. Oil drums are used as the steamers. The bright red lobsters come to the tables by the laundry basket-full. It's an impressive sight. I'm continually amazed that, at the height of the tourist season, Bar Harbor always manages to pull off an old-fashioned July 4th celebration that has a very small town feel right down to the youngsters with their decorated tricycles.

Still continuing on Park Street, you will cross Main Street. The village center will be to your left and the road to Jackson Lab, Otter Creek, and Seal Harbor will be to your right. On the other side of Main Street you will soon come to Snow Street on your left. Take that for its total length of one block and you will come to Wayman Lane. Our hospital is to your left on Wayman Lane, but turn right and head on down to the water and The Shore Path.

This gravel path hugs the rocky shore for about a half mile. In the bay you will first see the Porcupine Islands -- you can see the porcupine's snout pointing into the ocean to the right with the pine tree quills marching up the porcupine's back to your left. You might also see the breakwater if it isn't high tide. That breakwater was never really properly finished and has always been topped and flooded by high tide.

To your left you will see some of the cottages from the old days. There are old-timey post cards that show ladies in long dresses with their sun umbrellas walking along this very path. At the turn in the path there once stood a fairly massive round stone tower. Once past that turn, you will see the harbor with lobster boats and sail boats at moorage. Some days you will also see one or more massive cruise ships at anchor in the harbor with the little tender boats ferrying passengers to and from the ship. Even the QE2 and the Queen Mary come to Bar Harbor.

You won't be able to miss Balance Rock---a huge whitish rock sitting near the shore. It is a glacial erratic, as is Bubble Rock in the Park. The stone is not native to the island but rather was tumbled along by the last glacier and then left here when the ice receded. My favorite thing is to watch the tourists take a picture of their youngsters posing as if they could tumble the rock back into the ocean. It's always tempting to call out "Push harder. You can do it!"

After Balance Rock you will see the extensive Bar Harbor Inn on your left. Keep walking past this and you will soon see the Margaret Todd again and Agamont Park with its beckoning benches for your well-deserved rest. This circular walk through town can't be much more than two miles long. It might not be a bad idea to take along your copy of the Chamber of Commerce's guide.

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