20.6.10

'What God Would Have Done if He'd Only Had the Money'

I'm having a senior moment.  I forget who said the above, and about what building, but the title phrase did come to mind on last Sunday's hike (well, okay, this one was a walk), where I got to combine nature with architecture (and food).  What else does one need?  And if my posts seem a little Mt. Desert Island-centric over the next couple of weeks, it's because my two hikes on the island in June resulted in over 300 photographs.   A digital camera is a dangerous thing in the hands of the chronically over-stimulated.

 A view across little long pond toward boathouse and mountains, Rockefeller estate, Seal Harbor

Mt. Desert Island, one of the most spectacular spots along the entire East Coast, has been particularly blessed with a combination of dramatic natural scenery, a wealthy summer community that is also civic minded and philanthropically enlightened, and their good advisors, including landscape architects Charles Eliot, Beatrix Farrand, Joseph Curtis and Frederick Law Olmstead, all fervent advocates of site friendly, low intervention landscape, and last, but not least, Charles F. Dorr, the founder of what became Acadia National Park.   This tradition continues today, with many of the beauties of the island preserved forever wild yet with ample public access---too much perhaps, as anyone who has strolled the streets of Bar Harbor in August would argue.
Sinously curved stone arms extend from either side of the main gate designed by Grosvenor Atterbury


Across from the main gate are the Atlantic Ocean and the Cranberry Islands.
The 800 pound Gorilla among Island philanthropists for the last 100 years has been the Rockefeller family.  John D. Rockefeller Jr. and his wife Abby Aldrich first visited the Island in 1908, renting the Sears cottage at Bar Harbor, and three years later purchased a large shingled summer house on 60 acres in Seal Harbor.   They rapidly expanded both their house and their lands, eventually owning about 1200 acres.  Contiguous to the Rockefeller property are lands purchased and donated to Acadia National Park by Junior, as has been much of the estate acreage in recent decades.  Autos were first allowed on Mt. Desert in 1914 after lengthy battles, and Mr. Rockefeller, desiring both a quiet place to ride, and wishing to make the beautiful scenery of the island interior available for public enjoyment, embarked on a program of building carriage roads through his estate and park property, all available for public use.   In this venture, he proceeded with his usual deliberate method, weighing pros and cons, researching materials and construction methods, and getting personally involved with the laying out of the roads, to capture, but not interrupt, special views.  The roads are masterpieces of their type. In this venture, he had the advice of, among others, Beatrix Farrand and the Olmstead Brothers.   For those interested in more about the building of these roads, I recommend the highly interesting Mr. Rockefeller's Roads, by his granddaughter, Anne Rockefeller Roberts.

 The carriage drives are a beautiful example of  nature combined with the subtle hand of the landscaper's art, in this case Beatrix Farrand's, and beautiful maintenance.

The rocks along steeper edges are known locally as 'Rockefeller Teeth'.  Although the plantings appear completely wild, the original roadsides were helped along by Beatrix Farrand with carefully chosen accents of wild native shrubs.  Horse poop ahead attests to the road's continued equestrian use.

Today the carriage roads are widely used for strolls, dog walking, and riding and coaching---it is not unusual to see Martha Stewart, in her best imitation yet of old money ways, riding her coach and team along these trails.

 A couple riding their carriage, as intended, on one of the trails (photo by Stage, Town & Country May 1985

The section of trail I chose was the loop around Little Long Pond, a park-like landscape at the base of the home grounds of the long demolished Rockefeller cottage, The Eyrie.   Here Beatrix Farrand advised on  a combination of sloping meadows punctuated by clumps of trees adjoining the pond, mediating between the steeper slopes of the rocky hillsides, all carefully designed to  frame mountain and ocean scenery.

The discontinued drive up to the main house, The Eyrie, demolished in the early 1960's

Along the way, one passes a boathouse, one of many buildings to survive from the original estate.  This charming building was designed by Mrs. Rockefeller's favorite architect, the very social Duncan Candler, married to a member of another Seal Harbor family.  Candler designed the remodeling of the main house, and also other outbuildings, including wonderful Tudor style Tennis Court/Bowling/Alley Playhouses for both the Seal Harbor and Pocantico estates, as well as an art gallery for the Rockefellers nine story townhouse in New York, now site of the Museum of Modern Art sculpture garden.  He was also the architect of Skylands, the Edsel Ford estate now owned by Martha Stewart, on the next hilltop from The Eyrie.


The boathouse is a delightful structure.  From a distance, it appears almost as a Japanese pavilion at the edge of the shore.  Closer up, it is a classic shingle style building, with Colonial Revival detailing. Verandas on either side of the large doors opening into the pond made a pleasant spot for afternoon picnics.  


And since this is, after all, a blog concerned with architecture, some of you will be asking what the demolished house looked like:


I'll post about the house----and its superb Beatrix Farrand garden---another day.  The pair of mountains in the background rise above the shore of Jordan Pond and are known as the Bubbles---although local lore has always been that they were originally known as the Bubbies, the name having been changed for the tourist trade.....


20 comments:

ArchitectDesign™ said...

what a beautiful area and hike. LOVE that boathouse. You mentioned delicious food but not what it was! Do share.

BWS said...

Yours are the only hikes I will be taking this summer. Thanks. Can't wait to hear about the garden. Barbara

columnist said...

Looks beautiful, and sounds as though you had a very rewarding visit. How very smart was John D. Rockefeller Jr in wanting to avoid motorised vehicles. Perhaps today partial restriction is the best answer.

Beth said...

This is my favorite place on the whole island. I read Abby Rockefeller's biography when I was barely out of high school, and became enamored with The Eyrie and its surrounding property. The mysterious grassy roads that used to lead around to the house, the massive old trees, immaculate forest (yes, they rake the woods), ferns and bunchberry everywhere, and the Cobblestone Bridge fill the senses. Little Long Pond itself is charming, quiet, and so beautiful from every angle and in every season. I can't wait to read your future posts on the house and garden!

home before dark said...

I have just started reading the Bulletins of Reef Point Gardens. Would love to have been in the back seat listening to Rockefeller and Farrand discuss the "naturalization" of the estate.

Raina Cox said...

I'm guessing ole Martha could drive a four-in-hand with her left pinkie.

Simply gorgeous photos, TDED.

Jeff said...

Wasn't your title quote from "Citizen Kane?" That sticks in my mind for some reason.

The reporter visits Jed Leland, Kane's ex-friend, to find out more about the recently deceased Kane, and they were discussing Kane's Xanadu and Leland said something like "It's what God would have built, if he had the money..."

I could be completely off, but I think I've seen CK enough to identify that quote with that movie. Forgive my ignorance if I am mistaken...

Anonymous said...

"some of you will be asking what the demolished house looked like"...I'll be damned if you didn't read my mind! All I have to say is WOW can't wait for that post!

Turner Pack Rats said...

dilletante - you are my favorite blog -first, i laughed for five minutes at the quote - i want the bumper sticker.
i had friends in northeast harbor and the son and i mountain bikes those roads around long pond so many times. to sit on that porch, you feel like a rockefeller. i think the perfect manifestation of their immaculate good taste is summed up in the boat house railing - even the details are in good taste.
a side comment on martha - as my girlfriend pointed out when i made a snide comment about miss m, if it wasn't for her, home decorating for the masses would be a dead art.
(to put myself in the right mood, i'm listening to bix on youtube as i post this.)

anyone who has any chance of coming to maine has to experience acadia and the best way to do that is the carriage trails. ded is right about the views and vistas. they are way beyond spectacular. foot is a good way but if you're short of time, you can rent a bike or horse if so inclined and cover a lot more territory.
btw, are the rockefeller gardens still open and, if so, when? as the thuja gardens caretaker once said to me, thuja shows what a lot of money can do and the rockefeller gardens show what a s**tload of money can do.

security word def - "cycxu" - cyberese for "sucks to be you"

The Down East Dilettante said...

Stefan, Agreed, isn't the boathouse a great little building?

Barbara, LOL, they may be the only hikes I take this summer, also, as I get awfully, terribly busy in July & August. The garden post will come in early August, when it hits high season.

Home Before: Some of the correspondence about the roadside plantings is quoted in the above referenced "Mr. Rockefeller's Roads"

Raina, I've just sent you an email on the first subject, and thanks for the compliment. It was a sunny day, except everytime I snapped a picture. Go figure.

Jeff: You are correct, thank you.

Anonymous, one warning: the interiors do not live up to the extravagant exterior, unfortunately.

Turner, nice as the porch is, my bank statement always tells me otherwise.

La Petite Gallery said...

fasinating post. I have been on those roads, lovely. Thank you for this interesting bit of info..

yvonne

Anonymous said...

I'm an Atlantan and it is no secret how oppressively HOT the south is in the summer. For some reason business trips to Maine just happen to fall in August, go figure :)

I will have to agree the Bar Harbor area is absolutely gorgeous!! Especially on top of Cadillac Mountain looking out to the sea. The three times I visited the temperature was in the low 70's which was a great treat for me indeed. The views are totally inspirational.

I very much enjoy this blog and I will definately take note of the places to visit the next time I get up to Maine. The place is an undiscovered treasure. And the lobster pounds, I could go on and on....

And love her or hate her, thanks to Miss MS, the Edsel estate is still standing and in good keep. If there were others like her mayb e some of the other estates would be still standing..... MS "gets it", obviously others don't....

The Down East Dilettante said...

Anonymous Atlantan, couldn't agree more about MS and the Edsel Ford estate. The place was languishing on the market, future uncertain, when she came along.

And as for your next business trip, I actually intend to start a little mini-series of recommended sites to visit for the architecture, design, and garden interested soul.

thanks always for stopping by

Bryan said...

Truly a more idyllic place is not seen on the Eastern Seaboard. I'm grateful for the trips I took there while in college. Would that the entire island chain was declared a national monument. I think the view from Cadillac Mt. particularly excellent: squint one's eyes and perhaps a sense of a real 16th c. Arcadia is visible. I don't believe he ever visited, but Edward Abbey would have certainly approved of the banishment of motor cars from the Park (though as a purist he would have quibbled with the bicycles, horses, and carriages). No matter, and thanks kindly for permitting me another remembrance of splendid vistas.

Bryan said...

BTW I think your quote was Steve Wynn's. Las Vegas is without doubt removed from Mt. Desert, but some of the fortunes that built the cottages were equally outsized in their day.

Rose C'est La Vie said...

Whilst losing myself in this landscape, two things stuck out in your post. 1. " A digital camera is a dangerous thing in the hands of the chronically over-stimulated." and 2. The sign warning against the intrusion of those flaming bicycles that loom up behind you or approach with arrogance.

I am so chronically over-stimulated that I can't get anything done. Unlike you. You put so much into your posts.

The Down East Dilettante said...

Ah Rose, you are too kind. There is so much in my posts only because I'm one of those story tellers who can never seem to figure what I should leave out, and never knows when too end. It shows up particularly badly at a dinner party.....

Rose C'est La Vie said...

I'll sit next to you at dinner any time.

Bob said...

Your title quote does appear in Citizen Kane, but it was originally uttered by George Bernard Shaw about William Randolph Heart's San Simeon. Kane was of course based on Hearst and numerous details of Heart's life made it into the movie.

I've always assumed that Shaw had a rather dim view of God's sense of aesthetics.

Ed Lawler said...

Shaw may have said it first, but George S. Kaufman used the quote to describe Moss & Kitty Carlisle Hart's renovation of their Bucks County farm--moving full-sized trees, etc. This is now a corporate center, on Rte. 202, south of Buckingham Friends Meetinghouse. Hart's renovation war stories became the inspiration for the 1940 Kaufman & Hart comedy "George Washington Slept Here."