Mt. Desert Island from Hancock Point (photograph, Ivy Main via Wikimedia Commons)
I'm afraid I've been a bit boring lately.  As the manuscript for the book starts to take shape, my focus has been narrowed to near obsession, on the architecture of the 27 different summer colonies that fan around this section of the coast, from Rockport to Winter Harbor, as I continue to visit archives and individuals in the search for interesting material.  Once a Dilettante who knew a little bit about a great many trivial topics, I now know a great deal, much of it trivia, about one topic.

As the concept of summering, or as it was know then, rusticating, gained momentum in Maine in the 1880's, and as Bar Harbor became one of the most fashionable destinations in the country, a resort boom gripped the lonely shores across Frenchman's Bay from that gilded place. Large tracts of oceanfront land were gobbled up by real estate speculators hoping to repeat the momentum at Mt. Desert.  Land companies were formed, lots were laid out, those dual necessities---steamship wharves and hotels---were built, illustrated brochures were printed, tennis grounds laid out, and the race was on to attract wealthy city dwellers to each Arcadia.  Despite those common characteristics and amenities--including the imagination-defying views across to Mt. Desert perhaps without peer on the Atlantic coast---each of these colonies developed differently, each with its unique character.
Cottages at Hancock Point, c. 1895 (Courtesy Sullivan-Sorrento Historical Society)
Today, those little colonies, far closer to Canada than to Kennebunkport, seem remote---as their inhabitants prefer it---but in the day, when steamship and train were the chief modes of travel, one could take a day boat to Bar Harbor--each community had service----go shopping, have lunch, or attend a concert or a ball, and be back home on the opposite shore in time for bed.   

Mt. Desert Ferry Landing, at Hancock Point, The Bluffs hotel in background
Hancock Point was, I think, the earliest of these developments (the others were Sullivan Harbor, Sorrento, Winter Harbor, Grindstone Neck and Petit Manan Point), and  geographically the first encountered as one sails 'down east' up the coast.  It was conveniently adjacent to the train and steamship landing at Hancock Ferry, where later the crack Bar Harbor Express, originating at Grand Central in New York, had its terminus, trailing behind it the private railroad cars of the plutocrats who then would board a ferry for Bar Harbor.  It was laid out in 1883 by Joseph Curtis, a pioneering landscape architect and conservationist who summered in Northeast Harbor.  It was a far smaller development than the others---125 lots as opposed to the ambitious 2,000 proposed for Sullivan Harbor, for example.

This octagonal cottage, with its rustic porch of natural cedar , was built by a  Mr. Johnson in  1887.  In 1914, his daugher Lettie donated it for use as a library, which it purpose it still serves today.
An early farmhouse, converted to summer use after the development of the Point, with a restraint too seldom seen today.
Many of Hancock Point's earliest summer residents were not from far cities, but were lumber merchants and bankers from Bangor.  They were soon joined by college professors such as Charles Homer Haskins, the great Harvard medievalist, and by  quietly well-to-do urbanites who preferred to avoid the flash of Mt. Desert (I've been to maybe a dozen cocktail parties on Hancock Point over the years, and unfailingly, at each one someone has pointed out how 'we' are not 'fancy' like 'them' over on Mt. Desert).  At any rate, Hancock Point, after two World Wars, a great depression, and changes in travel, is a sleepy little place with big views and some very fine smaller summer cottage architecture along its gravel lanes.

A water tower at one of the cottages

This cottage, which sometimes shelters a noted politician, was designed by Fred Savage

The earliest cottages were gingerbread designs, closely sited.  By the end of the 19th century, comfortable but not vast shingle style cottages, on larger lots were the norm.  Landscapes were kept simple, with respect for the natural landscape---very few of the elaborate gardens that characterized some of the summer estates of other resorts were laid out on Hancock Point.

The last built of the pre-Depression summer cottages is also the grandest

A recent guest cottage delightfully references the earliest cottages on the Point
Although the Point layout included a central chapel lot, the current chapel was built around 1900 to designs by the great Maine architect John Calvin Stevens, one of the chief innovators in what we know today as the shingle style.  As with many of the summer colonies, it is one of the finest bits of architecture in the place---and Anglican, of course...

PS.  I was reminded this morning that Hancock Point has another attraction, listed in the National Register of Historic Places---the spot where Nazi spies landed from a U-boat, one of only two places where the Germans breached the US during World War II (Obviously, it was off-season, otherwise the summer folk would never have allowed it)  That story here: 


ArchitectDesign™ said...

I can see why people would spend their summers there -it's so charming.
The octagonal house used as a library reminds me of all the 'libraries in the round' that were built in the 60s and 70s. We have a number of them in DC (or HAD...)but much finer.
Do you have any interior shots of that church?

Parnassus said...

I was very interested to see the Johnson octagon house. I have an old photo of a similar shingled octagon from nearby Ellsworth, which seems to be related.

Blue said...

Beautiful houses with (for me) the charm and calm of winter or early spring.

I wonder what the politician is noted for? (I don't expect an answer.)

Elaine said...

Great post on one of my favorite places. I've been in many of those homes as well as many others. Are you familiar with the home that once housed the ticket office and waiting room for the ferry. A real treat!

faye said...

that is a really pretty place. especially the houses

Donna said...

Charles Homer Haskins!!! A historian-hero, and really the first great American medievalist. So nice to see a reference to him here. And I think you have described the difference between blogging and writing very well in your opening paragraph. Happy Spring, DD.

The Devoted Classicist said...

Surely the spy story inspired the much-loved 1966 Norman Jewison comedy "The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming" with the late, great Jonathan Winters.

Anonymous said...

Here is another link to the spy story - http://www.kryptos-cia.com/spies.html