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…..