July 16, 2010

Obama not first president to visit Mount Desert Island

By Rebekah Metzler rmetzler@mainetoday.com
MaineToday Media State House Writer

AUGUSTA -- Planes, trains, steamships and yachts. That's how presidents travel to Mount Desert Island for summertime getaways.

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Ellyn Getz, of Boston, who works in a local store in Bar Harbor, poses Tuesday with President Obama magnets that are for sale in the store. The president is scheduled to visit Mount. Desert Island this coming weekend.


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From left to right are Caddy Howard Clark, President William Howard Taft, Captain Archibald Butts and John L. Ketterlinus, president of the Kebo Valley Golf Club.

1910 photo courtesy of Maine Historic Preservation Commission

President Obama and his family, slated to visit this weekend, are just the latest in a string of presidential vacationers to hit up the island for some rest and relaxation, though the most recent such visit was about a century ago.

The Obamas are scheduled to arrive by plane at the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport in Trenton about noon today, where they will be greeted by Gov. John Baldacci, before heading to the island by motorcade.

According to the Bangor Daily News, the first family will stay at the Bar Harbor Regency on Route 3 in Bar Harbor.

The president, first lady Michelle Obama and their daughters -- Malia, 12, and Sasha, 9 -- are not scheduled to make any public appearances, and their itinerary has been keep under wraps. But it's likely they will tour Acadia National Park and stop by at least one local restaurant to enjoy some Maine lobster.

The island and Bar Harbor have a rich history of famous and well-connected visitors and summer residents, beginning in the 1800s, according to Earle Shettleworth, the Maine state historian and co-author of the recently published book, "Bar Harbor's Gilded Century: Opulence to Ashes, 1850-1950."

"I was just very excited when I heard the president and his family were coming because it immediately triggered these memories of these earlier visits," he said in a recent interview.

Prior to the Civil War in the 1840s and 1850s, the island was home to an active artist community that produced paintings of the landscape, inspiring people to begin summering at the relatively remote locale, Shettleworth said.

"Bar Harbor just grew very rapidly from about 1865 to about 1900 to become one of the major American summer resorts. And by 1900, it was a place that had so many elaborate summer cottages that were owned by wealthy and famous Americans that many people felt it was almost like a rustic, coastal Newport (R.I.) in its importance as a place of fashion and society," Shettleworth said. "So it's not surprising that during this period of 1865 to say, 1914, that it would be visited by presidents of the United States."

The first sitting president to try to visit the island was President Ulysses S. Grant in August 1873, Shettleworth said.

Grant and his family, who were visiting in southern Maine, took a train from Portland to Rockland, where they boarded a boat headed for the island.

Grant was accompanied by Maine's then-U.S. Rep. James G. Blaine -- who was also a former owner of the Kennebec Journal -- former Vice President Hannibal Hamlin, future U.S. Speaker of the House Thomas Brackett Reed, who was then Maine's attorney general, and the state's two sitting U.S. senators.

But the group was rerouted to North Haven for the night because of fog and the trip to Mount Desert Island was canceled.

"President Grant spent several hours in the kitchen (at a boarding house on North Haven) discussing the Civil War with Mr. and Mrs. Mullen, feeling quite at home in the unpretentious simplicity of the Penobscot Bay fishing village," according to a passage in "Summering on the Thoroughfare" by Roger Reed.

President Chester Arthur also visited the island in September 1882, arriving by steamship, according to Debbie Dyer, curator at the Bar Harbor Historical Society.

In summer 1889, President Benjamin Harrison did make it to Mount Desert Island, as a guest of Blaine, who by then was U.S. secretary of state and who had a resort home in Bar Harbor.

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