Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Waldron Bates -- Pathmaker

Waldron Bates - The Pathmaker

There is perhaps no better Acadia National Park memorial to begin with than with this one.

On the south side of Gorham Mountain at the intersection of the Gorham Mountain Trail and the Cadillac Cliffs Path is a bronze plaque attached to a granite wall.*1
It is a memorial to Waldron Bates, designed by New York sculptor and Bar Harbor summer resident, William Ordway Partridge. It was placed there in September 1910 and reads:


Photo: Harvard University Archives
Waldron Bates was born on November 24, 1856 in Boston, Massachusetts, to Samuel Worcester and Anna Matilda (How) Bates and named in honor of his maternal grandmother, Eliza P. (Waldron) How. His two siblings were Samuel Worcester Jr. and Charles How. He was also the nephew of Charles T. How, an early developer of Bar Harbor. Bates graduated from Harvard in 1879 and received his law degree from Boston University in 1882. He never married.

Bates first visited Mount Desert Island about 1880 and joined the Bar Harbor Village Improvement Association (VIA) in 1892, later becoming the organization's Path Committee chairman (1900-09) and president (1904-05). In 1896 he established himself as a mapmaker with the publication of the "Map of Mount Desert Island" and the "Path Map of the Eastern Part of Mount Desert Island" with co-cartographers Edward Rand and Herbert Jaques. Bates was one of the original members of the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations, the Maine-chartered organization founded in 1901 for the purpose of "acquiring, owning and holding lands and other property in Hancock County for free public use."

Bates distinguished himself as a path maker. He planned and engineered trails to interesting rock formations and exhilarating sites along rock ledges, wrote instructions about how to construct safe and durable trails, instituted a signage protocol to direct hikers along trail routes and designed a simple cairn (stone pile) to mark the paths for hikers. Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell, Bates' successor as Bar Harbor VIA Roads and Paths Committee chairman, said of him, "To him, more than any other, is owing the great system of some one hundred and fifty miles of paths, which are so complete as to make difficult at present any additions of value." Prominent among them are the Cadillac Cliffs, Canon Brook, Giant Slide and Gorham Mountain trails.

With a passion for fitness and the outdoors, Bates was a member of the Boston Athletic Association, the organization that founded the Boston Marathon, the Massachusetts Fish and Game Protective Association, Boston's Tennis and Racquet Club and Bar Harbor's Kebo Valley Club. He enjoyed salmon fishing in Canada and in the summer of 1889 even visited Yellowstone National Park. Considering these activities and his strenuous hiking regimen on Mount Desert Island, Bates must have been in excellent physical condition. That may be why his sudden and horrific death, at the age of 52, was so shocking. On February 9, 1909, while en route from Boston to Aiken, South Carolina, on the Southern Railroad, he disembarked briefly at the railway station in Monroe, Virginia. Trying to reenter the train, as it pulled away from the station, he slipped and fell under the wheels and was killed.

News of the tragic death of Waldron Bates prompted the Bar Harbor community to establish additional memorials:
- The Bar Harbor VIA changed the name of the Chasm Path on the north side of Sargent Mountain to the Waldron Bates Memorial Path. In his September 1909 report to the Bar Harbor VIA, Path Committee chairman Dr. Mitchell stated, "It was the last one [path] to which our friend, Mr. Bates, gave attention, and which he meant to have put in order for walking." Upon its completion in 1910, the Waldron Bates Memorial Path became the first of Acadia National Park's famed memorial paths. The path is no longer maintained by the Park and is mostly untraceable.
- The Kebo Valley Club, of which Bates had been a director and a designer of its golf course, installed a bronze plaque on a granite boulder at the 18th green (N44 22.855 W68 13.348). It reads "In Memory Of Waldron Bates, 1856-1909, Maker Of These Links To Whose Zeal And Ability The Kebo Valley Club Is Deeply Indebted. Extinctus Amabitur Idem." The Club, later renamed the Kebo Valley Golf Club, also established the annual Waldron Bates Cup golf tournament in his memory.
- In 2001 the Park reintroduced the Bates cairn (below).
These modern memorials guide hikers safely along the summit trails on the eastern side of the Park. Most consist of just two large base stones, a lintel stone joining them above with a directional, pointer stone on top. Bates cairns are maintained in the spring and fall by a group of about 20 volunteers, called Waldron's Warriors, and in the summer by Friends of Acadia Ridge Runners. An observant hiker can still discover some of the original Bates cairns, which nowadays are mostly concealed by moss, lichen and surrounding vegetation.

Bates' body was cremated and interred at Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MA.
Even in his death Bates sought to care for the island he loved for nearly 30 years. In his will he left $5,000 to the Bar Harbor VIA for it to use the income to repair the "mountain paths of the island of Mount Desert."

Postscript: A fuller account of Bates' death is in my article that appeared in the November 2011 Bar Harbor Historical Society's Newsletter (

* Footnote:
1 Bates memorial GPS coordinates: N44 19.139 W68 11.563


  1. To bad the memorial path is no longer maintained.

    1. I agree, Jim. It's an historic memorial to Acadia's beloved and prolific pathmaker. It'd make an unforgettable hike up the north side of Sargent. I know some folks who'd be happy to help the Park reopen it.

  2. Hi Don, thanks for your help on the blog post about Bates cairns. Just added a link to this post about Waldron Bates to the story: