Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Van Santvoord Trail - a Hiking Enigma

It is not often that you can be hiking on one trail but then reach a sign that says you are on another trail. This can be confusing, maybe even frightening, yet this is precisely what a hiker experiences in Acadia National Park when hiking on the Triad Trail. The name of the trail relates to the three peaks in a scenic section of the Park south of Pemetic Mountain that is known simply as The Triad.

Van Santvoord memorial
On a granite ledge near the East Triad peak there is a 22x5-inch bronze memorial plaque that identifies the trail, however, as "The Van Santvoord Trail."*1  The plaque was placed there and dedicated in 1916 following completion of the trail's construction.

The trail honors John V. Van Santvoord, who, as Path Committee chairman of the Seal Harbor Village Improvement Society, laid out the route in 1912. Construction of this loop trail started in 1915. The trailhead was in a valley off the old Wildwood Farm Road west of today's Wildwood Stables and ascended the West Triad peak. It continued across the Middle and East Triad peaks. Beyond the latter it descended to its origin in the valley for a total distance of 1.4 miles.*2  A section of the subsequently built carriage road running between the Wildwood Stables and the Jordan Pond House cut the trail in two spots near its southern end. Steps, overhung and obscured by dense pines, continue down from the carriage road.

John Van Santvoord, born in New Jersey about 1844, was one of four sons of admiralty lawyer Cornelius Van Santvoord. A banker, an owner of the Hudson River Day Line boat company and a resident of New York City, he summered in Seal Harbor on Mount Desert Island and was the second chairman of its Village Improvement Society path committee (1907 -1913).

Lake Mohonk Mountain House
Detroit Pub. Co - Library of Congress
Tragically in 1913 servants found him drowned in his bathtub, apparently of a heart attack, at the Lake Mohonk Mountain House, a resort hotel 90 miles north of NYC. He had gone to this scenic Hudson Valley spot to relax following the death of his sole remaining brother.

Van Santvoord Trail staircase
The Van Santvoord Trail does not exist in the Park's path and trail inventory. It is no longer shown by this name on trail maps. In fact, a .35-mile section of it south of the East Triad to its terminus in the valley has been missing from maps for 70 years. The last map on which the entire trail appears is the 1942 Topographic Map of Acadia National Park and Vicinity. The missing section nebulously reappears 29 years later on the 1971 Appalachian Mountain Club Map of Mount Desert Island - Acadia National Park where it is described as "trail-condition unknown or abandoned." This missing trail section was intricately constructed, with numerous steps and four winding staircases shaping its way south from near the East Triad summit. For reasons not known the Park chose not to maintain this section. Instead, it connected the remaining sections of the Van Santvoord Trail to two other trails, renamed them the Hunters Brook Trail and the Triad Trail, and dissolved the Van Santvoord name. Fortunately the memorial plaque was left in place.

The Van Santvoord Trail (red)
Will the Park reopen the Van Santvoord Trail? Those who have hiked it in its entirety would strongly recommend the Park seriously consider it. Not only would a historic trail with skillful stone craftsmanship and spectacular views be reinstated for the pleasure of Park visitors, but also the hiking enigma would be solved.

* Footnotes:
1  Memorial GPS coordinates:  N44° 19.198'  W068° 14.220'
2 All distances are computed from the 1942 map referred to above.

Friday, May 4, 2012

George Bucknam Dorr - the Father of Acadia National Park

George B. Dorr
Courtesy: ANP-NPS
George B. Dorr has been called the "Father of Acadia National Park." Appropriately so. His successful efforts to preserve this beautiful area involved frequent travel between Mount Desert Island, ME and Washington, DC and extensive coordination between the Federal Government and the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations to have its acquired property accepted as Federal land. Later he served as Acadia National Park's first superintendent, a job he held for nearly 30 years.

George Bucknam Dorr was born in 1853 in his parents’ home on the shore of Jamaica Pond in the Boston neighborhood of Jamaica Plain, MA. He came to MDI with his parents in the summer of 1868. Eight years later they built their Bar Harbor summer home, which they named Oldfarm, on 90 acres at Compass Harbor. The property's entrance is a mile south of the Bar Harbor village green.*1  Dorr was a horticulturalist and in 1896 he established the Mount Desert Nurseries on 20 acres of his Oldfarm property. Irrigation pipes and old culverts off the Schooner Head Path are still visible.*2  He also owned the Bear Brook Quarry, located at the north base of Champlain Mountain.*3  It is below the Park Loop Road parking lot opposite the entrance to the Champlain North Ridge Trail (former name: Bear Brook Trail).

Dorr was among the original founders of the HCTPR in 1901and its incorporators in 1903. Through Dorr’s determination and the efforts of members of the HCTPR, of which Harvard President Charles W. Eliot was President and Dorr its First Vice-President, some 6000 acres of donated land, including Cadillac Mountain, were acquired and presented to President Woodrow Wilson for federal protection. As a result, Wilson established Sieur De Monts National Monument in 1916. Dorr had suggested the name in honor of the Frenchman under whom Samuel de Champlain sailed; it was Champlain who named Mount Desert Island in 1604. In 1919 Congress gave it national park status and renamed it Lafayette National Park in honor of the French general and American Revolutionary War hero. In 1927 Dorr secured the donation of over 2,000 acres of promised land on Schoodic Peninsula across Frenchman Bay from the heirs of native Mainer and wealthy NY-entrepreneur John G. Moore. Moore's daughters, who had immigrated to Great Britain and become citizens, suggested their land donation to the Park could go through if the French name of the Park were changed. Thus in 1929, upon Dorr's suggestion, the Park's name changed from Lafayette to Acadia.

Dorr, who was six feet tall and blue-eyed, never married. He died at his beloved Oldfarm estate in 1944 at the age of 90. According to his wishes, he was cremated at Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MA and his ashes were scattered beneath the trees at the northwestern foot of Champlain Mountain near the 12-acre Beaver Dam Pond. A popular but entirely fictitious tale maintains that Dorr's ashes were scattered over Oldfarm from an airplane and into the teacups of women relaxing below! A simple memorial stone was placed at the Dorr family lot in Mount Auburn Cemetery. It is often stated he died penniless, having expended all of his wealth on the Park. But that may not be so. His estate gave Bar Harbor's Jesup Memorial Library $12,865.63 and equal amounts of $6,432.81 to the HCTPR and the Abbe Museum of Bar Harbor. His memorial was dedicated on August 29, 1947 at Sieur de Monts Spring. It reads:

In Memory of
George Bucknam Dorr
1853  -  1944
Gentleman  Scholar
Lover of nature
Father of this
National Park
Steadfast in his zeal
to make the beauties
of this Island
available to all

1947 Dedication
Courtesy: Woodlawn Museum
Dorr's memorial is located behind the Sieur de Monts Nature Center.*4  Less than two months after the memorial had been dedicated, MDI suffered a devastating fire that destroyed a third of the Park, including Sieur de Monts. The Dorr memorial plaque survived. The granite stone on which it was attached apparently did not, as the memorial is now secured to a different stone but in the approximate location. Also in his honor, Dry Mountain, which overshadows the Sieur de Monts area, was renamed Dorr Mountain.

What became of the Oldfarm estate? Dorr donated it to Acadia National Park in 1941with the wish that it would at least be used as a place for visiting VIPs to meet and stay. The park tore down his Oldfarm home 10 years later, but remnants of it exist.*5  Storm Beach Cottage, the 1879 guest house into which Dorr had moved after conveying Oldfarm, remains and serves as seasonal Park employee housing.*6

Oldfarm home
Courtesy: ANP-NPS
Storm Beach Cottage
The Oldfarm estate no longer comprises its original 90 acres. Today there are about 60 acres under Park control. Over the years the Oldfarm property has been neglected and it has transformed itself into a quasi town park enjoyed for strolls, dog walks, and occasional bike rides. On the official Park map it is shaded as Park property but not identified.

Home site cleanup-Dec. 2011
Local groups, sensing the evanescence of a significant tribute to the Park's founder, have lobbied the Park for years to do something about it. With renewed interest the Park this past December let a small team of experienced volunteers clean up the home site of debris and some surrounding vegetation and remove the growth of moss carpet from its brick floors. Much more can and needs to be done. It is hoped that with Park permission and guidance work will continue on the site and in time George B. Dorr's Oldfarm estate will receive the historical recognition it deserves.

Oldfarm aerial view
* Footnoted GPS coordinates:
1  estate entrance:  N44° 22.427'  W068° 11.834'
2  path entrance:  N44° 22.345'  W068° 11.670'
3  quarry:  N44° 21.785'  W068° 11.566'
4  memorial:  N44° 21.721'  W068° 12.466'
5  home:  N44° 22.447'  W068° 11.577'
6  cottage:  N44° 22.317'  W068° 11.560'