Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Great Head, Sand Beach and J. P. Morgan
Four miles south of the village green in Bar Harbor on Mount Desert Island, ME, lie Great Head and Sand Beach, two magnificent gems of Acadia National Park. It is still being told and written they were a wedding gift of John Pierpont Morgan to his daughter, Louisa. Alas, that is not the case; but he did buy it for her.

Great Head is a massive granite prominence, which at 144 feet in elevation, stands as the highest cliff on America's Atlantic coast. On its west side, at the head of Newport Cove, is Sand Beach, a 1000 foot-wide shoreline of generally finely pulverized shells. Together they constitute one of the country's most beautiful seashore spots.

Great Head and Sand Beach as seen from The Beehive

Morgan and MDI: The earliest J. P. Morgan would have been in Maine was likely in 1854, when he and his cousin tried to complete a trip through New England. They ran low on funds in New Hampshire and had to make their way to Portland, ME, where they caught a steamer to Boston. Morgan married Frances ("Fanny") Tracy in 1865.*1  It has been written they honeymooned in Bar Harbor, but that too is not the case. They honeymooned abroad; it was her first trip to Europe. Morgan did vacation in Maine in 1875, when he and Fanny visited Bar Harbor and stayed at the newly extended Rodick hotel, then Bar Harbor's largest. During this trip Fanny showed him Great Head and Sand Beach, places she loved and had first visited in 1855 with her father, Charles Tracy. Tracy recorded this trip in his diary.*2

J.P. Morgan - 1881
Frances Morgan - 1902

Morgan made later trips to MDI. He enjoyed steaming from New York to Bar Harbor aboard his yacht, Corsair, and would take her around to Northeast Harbor to attend church services and listen to his friend, Bishop William Doane, preach. In 1897, as the 16th commodore of the New York Yacht Club, Morgan organized the first-ever cup event from NYC to Bar Harbor. The 185-mile race, starting at Vineyard Haven on Martha's Vineyard and ending at a buoy off Baker Island Light, consisted of 16 schooners and 6 sloops.*3  Twenty-three steam yachts, including Morgan's 241-foot Corsair II, witnessed it.*4

The wedding gift: Morgan's daughter, Louisa, married Herbert Satterlee in 1900 at St. George's Church in Manhattan. A capacity crowd of 1,500 guests attended and 2500 were invited to the following reception at Morgan's Manhattan home. His wedding gift to Louisa was a diamond tiara and necklace.

In 1908 Morgan asked his business associate, Thomas Joyce, to buy Great Head and Sand Beach. Joyce completed the purchase for $50,000 in June 1910, following legal settlement of one of Maine's biggest land title cases between the owners' heirs and the trustees of the Bingham estate. Land titles on the island extended back to the original Bingham owners and the dispute concerned how this title had been recorded. Two months later Joyce conveyed the property to Louisa. In his Morgan-authorized biography, Herbert Satterlee states, "He [Morgan] loved the place and was very much pleased that he had at last been able to get it."*5

The donation: Louisa died in 1946 and left her estate to Herbert. He took his own life the next year and his estate went into trust. Three months after his death, the devastating MDI Fire of 1947 swept over Great Head and Sand Beach, destroying most of the Satterlee homestead and scarring the landscape. Daughter Eleanor purchased the property from the executors of her father's will for $22,000 in March 1949. Two months later she donated it to the United States of America for Acadia National Park. There is a memorial on the west side of Sand Beach at the top of the steps to the beach.*6  It explains:


1  Frances was Morgan's second wife. In 1861 he had married Amelia Sturges, who was ill with tuberculosis. She died the next year.
2  The Tracy Log Book - a Month in Summer, (ed. by Anne Mazlish). Bar Harbor, ME: Acadia Publishing Co., 1997.
3  The History of the New York Yacht Club, (pub. by the NYYC). 1975.
4  Bar Harbor Record, August 11, 1897.
5  Herbert L. Satterlee, J. Pierpont Morgan, an Intimate Portrait. New York: The MacMillan Co., 1939, p. 523. Photos of J. Pierpont and Frances are from this book.
6  Satterlee memorial GPS coordinates: N44° 19.765'  W068° 11.028'


  1. Good history! Thanks for clearing up the misconceptions, Don!

  2. nice post very informative i like your post before reading your blog don't even know that Frances was Morgan's second wife. thank you very much for sharing such briefed information with us keep it up

    1. Thanks, Terry. It's fun for me to research these things. I'm glad you're enjoying them!

    2. this is really a Good Job Don and as like Terry I also do not knew that Frances was morgans 2nd wife thanks don for sharing this information
      Granite Memorials

  3. Great post. The Sand Beach parking lot in August is a great argument for banning private autos on the one way portion of the Park Loop Road. As you say, the scenery is magnificent. Unfortunately the traffic and parking hassles detract from the experience.

    Amazing that the area did not become part of ANP until Eleanor's donation in 1949. Hard to imagine Acadia being what it is without this spot. Thanks to you, there is an opportunity for the public to appreciate how much is owed to those who made these donations to the public.
    Jim Linnane

  4. Found you through a friend who lives in Maine, who I met through blogging. I have been going to Acadia since the mid 90's, and from the first time I saw it, I've been in love with the place. We try to get back every year and last year, stayed on MDI for the first time; we usually stay off-island. The Great Head & Sand Beach area have always been of particular interest for me, and I was one of those who had read incorrect facts concerning the place. I also didn't know how Herbert Saterlee died, which is sad. I have some photos of the ruins of the tea house and observatory on my blog. Wonderful post here ~

    1. I appreciate your comments and am happy you enjoy the blog. I hope you get the chance to see all the places and memorials I've written about.

  5. Did the Dane trail today thanks to these lovely instructions. Beautiful early-winter day for tramping around Day Mountain. The sign is gone but a shadow on the tree remains, and of course the stone steps.

  6. Hi Don, what's the story behind the millstone on the Great Head Trail? Was that a remnant from the Satterlee estate? We featured a photo of the millstone in this blog post: www.acadiaonmymind.com/2016/12/its-a-good-thing-martha-stewart-to-give-1m-for-acadia/ Thanks, and hope you're doing well!

    1. The millstone was the base for the Satterlee flagpole.