Monday, September 29, 2014

Pathmaker -- The Tragic Death of Waldron Bates

[Due to the interest in my blog post "Waldron Bates -- Pathmaker" dated April 4, 2012, here is the more extensive article I wrote for the Bar Harbor Historical Society Newsletter of November 2011.]

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. It is a memorial to Waldron Bates. Shielded by an overhanging ledge, the plaque was designed by New York sculptor and Bar Harbor summer resident, William Ordway Partridge. After being exhibited in Bar Harbor, it was placed there in September 1910. It reads:

Photo courtesy of 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, Samuel Worcester Jr. and Charles How, followed in 1858 and 1868. He was the nephew of Charles T. How, an early developer of Bar Harbor and land donor. 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 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 also 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 further distinguished himself as a pathmaker. He planned and engineered trails to geologically 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 to mark the paths and provide directional guidance to hikers. Termed “Bates cairns” today, they were easy to build and required few stones, thus lessening soil damage and erosion. 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 traveling to Florida; salmon fishing in Canada and in the summer of 1889 visited Yellowstone National Park and marveled at its beauty. 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 Tuesday, February 9th, 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. The following account of the accident appeared in the February 18, 1909 edition of The Matthews Journal, a local weekly newspaper: “At Monroe, on the Southern Railroad, a well-dressed business man got off southbound passenger train 29 when it stopped to change engines. As it started he attempted to board a Pullman, but slipped under the car, and his head was nearly severed from his body which was found after the train had gone. A card was found on his person with the name Waldron Bates, Colonial Hotel, Boston, and the authorities have telegraphed there. Deceased seemed to be about 40 years old and weighed about 135 pounds.” Another local newspaper covering the accident, the Lynchburg News of February10, 1909, further disclosed that the stopped Pullman car was 100 yards north of the station when Bates departed it. Upon attempting to reboard the moving Pullman, Bates apparently slipped and got his clothes caught in the car’s truck. As the train continued on, he was dragged to a spot about 100 yards south of the station, where the body fell free. Southern Railroad officials were notified and they telegraphed the Colonial Hotel about the accident.
Monroe Station photo - courtesy of The Frank Cash Collection in
the Amherst County Museum, Amherst, VA.
The Diuguid Funeral Home in nearby Lynchburg prepared the remains and shipped the embalmed body, casket and clothing to Boston for funeral services. Its ledger records that Bates was age 52 and height 5’ 10” and accidentally killed at Monroe on February 9th at 8:45 PM. A George Perkin paid Diuguid $85 for its services.

After Bates’ body had been shipped to Boston, his brother Samuel had the body cremated and the remains interred in the Bates family plot at Mount Auburn Cemetery in nearby Cambridge. A simple stone marks his grave.

It is tempting to speculate that Bates’ death was no accident and that he might have been murdered by frustrated MDI developers and loggers. The tax-exempt HCTPR, of which Bates was a founding member, had been formed by very influential outsiders and was acquiring land to preserve. However, such speculation would be mistaken. The Diuguid funeral home noted the death was accidental and none of the newspapers that reported on Bates’ death mentioned any suspicion of foul play. Indeed, the Boston Journal reported on 11 February 1909 that the railroad had been exonerated by a coroner’s jury which decided Bates had left the train for exercise and had fallen under it while trying to get aboard after it had started. The paper further disclosed Bates had been suffering from some recent “mental trouble.” The Boston Daily Globe reported on the same date that building tenants at Bates’ 50 Congress Street, Boston, law firm suggested he might have been ill and traveling south for health reasons. Moreover, Bates’ death certificate from Boston’s Registry Division lists the cause of death as “accidentally killed by train.”

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. 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 [tr: The same man will be loved after his death].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. These modern memorials now 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 and lichen and surrounding vegetation.

- The existence of another Bates memorial plaque was reported in an intriguing article written by a former curator of the Bar Harbor Historical Society in 1981. The author wrote, “The Bar Harbor Association also paid tribute to Bates by putting another tablet on a large slab of granite overhanging the Chasm Brook Trail on Sargent Mountain and renaming it the Bates Memorial Trail.” Despite the efforts of individuals to locate and research this plaque, no corroborating evidence of its existence has ever surfaced.

A tribute to Bates appeared in the 1909 Harvard Graduates’ Magazine. It warmly said, “Much of his life, however, was passed at Bar Harbor, where, in the words of a near friend, ‘no face was better known and no voice more familiar than his, for he labored devotedly, unselfishly, vigorously, in his field, for the advancement of this town and island.’” Even in his death Bates sought to care for the island he loved for nearly 30 years. In his will he left bequests of $5,000 to both the Bar Harbor VIA and the Kebo Valley Club and specified that the VIA was to use the income to repair the “mountain paths of the island of Mount Desert.”

Given Bates’ many contributions to the magnificent trails system that we enjoy so much today, perhaps the reader will pause for a silent moment while hiking on the Gorham Mountain Trail or the Cadillac Cliffs Path to remember Waldron Bates, Pathmaker.

*At the time of Bates’ accident, Monroe was a newly established town lying seven miles north of Lynchburg. It was the site of a major railway yard where crews stopped, engines were changed, repairs done and coal replenished. The photograph of the Monroe station was taken by Monroe resident Frank Cash sometime between 1905 and 1915. The Southern Railroad ultimately stopped using Monroe as a station and terminal yard and removed all the buildings and support facilities.