Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Gurnee Path -- Built, Endowed and Abandoned

Above Route 3 in Bar Harbor, ME atop what is called The Bluffs lies an abandoned Acadia National Park trail. Named the Gurnee Path, it was financed by the Gurnee family. Construction of the trail began in 1925 and was completed the following year. It started just north of Duck Brook and nowadays Sonogee Rehabilitation & Living Center, crossed over The Bluffs and ended opposite Canoe Point.
Gurnee Path over The Bluffs
According to the Bar Harbor Village Improvement Association's July 1926 report, "Mr. Peabody [Path Committee chairman] stated that the new Gurnee Path towards Hull’s Cove had during the winter been completed from a place opposite Mrs. Fabbri’s sidewalk, through the woods and over the cliffs as far as Canoe Point.”

The local newspaper that same year reported, "The Gurnee Path begun on August 31st last year was built as far as Canoe Point during the autumn. The views of the Bay and the Gouldsboro beyond are very beautiful and the path has proved very enjoyable to many people. The funds to continue this Path towards Hulls Cove for nearly a third of a mile have already been given and work will be started very soon."*1
View from Gurnee Path

In its August 1928 report the Bar Harbor VIA “Voted that the grateful thanks of the V.I.A. be and hereby is extended to Miss Bell Gurnee, Mrs. H.H. Thorndike, and Mrs. F.L.V. Hoppin for their generous gift of a one thousand dollar bond for the endowing of the Gurnee Path through the woods above the Bay Drive [Route 3] from opposite the Fabbri garage to near Hull’s Cove. It is understood that only the income shall be used each year to keep the path in repair, and that all unexpended income of any one year shall be carried over to the next year.”

A 1928 path guide depicted the trail, as follows: "The Gurnee Path (Bar Harbor) begins on the Bay Drive to Hulls Cove, a short distance northeast of Duck Brook, at sign, "The Gurnee Path". It extends above the road for about a mile. A broad graded path but not entirely level. Good views of Frenchman's Bay. Round trip about 40 minutes."*2

The Gurnee Path was destined for trouble, however, as a result of its end points being alongside Route 3. In a 1941 newspaper article conveying minutes of a Bar Harbor VIA meeting, the following appeared: "Miss Bell Gurnee brought to the attention of the Association the bad condition of the Gurnee path in that it was cluttered with branches and rocks, due to the construction of the new road, and was dangerous for anyone walking on it. A. FitzRoy Anderson spoke briefly of the fact that the National Park had jurisdiction over the paths and that it seemed that they should care for their upkeep."3

The Park abandoned the trail about 1960, when Route 3 was being widened, which eliminated the street-level access to it. In its August notes of that year the Bar Harbor VIA stated the following: “Mr. Cleaves [VIA president] reported that he had been approached by Acadia Park personnel regarding the Gurney [sic] Path and they pointed out that the new Bluff Road [Route 3] fairly well obliterated this path and the expense and process of rebuilding and relocating the path made it practically unfeasible. Mr. Cleaves has contacted the Gurney family who have consented to the diversion of the Gurney Path fund for similar purposes of maintenance and upkeep on the Shore Path.”

At the time of the path's construction, the head of the Gurnee family was Augustus Coe Gurnee. Born in Chicago, he was the son of Chicago mayor, Walter S. Gurnee, and a Harvard graduate (1878) and banker. In Bar Harbor he had constructed a 3-storey cottage called Beau Desert on 10 acres off Eden St. He had an estate in Nice, France, as well, which he shared with wounded soldiers during World War I.
Augustus Gurnee - 1921
He was among the original incorporators of the Bar Harbor VIA. He died in July 1926 at age 71 from heart failure while at the Hotel Stephanie in Baden-Baden, Germany and was buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, NY. In his will he gave $25,000 to the Bar Harbor Hospital to endow a bed to be known as the A. C. Gurnee Bed, $10,000 to the town of Bar Harbor for an educational trust to provide income to defray the college costs of a student with the highest standards in scholarship, $10,000 to the Bar Harbor YMCA, and $5,000 to the Bar Harbor VIA to maintain the How memorial on a triangular lot he deeded to the VIA in 1916. There is a memorial in the lobby of the Bar Harbor hospital that is in memory of individuals who gave and endowed free beds to the hospital. Augustus C. Gurnee is among them. The Mmes. Gurnee, Thorndike and Hoppin, who established the Gurnee Path endowment, were his nieces.

Gurnee Path
The Gurnee Path still exists and is in good condition, despite its entrances being totally
obfuscated. The best way to access it is from the north opposite the Bar Harbor Yacht Club. The pull-off there can hold three or four cars.*4  Enter the woods at the yellow-shielded telephone pole support cable and walk south a short distance while under the overhead wires. The obvious trail will appear. It gently rises and descends the crest of the precipitous Bluffs. Hike south about 0.6 mile until the trail disappears when you are nearly at street level and opposite the south end of a property's stockade fence on the other side of Route 3.
Wooden fence
While on the trail you'll notice two culverts, one open with no top and another that is capstoned and traversable. Also note the dilapidated wooden fence that protected hikers from falling on to Route 3 below. The beautiful "views of the Bay and the Gouldsboro beyond" barely exist any longer.
Culvert with capstone

As with hiking all abandoned trails in the Park, do so carefully.

Note: In addition to the various names mentioned above for Route 3 at The Bluffs, there was another imaginative one, at least between 1887 and 1928 -- the Corniche Road (or Drive). Here is an 1888 description of the road: "The new road is in itself of commanding beauty and interest, with an exquisite view of the bay, which has earned for it the title of the Corniche road, this being the name of a road traversing the narrow strip of coastland bordering the Gulf of Genoa from Nice to Spezzia and commanding a view of the most striking beauty and grandeur."*5

1 Bar Harbor Times, September 15, 1926, p.4.
2 Walks on Mount Desert Island Maine, by Harold Peabody and Charles H. Grandgent, 1928, p.79.
3 Bar Harbor Times, July 3, 1941, p.4.
4 North entrance/pull-off GPS coordinates: N44° 24.530'  W068° 14.478'
5 Bar Harbor Record, March 22, 1888, p.4.


  1. Nice work, Don. Love this trail.

  2. Great trail!Thanks! Mahee Ferlini