Much research and scholarship has been done on the history of Acadia National Park, but historians soon will have a new collection of primary source documents to help them gain further insight into how it all happened.
These documents help tell the story of how Bar Harbor lawyers Luere Deasy and Albert Lynam were instrumental in many of the real estate transfers that created Acadia.
“The attorneys were really partners in the process,” said Ron Epp, author of a new biography of “Father of Acadia” George Dorr.
“The prevailing view has been that these well-born men from away came here, purchased land and then decided to engage in this conservation project they carried out on their own,” he said.
His research led him to a modified conclusion. Rather than importing the ideas of conservation and public access, Dorr and John D. Rockefeller Jr. actually were protecting long-held local traditions and working closely with community and business leaders here.
“They allied themselves with the values” of the community that was already here, he said. “People who were used to walking on commonly held paths, even if they were on private property, began to see access eroded with signs that said ‘private property’ as wealthy families bought up the land along the shore.”
In 2009, Epp and Bill Horner visited the archives of a Bar Harbor law firm which at one time represented Dorr and Rockefeller.
“Today, we think of a bank as a place where you take important documents,” Epp said. But in the early 20th century, “clients used the Deasy & Lynam firm to preserve valued items: correspondence, policy drafts, telegrams, ledgers, membership lists, personal memoirs, wills, property transfers, etc.”
Douglas Chapman, senior partner of Fenton, Chapman, Wheatley and Kane, took Epp and Horner to the basement, where the firm’s archives, dating to its founding in 1884, are kept.
“What caught our eye were 12 boxes labeled J.D.R. Jr.,” he said.
When they realized what they had found, they began working on how to make these documents available to other researchers. The firm and the Rockefeller family agreed to donate some of the collection to the Jesup Memorial Library in Bar Harbor.
“In a continuance of that Rockefeller philanthropic spirit, the family thought these records are a product of the island and ought to remain there,” Epp said. “We’re very pleased these papers have made their way into a public archive in Maine.”
Eventually, the Jesup, the Maine State Library and other institutions hope to digitize the records for even greater public access.