This photo of Little Hunters Beach is not in “Place Names of Mount Desert Island and the Cranberry Islands, Maine” but how it got its name is. ACADIA MOON DANCE PHOTO COURTESY OF HOWIE MOTENKO

What’s in a name? Ask Henry Raup

MOUNT DESERT — Why would anyone spend four decades researching how nearly 1,400 places on Mount Desert Island and the Cranberry Isles got their names? 

Well, it just came naturally to Henry Raup, whose 644-page book based on his exhaustive research has been published by the Mount Desert Island Historical Society. 

“I grew up with place names,” he writes.  


A family tradition 

During World War II, his father worked at the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, where he helped standardize the names of places on wartime invasion maps. After the war, as professor of geography at Kent State University, he became an authority on Ohio place names. 

“Every evening, maps were spread out on the dining room table or on his study desk as he recorded name usage on the then-standard four-by-six-inch file cards,” Henry Raup writes. 

As a college student, the younger Raup was hired as a summer intern at the Board of Geographic Names. Later, he joined the faculty of Western Michigan University, where he was a professor of geography for many years. 

In 1979, he and his wife, Ann, came to Mount Desert Island to work as seasonal rangers at Acadia National Park. It wasn’t long before he began compiling a gazetteer – a geographical dictionary – of local places. Now, 42 years later, that gazetteer is the book titled “Place Names of Mount Desert Island and the Cranberry Islands, Maine.” 

Scholarly but accessible 

It is a serious, meticulously researched work of scholarship. (The list of cited references, printed in very small type, takes up 36 pages at the back of the book.) 

But non-academics will find it quite readable – fascinating and entertaining, even humorous.  

For example, the entry on Witch Hole Pond: “A number of legends explaining the origin of Witch Hole and Witch Hole Pond have been published; most are lengthy, convoluted and require that rationality be temporarily suspended.” 

Bloody-minded pirates? 

On the western side of Mount Desert Island, generally between Reed Point and Dodge Point, is the Algerine Coast. Raup writes that an article in the May 25, 1961, edition of the Bar Harbor Times offered this explanation of the name’s origin: “Algerine is a corruption of the Algerian coast, which everyone knows was the home base for desperate and bloody-minded pirates.” 

And what about Kebo Mountain? Apparently, no one knows where that name came from. 

“The origin of Kebo is one of the great puzzles of Mount Desert Island place names,” Raup writes.  

Going back more than a century, various historians have expressed bafflement. Some have suggested the name Kebo has Native American roots, with one writing that its meaning is “lost in the haze of Algonquin etymology.”  

From fruit to frogs 

As for the Cranberry Isles, it’s not hard to guess where the name came from. Raup cites an 1832 history of Maine by William Williamson: “Great quantities [of cranberries] are gathered every year on the Island of Mount Desert and on the Cranberry Islands…” 

Fifty-six years later, Moses Sweetser wrote, “The isles derive their name from a marsh of 200 acres on the larger island, once used as a cranberry bog, but now chiefly occupied by rushes and peopled by frogs.” 

Peopled by frogs? 

Read the book from cover to cover or just flip through the pages and you’ll learn about the origin of place names like The Barcelona, Blunder Hill, Cookie Bite Cove, Dance Floor, Giant Slide, Pung Head, Radio Pond, Refrigerator Hill, The Thrumbcap and Waste Brook. 

‘His thoughts were humble’ 

Raup, who has lived in Mount Desert full time for the past five years, had planned to print – or maybe just photocopy – only a few copies of his gazetteer, mostly to give to local libraries and historical societies. But the folks at the MDI Historical Society had other ideas. Former Executive Director Tim Garrity and his successor, Raney Bench, realized it could have broader appeal.  

“His thoughts about it were rather humble,” Bench said. “We told him we thought there was a lot of potential, that his work was remarkable and, to our knowledge, there had never been anything like this that was so complete.” 

Bench had 130 copies printed in August, including 30 for Raup to give away. The rest have sold out, and she has ordered a second printing. 

“We have been floored at how passionate people are when they see this book and how many people want copies of it; we weren’t expecting that,” she said. 

Copies of Raup’s compendium of local place names can be purchased at the MDI Historical Society. You may also email Bench at [email protected] for more information or to purchase a copy. The price is $50; the proceeds benefit the Historical Society. 

Asked why he thinks the book resonates with people, Raup said, “Everybody is sort of curious about how some of these places got their names. Unfortunately, the ones people ask me about are usually ones I don’t know, like Witch Hole Pond. Everybody wants to know about that.” 

Raup said he is extremely pleased with the way the book turned out. 

“The historical society did a magnificent job of producing it,” he said. 

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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