MOUNT DESERT — The late Arnold Allen came home to dinner one night in 1957, the story goes, and said to his wife, Marie, and young daughter, Mady, “I think I’m going to open a campground.”
And he did. Opening day was July 3, 1958.
Mady Allen joined the current owners, the Craighead family, for a celebration of the 60th anniversary of Mount Desert Campground last Friday afternoon.
Arnold Allen had bought a 75-acre parcel on Route 198 that included some shallow Somes Harbor waterfront. He intended to use some of the wood there for a lumber mill he operated. But when he walked the land, he decided it was too beautiful to cut the trees.
“We looked at him with utter disbelief,” Mady Allen said, recounting the story of her dad’s announcement. “Especially since neither of my parents had ever camped a day in their lives.”
The year 1958, she said, happened to be the same year that Acadia National Park had put a two-week limit on camping. “So we got many campers over from Blackwoods that year and [they] wanted to come back a second season for the whole summer.”
Many of those campers returned year after year and stayed weeks on end. One of them was Steve Cushing of Newton, N.H., who visited as a child that first summer and has been back every summer since.
One day in 1973, Cushing was helping out in the front office when two young women came in. It was pouring rain and the two friends had gotten lost. They had stopped at Fernald’s (now Somesville One Stop) down the street, pulled out their Woodall’s campground directory and looked up Somesville.
The directory had a listing for the Mount Desert Campground and they made their way there.
After checking them in, Arnold Allen slyly suggested the young Cushing help the young ladies set up their tent.
“He took us into Bar Harbor,” Donna Cushing remembered, “and bought us dinner at the Acadia Diner. We came back and it stopped raining so we went up Cadillac. He showed us loons on the sound.”
When Donna and her friend left the next day, she and Steve agreed to write.
“It was history after that.”
The two were married in 1975 and have been returning to the campground every summer since. They’ve gone through several tents over the years.
In the 1980s, longtime campers Barbara and Owen Craighead began talking with the Allens, who thought they might be ready to retire. They bought the business and their family has been running it since.
Owen Jr. runs the business now, with his sister Donna Beals.
“I’m so proud of what my kids have accomplished and the legacy they have carried on,” Barbara Craighead said Friday.
Owen Jr. had called home during a post-college trip across Europe, staying in hostels, Barbara Craighead remembered, to say he wanted to come home and run the business.
“He just had it in his heart,” she said.
At the celebration Friday, a new sign was unveiled that will be installed at the campground’s docks, where campers access Somes Sound aboard kayaks, canoes, and other boats.
The docks will be dubbed Cushing’s Landing in honor of Steve and Donna.