ACADIA NAT’L PARK — A “cultural landscape assessment” of the former Compass Harbor estate of George Dorr, often referred to as the father of Acadia, suggests the property should be “rehabilitated,” but not restored or reconstructed.
Dorr donated the 58-acre property in Bar Harbor that he called Old Farm to the park in 1942, two years before his death. It included the main house – now referred to as the Manor House – the Storm Beach Cottage, a barn and several other outbuildings. Only the cottage remains; the other structures were demolished in the 1950s.
Acadia officials last year commissioned a comprehensive inventory of the property’s historic features “because we’ve never had the baseline documentation to help us decide what an appropriate level of treatment or management should be,” said Rebecca Cole-Will, the park’s chief of resource management.
The park contracted with the Olmstead Center for Landscape Preservation, a unit of the National Park Service, to conduct the inventory and assessment. Ericka Duym, a landscape architect who lives in Trenton, headed the project for the Olmstead Center.
Duym summarized her findings and recommendations in a recent presentation at park headquarters.
“The primary goals were to document the landscape features that are still there and to evaluate the condition of those features and whether they really contribute to the historic character of [Old Farm] and Dorr’s influence on the landscape,” she said.
She studied the various categories of landscape features including topography, driveways and walking paths, water features such as streams and ponds, archeological features, vistas and vegetation. The vegetation inventory included the remnants of the orchard at Dorr Point and the giant cedars that were planted within the former circular drive.
Duym said all of those features “help tell the story of George Dorr at Compass Harbor.”
She said the Department of the Interior lists four management options for historic or culturally significant sites: preservation, rehabilitation, restoration and reconstruction.
“It would be very unusual for the park service to do a restoration or reconstruction of [Old Farm] because we are not trying to freeze this place in time and create a false idea of what historic authenticity is,” Cole-Will said.
“For example, we’re not going to rebuild the Manor House. It’s gone. It’s an archaeological site now, and it needs to be managed in that way.”
Duym said rehabilitation is probably the best management approach for Old Farm.
“That allows for flexibility in continuing to manage the site for the future,” she said. “It allows for such things as the repair of cultural features, invasive species management and trail enhancements.”
Repairing wobbly stone steps to make them safe, stabilizing the foundation of the Manor House and removing trees that have fallen across paths are examples of interventions that can be part of a program of rehabilitation.
Cole-Will said the park will maintain Old Farm as a natural area, respecting the fact that it is in a residential area. So, there are no plans to expand the small parking area.
“We don’t necessarily want this to become a high-use area because we want to manage it for the ability of people to appreciate it in solitude and quiet,” she said.
She characterized rehabilitation as “applying a light touch that respects the existing conditions, identifies the period of historic significance of the place and, where appropriate, manages for that time period.”
She said the period of historic significance for Old Farm is from 1868, when the Dorr family bought the property, to 1942.
A National Park Service publication describes George Dorr as “the father of Acadia National Park,” who spent most of his adult life “bringing the park into being, caring for the park and expanding it.”
Dorr served as Acadia’s first superintendent, from its founding in 1916 to 1944.
The cultural landscape assessment was paid for with a gift of more than $35,000 from the Somes Pond Center, which supports research and education on the landscapes of the Mount Desert Island region.