The Jan. 5, 1956 edition of the Bar Harbor Times commemorating the maiden voyage of Bluenose. IMAGE COURTESY OF FRIENDS OF ISLAND HISTORY

A look back: The Bar Harbor ferry terminal in the 1950s

BAR HARBOR — The abandoned ferry terminal on Eden Street has been on the mind of residents, business owners and visitors here for a long while. Committees are putting their heads together over long hours to try and find the best compromise for the property’s use.

Seventy years ago, the town was undergoing a similar process, but one with a much more distinct goal: a ferry to run between Bar Harbor and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.

The process, from the inception of the committee to the first voyage, spanned around 6-1/2 years, according to news accounts in the Bar Harbor Times.

Much like the present, a committee was formed in November 1949 to help usher in talks of a Nova Scotia-Bar Harbor ferry terminal.

The Ferry Committee was at the heart of all discussions. Chairman Joseph T. Edgar was a Republican politician in Bar Harbor; he was elected to the Maine House of Representatives in 1954. Alton L. Marshall participated in a number of committees in Bar Harbor. He ran for selectman in Bar Harbor, seemingly unhampered by three measly dollars of unpaid taxes in 1924. Sheldon F. Goldthwait was the president of Bar Harbor Banking and Trust and an active member in local politics. L. Everett Gerrish was the Bar Harbor town manager until 1955. He eventually resigned to take a management position at the ferry terminal at the other end of the line — in Yarmouth.

A year after the committee formed, a site was decided upon for the ferry terminal. In 1950, the Times reported:

“A warrant for a Town Meeting on December 4th was posted today to see if the Town will vote to purchase the former Stotesbury property … . The property was offered to the town for $10,000 and a settlement of the 1950 taxes. The taxes on the property to be purchased are $5,215.20 for 1950.”

Work stalled for a couple of years, with blueprints of the ferry arriving at the Maine Port Authority in July 1952. Funds were released by Gov. Frederick G. Payne in September. An obscured headline from October reads that shipbuilders were clamoring for the contract to build the ferry; the job was worth an estimated $3-4 million.

Construction on the Yarmouth terminal was reported to have started in December 1952. The Canadian side ferry terminal, described as “neat and tidy” by the Times, was scheduled to be ready in May 1954.

“By early 1954, the historic maritime area around ‘Baker’s Wharf’ will once again pulsate with new life …,” a news story reads.

Much like the ferry terminal debate today, some residents wrote the Times to voice their concern. A letter from a summer resident from Princeton, N.J., said that “rumors have been flying around town” that “certain summer residents have been attempting to prevent establishment” of the terminal.

“We also believe,” the letter states, “that Bar Harbor needs its summer resident, not only because they pay approximately 42 percent of the total property taxes, but also because they have always contributed generously to the hospital and other privately supported public services which make Bar Harbor unique in its facilities for its size.”

Despite the controversy, construction started in Bar Harbor in 1953, with Fay, Spofford and Thorndike, a Boston-based construction engineering company that won the $1 million contract for “building of the ferry terminal facilities.”

Also in 1953, the Maine Legislature agreed to fund $1 million for the terminal and transferred the property to the Maine Port Authority.

In August, Bar Harbor made a change to zoning ordinances to clear the path for the ferry terminal.

“Since the state has authorized the expenditure of $1,000,000 for construction of the ferry terminal here in Bar Harbor, there must be assurance that there will be no further problems relative to zoning,” Boyd E. Bailey of the state Attorney General’s Office said.

An article on Dec. 31 claimed “Ferry Was Biggest Local News Story During Year Of ’53.”

“The ferry as a news source went through the mill from the presentation of the bill for $1,000,000 which was presented to the Maine House in February to the final approval of the agreement between Maine and Canada last week,” it said.

The first stages of construction began in Bar Harbor in June 1954. An advertisement for land called “The Turrets” in the July 15, 1954 edition of the Times said that Bluenose ferry would be running regularly in May, carrying 600 passengers and 150 autos.

Portland’s Verrier Construction Company began work on shore facilities for the terminal in April. The contract was worth $488,950.

About 7 months after the estimated date of completion, in January 1956, the Bluenose ferry made its maiden voyage from Yarmouth to Bar Harbor, carrying 120 passengers, 26 cars and four trucks.

“Contradicting her reputation of being behind schedule since her keel was laid in Quebec July 30, 1954, the luxury ferry ship tied to the Canadian national Railways Pier 10 minutes before the time of her planned arrival,” a news story said.

The service provider at the time was CN Marine, which was later renamed Marine Atlantic. Marine Atlantic acquired the property for $1 as a condition of a 30-year lease that had been negotiated in 1954.

Bluenose ran until 1980, when it was replaced by Jutlandica. In 1998, a high-tech new vessel called “The Cat” took over. In October 2009, all services ended at the terminal.





Samuel Shepherd

Samuel Shepherd

Samuel Shepherd is a University of Maine graduate and a former Bar Harbor reporter for the Mount Desert Islander.
Samuel Shepherd

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