Rebecca Cole-Will, Acadia National Park’s chief of resource management, stands on a section of what is left of the main house at Oldfarm, George Dorr’s 58-acre Compass Harbor estate. PHOTO BY DICK BROOM

Study looks at Father of Acadia’s forlorn estate

ACADIA NATIONAL PARK — A “cultural landscape assessment” of the former Bar Harbor estate of George Dorr, a founder of Acadia National Park and its first superintendent, will be conducted to find and inventory remnants of the main house, outbuildings, gardens and other significant features.

Dorr left the 58-acre property at Compass Harbor, known as Oldfarm, to Acadia when he died in 1944 at age 89. The park never used the house or other buildings and couldn’t afford to maintain them. They were demolished in 1951.

The privately funded landscape assessment will help Acadia officials make decisions about the future management and protection of the property.

Since taking ownership of Oldfarm, the park has kept it as a natural area with minimal maintenance.

“What we try to do is keep it safe, keep the trails open and let people come and enjoy it the way they always have,” said Rebecca Cole-Will, the park’s chief of resource management. “Locals, especially, use it and love it; they appreciate coming here to enjoy the quiet and solitude.”

She said the park has never made plans for significant improvements or more intensive management of the property. One reason for that, she said, is the perennial shortage of funding. Another is the small parking area, which can accommodate only six to eight cars.

“It was never the intention to attract a lot of visitors here, partly because of the parking, but also because it’s surrounded by residential areas and people who value their privacy,” Cole-Will said. “Any management decisions would need to involve conversations with our neighbors.”

The document describing the cultural landscape assessment states: “There are a variety of resource issues that complicate management decisions, including invasive exotic vegetation (many of which were introduced by Dorr as specimen plants), European red ant infestation, shoreline erosion and deterioration of the remnants of the buildings, structural elements and historic landscape.”

Cole-Will said there are some people who want the park to do something with the Oldfarm property to memorialize Dorr. But before the park can make any management decisions, she said, “We need to have a baseline for understanding what’s here and what kind of condition it’s in.”

The cultural landscape assessment is being 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.

Judy Goldstein, president of the Somes Pond Center, said the Oldfarm property deserves better care and more recognition as an essential part of Dorr’s legacy.

“He valued the landscape so much; it was precious to him,” she said. “To have that landscape in such disarray really does enormous injustice to what he gave to the island. I think that on that property, which was so beautiful and enriching for him, he brought together the vision of what conservation on the island should be.”

She said the condition of Dorr’s property now is “just the opposite of what he valued and what inspired him.”

Goldstein said 2016, Acadia’s centennial year, is a particularly appropriate time to “reach back and recognize the importance of those who worked to make Acadia a national park.”

According to a National Park Service publication, Dorr was 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.”

“He persuaded and cajoled others to give lands or funds with which to acquire them, and he gave several parcels of his own.”

He served as Acadia’s first superintendent, from 1916 to 1944.

Dorr’s parents, wealthy Bostonians, built the large, shingle-style Oldfarm house in 1877. The estate also included barns, garages, a caretaker’s cottage, formal and informal gardens, greenhouses, a pond and a salt water swimming pool in Compass Harbor, where for much of his life, Dorr swam nearly every day.

Cole-Will said Dorr had wanted his Compass Harbor property, including the main house, to continue being used. Prior to deciding to leave it to Acadia, he offered it to President Franklin Roosevelt as a summer retreat.

Cole-Will said one of Roosevelt’s aides wrote to thank Dorr for the offer, but said the president felt he “would cause too much commotion in Bar Harbor, or something to that effect.”

In the late 1950s, Cole-Will said, Acadia officials considered locating the park headquarters, as well as housing for park employees, on the Dorr property.

Goldstein said the Somes Pond Center raised the funds for the cultural landscape assessment in collaboration with Friends of Acadia and with support from leaders of the Jackson Laboratory, MDI Biological Laboratory and Abbe Museum. She noted that Dorr had supported those three institutions “at their birth.”

Acadia has contracted with the Olmstead Center for Landscape Preservation, a unit of the National Park Service, to conduct the cultural landscape assessment of Oldfarm. Ericka Duym, a landscape architect who lives in Trenton, is handling the project for the Olmstead Center. She started in mid-November, and her final report is due in July.

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]
Dick Broom

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