ACADIA NAT’L PARK — Aside from the foundation of the main house and the steps leading down toward the water, there’s not much left of what was Old Farm, the Compass Harbor estate of George B. Dorr, who is known as the father of Acadia.
But now, if you have a smart phone, you can download a free app and learn about Old Farm and the man who lived there as you take a virtual tour.
Marie Yarborough, curator of Acadia’s William Otis Sawtelle Collections & Research Center, said it was decided early on that a virtual tour would be more appropriate, more interesting and less obtrusive than trailside exhibits or interpretive signs.
Old Farm is off Main Street in Bar Harbor, about a mile south of the Village Green.
Dorr donated the 58-acre property to Acadia in 1942, two years before his death. The estate included the 30-room main house, which his parents built in 1880 as their summer home, the Storm Beach Cottage, a barn and several other outbuildings.
Following World War II, the National Park Service began questioning the value of Old Farm.
“A decision was reached that the expense associated with preserving and maintaining Old Farm for public use was too heavy for the park service to bear,” the virtual tour narration explains.
The park service demolished all of the buildings except the cottage in the 1950s.
“There’s really not a lot there that we could reclaim,” Yarborough said. “Once natural and cultural resources are gone, you can’t bring them back, but you can use digital platforms to help bridge the gap between what was here then and what is here now.
“We have objects from Old Farm and historic images in our collection. So, we looked at how we could use those to recreate digitally the story of George Dorr’s love of that place and how it was a place of inspiration for him as he created Acadia.”
The virtual tour draws heavily on Dorr’s own writings.
“It was the wonderful beauty of the flowers that grew so naturally and simply in my mother’s garden by the sea at Old Farm that more than aught else led me along the way … to the founding of Acadia National Park,” he wrote.
According to a National Park Service publication, Dorr “spent most of his adult life bringing the park into being, caring for the park and expanding it.” He served as the park’s first superintendent, from its establishment as a national monument in 1916 to 1944.
The map of Old Farm that you see when you download the app has numbers that correspond to the numbers on small posts around the property. When you press on a number on the map, up pops a narrated video montage of historic images that relate to that site.
This is the first virtual tour of a historic site that Acadia has produced. Yarborough, as project manager, coordinated the planning and content development. The technical elements and creation of the app were handled by a team headed by Mike Kelly, an adjunct faculty member in the School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability at Northern Arizona University and a specialist in digital media design.
“We don’t have that expertise here,” Yarborough said. “But the park service has agreements in place that lets us work with universities and colleges that have experts [in various fields]. There are long-standing relationships that help us get the work done with the best people.”
Three years ago, the park commissioned a comprehensive inventory and assessment of the Dorr property’s historic features.
“We’ve never had the baseline documentation to help us decide what an appropriate level of treatment or management should be,” Rebecca Cole-Will, Acadia’s chief of resource management, said at the time.
Landscape architect Ericka Duym headed the project.
“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,” Duym said.
Rather than restoring or reconstructing Old Farm, Cole-Will said the park would maintain it as a natural area, “applying a light touch that respects the existing conditions.”
She said that approach would allow for such things as repairing wobbly stone steps to make them safe, stabilizing the foundation of the Manor House, removing trees that have fallen across paths and managing invasive plant species.
Yarborough said Duym’s inventory of Old Farm’s historic features provided valuable material for the virtual tour, which became available for download in mid June.
To take the tour, Yarborough said, “You go to the App Store and search for Old Farm, and it just pops up and you download it. We think it is a pretty simple application you can use to learn about the history of Compass Harbor, the history of Old Farm and the history of George Dorr’s presence there.
“We wanted to make sure that whatever we did there wasn’t going to add too much to that space because there’s a history of people really loving it as it is.”