BAR HARBOR — Every year, scores of Mount Desert Island residents take particular interest in the comings and goings of visiting vessels. In recent years, large motor yachts such as Fountainhead, owned by Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, have gotten residents talking.
But for many years, some of the most impressive vessels to grace our docks, mooring fields and anchorages were military ones.
Bar Harbor resident Jonathan Eno has just completed a coffee table book chronicling these, called “Naval Visits to Frenchman’s Bay.” It covers many of the ship visits, bases and other activity between 1854 and 2014. The large, nearly-700-page limited-edition book is not for sale but may be enjoyed at local libraries, historical societies and museums.
Eno always has been fascinated with history, naval history in particular. His father was in the naval reserve in World War II, working at a naval aircraft factory. Eno said he absorbed his Dad’s enthusiasm for history. He began building model boats at an early age.
“Growing up here every summer,” he said, “one of the great things to me was looking forward to seeing what [boats] came over the Fourth of July, and in August.”
Back then, he was familiar with Nelson Rockefeller’s yacht Dragon Lady, which was built as a fast dispatch boat for the U.S. Navy and used by the British Royal Navy under lend-lease in WWII. It was built in New York State, but the same type of motor launch also was built in Ellsworth at the Thorsen yard. Rockefeller reportedly bought the boat as war surplus equipment for $10 and lengthened the hull for use as a yacht.
Eno got started on this book project when he accompanied his wife to an antique show at the Black House in Ellsworth several years ago.
“I came upon this little booklet called ‘Naval Visits to Bar Harbor’ 1952 by Leonard Updike,” he said. The Updikes were an old summer family, and Leonard was a noted historian. “According to his son, Updike wrote the booklet on a whim on his own, just for his own information and enjoyment.” It was published in the Bar Harbor Times in 1952.
Eno sees his book as a companion piece to that original booklet, which he received permission to reprint in its entirety in the book. “It would just be photographs of all the ships that Leonard Updike found,” he said, “and then bringing it up to date.” He also added information about some of the military installations that used to be on or around MDI over the years.
He imagined the project would take about six months, but the massive undertaking took more than eight years before the finished book went to the printer.
There’s the second-class battleship Maine, which graces the cover of the book and is commemorated in memorials across the country, including ones in Bangor and Lewiston.
Other ships were ocean liners or private yachts used in war or other government efforts.
Corsair, for example, was seen here in 1912 and 1919. It was built in 1899 in Newburgh, N.Y., as a private yacht for financier J.P. Morgan. It was acquired by the Navy in 1917 and commissioned as USS Corsair for two years of service patrolling for submarines in Europe before being returned to Morgan. Then, in 1930, it became USC&GS Oceanographer when working for the US Coast and Geodesic Survey. The Navy took it back in 1942, and it served as a survey ship (AGS-3) in the Pacific Theater in World War II as USS Oceanographer. Corsair was broken up for scrap when its second Navy service was complete, per agreement with Morgan.
Eno searched far and wide for the photos in the book, which came from private collections, newspapers, boatbuilding companies, the National Archives and the U.S. Navy. The brief text description with each photo, he said, “is all established history, already published in a book somewhere.”
In some cases, though, he dug into primary sources to set the record straight. It turns out ships’ deck logs are among the most requested documents in the National Archives.
One of those concerns a visit by the destroyer USS Preston to Bar Harbor, Lamoine and Northeast Harbor in 1913. Then-Lieutenant William F. Halsey Jr., who would become Admiral “Bull” Halsey, picked up then-Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt at Campobello, wanting to take him to inspect the East Lamoine Naval Fueling Station. The coal depot was located where Lamoine State Park is today.
“In Halsey’s biography and his autobiography, he tells the story, but he tells it wrong. He tells it that he brought his ship, as captain, to Newport, R.I., and from there to Campobello to pick up Roosevelt and then come down to MDI. Only problem is, his ship never left Charleston, South Carolina, where it was in reserve.”
It took Eno almost two years to sort this out, because there also was no mention in local newspapers of Halsey’s ship ever having been here.
“One day, going through our microfiche again, I found this little tiny blurb in the “About Town” section. A ship that had been in Halsey’s division, the group of four ships he was in charge of as commander, spent the night in Somes Sound. So he did come up, and he came up with two of the ships from his division, but not his ship, the one he was captain of.”
Among the places receiving donated copies of “Naval Visits to Mount Desert Island and Frenchman’s Bay” are the Jesup Memorial Library in Bar Harbor, Northeast Harbor Library, Southwest Harbor Public Library and Bass Harbor Memorial Library, Bar Harbor and Mount Desert Island Historical Societies and the Great Harbor Maritime Museum.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the title of the book.