Eliot vision for Acadia



To the Editor:

As we gear up for the 2016 centennial of Acadia National Park, it is worthwhile to recall that this is the 125th anniversary of a publication that provided the vision for this cherished landscape.

Horticulturist Charles S. Sargent, a cousin of George B. Dorr, not only established Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum, he published the serial “Garden and Forest,” which provided from 1888 to 1897 a botanical forum for the emerging profession of landscape design.

On Feb. 19, 1890, Sargent published therein two brief articles by 30-year-old landscape architect Charles Eliot that profoundly influenced the course of the emerging conservation movement. “The Waverly Oaks” provided the impetus for the 1891 establishment of the Massachusetts Trustees of Reservations, while “The Coast of Maine” challenged the State of Maine to utilize legislation to form associations to preserve “chosen parts of her coastal scenery … [to] secure for the future an important element in her material prosperity.”

More to the point, “when the poor hamlet of Bar Harbor leaped into fame through the resort to it of a few well known landscape painters, it became evident that the whole coast was destined to be a much frequented summer resort.” Eleven years after publication of “The Coast of Maine,” the author’s father, Harvard University president Charles William Eliot, invited village residents to Seal Harbor to realize on this island – through formation of the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations – his deceased son’s goal. The State of Maine had failed to act, but a Massachusetts transplant who had resided in Northeast Harbor for the last 20 years had not.

Even with the splendors of Acadia National Park now fully protected, residents remain sensitive to Eliot’s forewarnings about how “this annual flood of humanity” threatens this island “of that flavor of wildness and remoteness.” This tension between popularity and conservation challenges residents, village officials and park management. One measure of the success of the centennial celebrations of 2016 should be action on innovative proposals to mitigate this tension first articulated by Frederick Law Olmsted’s partner, Charles Eliot.

Ronald H. Epp

Lebanon, Pa.

 

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