Viewpoint: Consider the opportunity at Hamilton Hill 

In the rush to cater to the status quo, it seems that stakeholders on Mount Desert Island forgot to consider the opportunity to develop Hamilton Hill into a public space of international cultural significance. Not building something great atop the hill amongst the ruins overlooking downtown Bar Harbor is a loss for the community. The daily ruptures from blasting the hill for a housing development is a reminder of this. Area leadership must think creatively and for the long-termnot simply what is more routine development. Failing to take advantage of this remarkable site shows a lack of vision from community leadership. 

The ruins of Thirlstane, atop Hamilton Hill, which burned in the fire of 1947. For decades thereafter, the space was cherished by the public. It is now slated for a housing development.
Photo by Michael Gale

The remaining acres surrounding the Thirlstane ruins are currently available. This is an interesting opportunity for the right group of stakeholders to come together and create something really unique. Finding new ways to generate social and economic prosperity will create long-term benefits for the surrounding community.  

Think what a Glimmerglass or a Tanglewood in Bar Harbor could have done for both the hotel tourists and residents. A bastion of human expressionand this one within walking distance of the town and accommodations. Both of the above groups bring in millions in revenue for their respective towns. All of this is independent of the vagaries to which the cruise lines are subject.  

After the fire of 1947, Hamilton Hill became a community asset where anyone could roam. There are great photos of the remains of the estate atop the Hill, Thirlstane, its charred granite ruins and retaining walls and chimneys strikingly monumental over the Beatrix Farrand-designed landscape. Besides the formal garden was a blue-tiled indoor swimming pool where one could walk through the tunnel, which went around, and look through the portholes into the pool. And beyond this, in the corner, a round castle-like stone turret with a fireplace. There were roads all over leading to various foundations of hot houses and outbuildings dotted with fire hydrants that didn’t apparently see any use during the fire. There were great 10-foot marble pillars, purportedly from the Drexel bank in New York. Combined with the scenery overlooking Bar Harbor, the mountains and Kebo Valley, it was like Mount Desert Island’s own version of the Acropolis of Athens.  

As one person said, “You could look for treasures and dream what took place there. No one cared that you were up there. Paradise on a hill!” 

The stakeholders of Mount Desert must join together to see that such opportunities are not forsaken.  


Sargent Collier lives in Bar Harbor  


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