First-time visitors to Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island are sometimes surprised to find that the island is, well, not a desert at all. Speak to enough old Mainers, however, and you’ll hear the name’s traditional pronunciation: mount de-SERT, as in “deserted island.” Samuel de Champlain, a French explorer, gave Mount Desert Island its name after local American Indian guides showed him the island in 1604. Noting that the mountains were mostly bare of trees, he named it L’Isle des Monts-déserts, or “The Island of Barren Mountains.” The locals use both pronunciations equally these days, so don’t worry about trying to fit in—just make sure you don’t pronounce the O in “Bangor” and you’ll be fine.
During the colonial era, Mount Desert Island was largely uninhabited, but in the middle of the 19th century, artists and journalists who admired its natural beauty discovered it. The island soon became a retreat for wealthy families like the Rockefellers, Astors, and Carnegies, who summered in lavish estates built on the mountainsides.
One of these affluent visitors was a fifteen-year-old boy named George B. Dorr, whose parents owned a cottage on Mount Desert Island. As he grew older, Dorr became alarmed by the island’s expanding development and started to buy as much land as he could, eventually acquiring about 6,000 acres by 1913. He offered the land to the federal government in order to preserve it for the general public, and in 1916 President Wilson established the Sieur de Monts National Monument on the George Dorr-donated land. Still not satisfied, Dorr continued buying land and expanding the monument while lobbying for full national park status. He achieved his goal in 1919, when Acadia National Park was founded. In honor of his hard work, Dorr was named superintendent of the park and spent the rest of his life expanding and preserving it for future generations.
To learn more about Mount Desert Island, check out our Acadia National Park & Bar Harbor Self-Guided Driving and Walking Tour, or you can sign up for Action+ to gain access to over 100 tours for a single yearly price.