Cadillac Mountain on Mount Desert Island, Maine, where at 1,528 feet above sea level, the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard, early risers can greet “the dawn’s earliest light” to reach the United States.
Mount Desert (pronounced by locals as “de-ZERT”) is the second-largest island in the Northeast, behind Long Island, N.Y.
Cadillac Mountain is located within Acadia National Park, one of the Top 10 most visited parks in the country. The 49,052-acre park comprises about half of Mount Desert Island and portions of 16 smaller outlying islands.
Acadia was established by President Woodrow Wilson in July 1916 as Sieur de Monts National Monument and was redubbed Lafayette National Park in February 1919 as the first national park east of the Mississippi River. The current name of Acadia National Park was officially settled on in January 1929. The name Acadia derives from Arcadia, a region of Greece of which explorer Giovanni Verrazano was reminded when he sailed past the area in 1524.
Mount Desert Island was originally inhabited by the Abnaki Indians, who favored the temperate coastal weather on the island during winter before venturing further inland for hunting and fishing in the spring.
Sunrises haven’t been the only draw for visitors. The national park contains a stunning variety of natural features, including rocky coastlines, granite mountains, lakes, ponds, evergreens and a menagerie of wildlife, such as various species of wolf, beaver, deer, elk, grey seal, sea mink, raccoon, lynx and muskrat.
Visionary entrepreneurs George B. Door, known as the Father of Acadia National Park, and Charles W. Eliot, also instrumental in the park’s creation, worked tirelessly in the late 19th and early 20th century to preserve the land’s pristineness for posterity.
John D. Rockefeller Jr., an accomplished horseman, funded and developed 45 miles of meandering carriage roads throughout the island, always meticulously assuring the construction was compatible with the natural landscape of the area. The broken stone paths are still maintained by the National Park Service and the nonprofit organization, Friends of Acadia.
Decades earlier, rusticators, those who appreciated the primitive living condition on the island for their summer vacations, carved more than 100 miles of hiking trails and walking paths.
During the unprecedented financial profligacy of the 1880s and Gay Nineties, Mount Desert Island served as the summer home of such notable families as the Morgans, Fords, Vanderbilts, Carnegies and Astors, who built extravagantly lavish estates they called “cottages.”
Life was good for the upper-crusters for four decades, until the Great Depression and World War II scuttled much of that carefree lifestyle. The coup de grâce occurred in 1947 when a widespread fire destroyed many of the elegant estates.
Today the island hosts four modest municipalities with a collective year-round population of 10,535 and most of the park’s 3.5 million yearly seasonal visitors lodging further inland.
Bar Harbor, population 5,089, situated on the island’s northeast shore, is home to Cadillac Mountain. The town was settled in 1763, incorporated as Eden on Feb. 23, 1796, and renamed Bar Harbor on March 3, 1918.
Early industries included fishing, lumbering, shipbuilding and agriculture, particularly dairy farming.
The town served as a staging area for torpedo practice during World War II.
Mount Desert, population 2,146, was incorporated in 1789. It consists of the middle third of the island and serves as the governing body of half a dozen distinct villages.
The municipality operates under a town manager and five elected selectmen. Full-time, year-round officials include the town clerk, police and fire departments, assessor, code enforcement officer, highway and sewer department, harbormaster and financial officer.
Southwest Harbor, population 1,756, is located on the island’s southwestern side — known as “the quiet side” — and contains five villages within its boundaries.
Several boat companies operate their businesses in Southwest Harbor, and the U.S. Coast Guard maintains a multipurpose facility in town.
The Claremont Hotel, built in 1883, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Tremont, population 1,544, was settled in 1762 and incorporated as Mansel on June 3, 1848. Two months later, the town was renamed Tremont, French for “three mountains.”
By 1880, the town boast more than 2,000 residents and supported a sawmill, gristmill, shingle mill, shipyard and brickyard. Fishing and fish curing were also major industries.
Today, Tremont subsists largely on the tourist trade.