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Maps of Acadia National Park

Early European Maps | British Maps | Nineteenth Century Nautical Charts | Mount Desert Island | USGS Maps | National Park Service Maps of Acadia | Acadia Bibliography

Map of the Discovery of the East Coast of the United States, 1856.
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Acadia, established in 1919, was the first national park east of the Mississippi River. It was also the first national park on a coast, and the first to be donated to the federal government by private individuals who gave land that they had previously owned as well as land specifically purchased, in order to preserve it for the use of the public.

The park is located along the coast of Maine and is easily recognized from the sea by a row of barren hills of pink granite shaped by glaciers. Its highest point, Cadillac Mountain, is more than 1500 feet above sea level. Today the park includes these mountains, wooded areas and the rugged sea coast of parts of Mount Desert Island and the Schoodic Peninsula across Frenchman Bay to the east, and a portion of Isle au Haut, an island to the southwest.

Although three different Native American cultures lived on or visited Mount Desert Island before its exploration by Europeans, none of them created maps that have survived to the present. Recorded history and mapmaking of the area that was eventually incorporated into the park began during the Age of Discovery, when Europeans started to explore the Americas. It is believed, however, that the French used information obtained from Native Americans about the interior lands and waterways of the North American continent on the earliest maps that they produced.


Early European Maps (Top)

Some of the early maps of the area were made by European explorers whose routes are indicated in color on a composite map drawn by Johann Georg Kohl, a German geographer, in 1856. His Map of the Discovery of the East Coast of the United States names many of the explorers who sailed along specific stretches of the coast, indicating the dates and approximate areas of their voyages.

Kohl shows the route taken by Giovanni da Verrazano, an Italian in the service of France, who was one of the first Europeans to see Mount Desert Island in 1524. He made a permanent contribution to place names in the area, for he is credited with giving the name "Acadia" to the entire region that now includes Maine, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.

Map of the northeast coast of North America, 1607, drawn by Samuel de Champlain...
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Another significant explorer and excellent mapmaker, Samuel de Champlain, first visited the coast of Maine in 1604. Champlain accompanied Sieur de Monts, whose grant from King Henry IV of France included the area between Philadelphia and Montreal. Champlain's primary legacy is the detailed journals describing his travels, which were later published. To accompany his accounts, he drew beautiful and highly accurate maps of the North American coastline. His earliest manuscript map, dated 1607, is in the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress.

It was Champlain who named the large island where Acadia National Park is situated "l'Isle des Monts-deserts," meaning "the island of bare mountains." He also named Isle au Haut, and both of these landmarks are shown on his 1607 map.

The published version of Champlain's manuscript map appeared in 1612. By the mid 1620s, and for 150 years thereafter, most of the great cartographers showed Mount Desert Island by name on their maps, whatever the scale of the map or their own nationality. Many of them also identified Isle au Haut, although none showed either island to scale, primarily because most of the maps were drawn to a scale so small that it would ordinarily have precluded showing and labeling these areas. Their placement on early European maps served to identify these locations as landmarks that helped sailors navigate the dangerous waters off the coast of Maine.

British Maps of North America (Top)

Although the earliest exploration of the north Atlantic coast was undertaken by the French, the English also claimed the area from the Carolinas to Nova Scotia. One of the most accurate early English maps was published by Thomas Bowen in 1747. Maps were produced in part to substantiate the claims of various European powers to the lands of North America. The matter was not definitively settled until 1763, when the British defeated the French to end the Seven Years' French and Indian War. The peace treaty provided that the territory of Maine become part of the British Empire under the administration of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. French influence in the region is still visible today, however, in place names such as Cadillac Mountain, named for the French explorer Antoine Laumet, Sieur de Cadillac, and the name of the park itself.

By the second half of the 18th century, in response to the need for better information about her North American colonies, Britain began producing more detailed, larger-scale maps of the North American continent. The John Mitchell map, first published in 1755, is an example of the highly accurate and beautifully engraved maps of that era. One of the most famous maps in American history, it provided the cartographic information used in negotiating the Treaty of Paris that concluded the American Revolutionary War and established the United States. Although the area included in Acadia National Park was shown on the Mitchell map, it wasn't until Thomas Jefferys made his map of New England in 1775 and published it the next year that a mapmaker noted that the island was not drawn to scale and that it appeared as though it were being seen from a distance of fifteen leagues, about forty-five miles offshore.

British military engineers began to survey the coastline of North America during the 1770s, and detailed coastal charts based on these surveys were published. Samuel Holland, the Surveyor General for the Northern District, was responsible for the compilation of many of the maps and charts drawn from original surveys of the northern coast. The first large-scale map of Mount Desert Island was produced under his direction. Two additional charts included the waters in the vicinity of Acadia National Park. These charts became part of a large collection of maps and charts used by the British Navy during the American Revolution. They were engraved and compiled by Joseph Frederick Wallet Des Barres under the collective title of The Atlantic Neptune. Large volumes of these highly detailed nautical charts, some with views of prominent landforms and harbors, were individually compiled for sea captains sailing to America. No two volumes appear to be the same and each contains a variety of printings or editions of the charts. The later charts contain more detail and include information such as soundings showing the depths of coastal waters, specific locations of hazards such as rocks and shallow areas, hachures indicating the topography of the land with its elevated areas, and cultural geographic features such as roads, cultivated and wooded areas, and man-made structures. Later editions of the Mount Desert Island plate clearly show settlements in the areas of Somesville, Southwest and Northeast Harbors, Hulls Cove, Bar Harbor, and Bass Harbor. It would be another century before more detailed maps of the area were produced.

Maine, Bar Harbor, 1885
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Nineteenth-Century Nautical Charts (Top)

Because the area's economy and transportation system were sea based, requiring detailed navigational charts, The Atlantic Neptune charts continued to be used well into the nineteenth century. In the interim between the production of eighteenth-century British nautical charts and those made by the United States government during the second half of the nineteenth century, only a few privately produced charts were published. Captain Seward Porter's Chart of the Coast of Maine, dated 1837, was such a chart. The sheets of this sailing chart show only information about the waters off of the coast; sheets 4 and 5 pertain to the area now included in the park.

So important was the need for scientifically based, detailed, and accurate charts that the U.S. government soon became the major producer of charts of coastal areas including the areas around Mount Desert Island. These nautical charts were compiled by the United States Coast Survey, later renamed the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. They included extensive information about the land, which later formed the basis for topographic maps of land areas, including those produced by the U.S. Geological Survey.


Privately Produced Maps of Mount Desert Island (Top)

Before the Civil War, artists began visiting Mount Desert Island. In addition to having a cool climate with opportunities for outdoor recreation both on land and sea. The island's popularity as a scenic summer resort was increasingly publicized by the work of visiting artists who sketched and painted the area's natural beauty.

Several kinds of maps were published in the latter part of the nineteenth and in the early twentieth centuries, many of which used the U.S Coast and Geodetic Survey maps as their base. The county landownership map--a popular cartographic product during this period--usually superimposed landowners' names and property lines on a base map. These maps frequently included advertisements for local businesses and were often financed
Detail of Map of Mount Desert Island, 1887.
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through subscription. George N. Colby and J. H. Stuart made a landownership map for Hancock County, Maine which shows all of Mount Desert Island, in 1887, the same year that they published a similar map for the town of Bar Harbor.

Transportation to the coast of Maine from the urban northeast was initially by ship, followed by the railroad. To promote tourism, railroad companies often published maps showing access by rail to Mount Desert Island, as well as other national parks including Grand Canyon.

With the expansion of major urban areas, scenic and sparsely settled places increasingly came to be valued for recreational purposes. In 1893 Edward Rand, who studied the flora of Mount Desert Island, created the first of several maps for visitors interested in the natural history of the area.

Other individuals and groups, including the Summer Residents Association of Bar Harbor, also made maps that were primarily designed for tourists. As these were revised over time and as land began to be set aside for parks, park areas were shown in green and labeled "reservations." Some of these maps focused on hiking trails and came to be known as "path maps." In addition to park lands and paths, the maps also depicted changing town boundaries, roads, cleared and wooded areas, and the topography and hydrography of Mount Desert Island.

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Maps of Acadia National Park (Top)

The story of the creation of Acadia National Park can be traced through the maps produced by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and later, the National Park Service.

A group of civic-minded citizens, primarily summer residents who visited Mount Desert Island during the warmer months of the year and built summer homes referred to as "cottages," regardless of their size, had a strong interest in preserving the natural areas surrounding the towns of Bar Harbor, Seal Harbor, and other villages on the island.

In 1903, the Maine legislature allowed the group to establish a corporation whose purpose was to acquire and maintain lands in Hancock County for public use. The corporation, known as the Trustees of Public Reservations, acquired land through donations and purchase over a period of many years. Through the efforts of Charles W. Eliot, its president, and George B. Dorr, its vice president, who later came to be known as the "father" of Acadia National Park, the Trustees gradually obtained scenic areas and outlooks, streams and springs, and other areas suitable for hiking and outdoor sports.
Sieur de Monts National Monument, Mount Desert Island, Maine, 1916.
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Although there was some local opposition to the Trustees' mission, great persistence and even greater generosity on the part of many individuals enabled the group to offer the reservation lands to the federal government for a park in 1914. The American Antiquities Act of 1906, proved to be an appropriate vehicle for donating approximately 5000 acres to the federal government as a national monument. In 1916, President Wilson signed the proclamation creating Sieur de Monts National Monument, named for the leader of the French expedition to the New World that was documented by Champlain.

The Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations recognized that what they had achieved was only a beginning. They continued to obtain land that included points of historic interest or natural beauty, such as forest tracts sheltering wildlife, meadows and woodlands filled with wildflowers, and pools and ponds that would contribute to making the area a sanctuary for plant and animal life. The Trustees also recognized the area's value as a setting for the scientific study of natural history and geology, as well as a place where urban dwellers could directly experience the peace and beauty of coastal Maine.

By 1919, the national park system was well established, and through the efforts of George Dorr, Sieur de Monts National Monument was renamed Lafayette National Park, in honor of France's role in securing American independence. The name also recognized the close relationship between French and American efforts during World War I. In 1922, USGS created a new map of the national park that reflected its new name, its status as a national park, and the expansion of its boundaries through additional land acquisition.

New legislation, passed in 1929, authorized the government to accept additional gifts of land beyond the limits of Mount Desert Island. Almost immediately, the park was enlarged to include parts of the Schoodic Peninsula and was renamed Acadia National Park at the request of the donor of the Schoodic land.

USGS created a new topographic map in 1931 that included, in addition to the Schoodic gift, several newly acquired tracts on the western side of the island, and shoreline property, including frontage on Somes Sound. It is the first USGS map to include Cadillac Mountain's summit within the park's boundaries. Although newly compiled in 1931, it was based on surveys made in 1901-2, illustrating the cumulative nature of cartographic information.

Subsequent editions of the USGS topographic map, some showing elevation by contours, others by shaded relief, continued to document the growth and development of the park. The 1942 edition of the map was drawn to a larger scale and reflected additional lands added to the park, including a large gift from the Rockefeller family in the southeastern part of Mount Desert Island. The family also donated a tract of spectacular ocean frontage and proposed extending scenic Ocean Drive for the use of automobiles.


U.S. National Park Service (NPS) Maps of Acadia National Park (Top)

The National Park Service began publishing guides to Acadia National Park and its vicinity to aid visitors in exploring the roads, trails, and coastal areas of the park with information that was either unavailable or was difficult to see on the USGS maps. Initially the visitor guides were published as brochures with very basic maps, their purpose being primarily to show routes to various points of interest.

Detail of National Wetlands Inventory, [Maine], 1979.
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The earliest separate map of the national park appeared in 1949, with much of the earlier information from the brochure printed on the verso. This and subsequent maps produced by the National Park Service enabled visitors to use the trails and carriage paths throughout the park. Most of the recently published commercial and thematic maps of Acadia are based on the USGS and NPS maps.

In 1952, portions of Isle au Haut and a small tract on Little Cranberry Island were added to the park and are reflected in the 1956 edition of the map. Other newly acquired land shown on that edition of the map includes Bald Porcupine Island, the site of the Baker Island lighthouse, and large tracts of land between Eagle Lake and Hulls Cove.

The August 1995 edition of the National Park Service map of Acadia National Park shows not only the park boundaries but also the conservation easement held by the Park Service. The purpose of easements surrounding national parks is to protect their fragile ecosystems from damage through inappropriate use of adjacent land and water.

Growing awareness of the value of wetlands and their role in the environment led to a national survey of the classification of wetlands by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service during the 1970s. The Bar Harbor sheet shows an area far larger than the name suggests, including islands that are part of the park as well as some not within the park's boundaries. The map was made though aerial and infrared photography. In addition to showing the classifications of wetlands and water habitats, the map also shows vegetation and manmade structures.

Among the historical features of Acadia National Park are the beautifully designed and constructed carriage roads which are primarily restricted to pedestrian and equestrian use. In 1913, John D. Rockefeller Jr. began building the first carriage road on his Seal Harbor estate. He initiated this project in response to the arrival on the island of the automobile, which had previously been banned, and his desire to preserve roads exclusively for the use of horses and carriages. Through his efforts, an extensive system of carriage roads was eventually built. Originally the paths were built solely on his own property, but they became so popular not only with horsemen, but also with hikers and bicyclists, that upon his death the system of more than 50 miles was donated to the park by the Rockefeller family. The entire project was documented in 1989 in a National Park Service study that included a map of both the carriage and motor vehicle roads in the park.

Acadia is one of the most frequently visited and beloved of our national parks. It is a monument to the foresight of its founders and the generosity of the many private donors who contributed their property and labor to create it for present and future generations.

Patricia Molen van Ee
Specialist in American Cartography
Geography and Map Division
Library of Congress

Acadia Bibliography

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