Bar Harbor, Maine is located in Hancock County at 44.4° North and 68.2° West. The town is the best known settlement on Mount Desert Island, with a population of about 4900. The locals, as with the rest of the state of Maine, pronounces this town's name "bahaba." The town received the name from the sand bar that connects this part of Mount Desert Island to Bar Island in Frenchman Bay.
Mount Desert Island and the smaller islands that surround Bar Harbor were originally the summer fishing grounds for the local Abnaki tribe. Tribal fisherman would spend the summer on the islands in the area, setting up camps and living off of the fish that they caught. Samuel Champlain first explored the area for the French in 1604, landing on L'Isle des Monts Desert in order to repair his ship. Frenchman Bay was named after one of the first European settlers to the area, Antoine Launay de la Mothe Cadillac, for whom Cadillac Mountain is also named.
The small settlement of Eden was incorporated in 1796 (the town would not change its name to Bar Harbor until a town meeting in 1918). During the early part of the 19th Century, artists such as Frederic Edwin Church, Thomas Cole, Fitz Hugh Lane, William Hart and Thomas Birch came to Mount Desert Island popularized the area through their landscape paintings. The first hotel, Agamont House, was built in 1855.
A steamboat wharf was built in Bar Harbor after the Civil War, which made access to the area for tourists all the easier. Alpheus Hardy built the first "cottage" in Bar Harbor in 1868. Soon these cottages sprung up around the town, most of them being more expansive and elegant that the local's homes. Many hotels were also built, and the town was soon one of the most popular tourist getaways in New England.
Boston resident George B. Dorr sponsored a petition to set aside a large chunk of Mount Desert Island as a national park in the early 20th Century. With the help of Charles Elliot and John D. Rockefeller, the government set aside 6000 acres as the Sieur de Monts monument. In 1919, the name of the park was changed to Lafayette National Park, and again in 1929 to Acadia National Park.
The Bar Harbor Fire of 1947 brought an end to the cottage era in the town. In all, the fire consumed 17000 acres of the island, including 67 summer cottages, 170 local homes, and every hotel in town. While local residents quickly rebuilt their homes, the grand cottages of the earlier century never returned to the same extent. The area of the park that was burned soon grew back, increasing the diversity of the wildlife in the park.
The College of the Atlantic is located in Bar Harbor. The college was founded in 1969 to provide an ecological approach to education. Courses of study include both undergraduate and graduate degrees in Human Ecology. The College of the Atlantic is in charge of the Mount Desert Rock and Great Duck Island lighthouses, using these location to study the local ecology.
The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor is the home of the world's largest mammalian genetic research facility. The laboratory is dedicated to research to discover cures for disease, and the instruction of students in the field of experimental genetics. The laboratory distributes mice for other institutions to use in genetic research, supplying nearly 2 million mice since the lab's inception.
The Cat, the fastest car ferry in North America, makes several trips daily across the Bay of Fundy to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia from Bar Harbor. Taking the ferry to Nova Scotia instead off driving takes 600 miles off the trip. The ferry operates between mid-May and mid-October.
Bar Harbor is still a very busy tourist town. Dozens of restaurants, souvenir shops, and other stores line the main streets. There are many B&Bs and hotels in the area to stay at, and many campgrounds in and around the Park for naturalists.
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