For around 12,000 years, long before Maine became a state, the land was inhabited by Native American people known as the Wabanaki. Also known as the “People of the Dawnland.” This is a very fitting name considering Acadia National Park is one of the first places in the United States to see the sunrise each day. The Wabanaki today is made up of four distinct tribes: the Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot. Mount Desert Island was known by the Wabanaki people as Pemetic, meaning “the sloping land” or “range of mountains.” It is believed the Wabanaki arrived in seaworthy birchbark canoes long before any European Settlers set foot on the land. They were hunter and gatherers known for collecting shellfish, gathering plants and berries, fishing, hunting, dancing and using local resources to create baskets and tools. The Wabanaki tribes would often trade amongst themselves and as European Settlers came to the land, they would sell handmade ash and birchbark baskets to the more wealthy visitors.
The European record of Mount Desert Isle begins with a visit from a Frenchman named Samuel Champlain on September 5, 1604. In his journal he wrote, “The mountain summits are all bare and rocky….. I name it Isles des Monts Déserts.” Thus, the new name “Mount Desert Island” was born. Shortly after, French Jesuits established the first French mission in America on Mount Desert Island claiming the territory as part of New France, but their time there was short-lived. An English ship commanded by Captain Samuel Argall attacked the French settlers throwing the territory into a contested status for the next 150 years. Only briefly was Mount Desert Island inhabited during that time by a young Frenchman named Antoine Laumet, bestowing upon himself the title Sieur de la Mothe Cadillac before asking for and receiving a hundred thousand acres of land along the Maine coast, land which included Mount Desert Island. Cadillac and his young bride resided there for a time but eventually moved further west where he became more widely known as the founder of Detroit. Still, his namesake, Cadillac Mountain, remains as a reminder of the part he played in Acadia’s history.
In 1759, British troops put an end French dominion in the territory and the territory, no longer contested, became part of New England. English settlements took root down the coastline farming, lumbering, fishing, and shipbuilding until the end of the Revolutionary war when England relinquished its claim on the land and Maine became part of the United States of America. Interestingly enough, it was affluent landowners at the turn of the century that played a key role in preserving the landscape now known as Acadia National Park. One such person, George B. Dorr, devoted 43 years of his life to the preservation of the Acadian landscape giving of his time, energy and wealth to ensure the land would be available for the enjoyment and enrichment of others for generations to come. Dorr offered the land to the federal government for preservation and in 1916 President Wilson announced the creation of Sieur de Monts National Monument. Dissatisfied with National Monument status, Dorr continued to acquire property to expand the size of the preservation and renewed his effort to obtain National Park Status for the land he loved.
In 1919, President Wilson signed an act promoting Sieur de Monts National Monument to National Park Status renaming it Lafayette National Park, in honor of the French general who aided the American Revolution. Dorr’s contribution to the preservation of the land did not go unrewarded. He was called “the greatest of one-man shows in the history of land conservation” and became the park’s first superintendent. But, Dorr wasn’t done yet. Dorr persuaded the government to change the name of Lafayette National Park to Acadia, a name inspired by the Greek region of Arcadia, which was a name used by early explorers in 1500s to describe America. Dorr felt Acadia was a more appropriate name for the national park and a better reflection of the heritage of the region which had been contested by early explorers. In 1929, the name Lafayette National Park was changed to Acadia National Park and today Acadia National Park is enjoyed by more than two million recreational visitors each year.