Somesville: A View of Mount Desert From Somes Cove, c. 1870


The Island of Mount Desert in northern Maine is one of America’s most treasured natural wonders. From its rocky shoreline through its fertile valleys to its granite mountain ranges it has, since its discovery by pioneers, held a fascination as a gem of pristine wilderness. To the nation’s great fortune the area became the north east’s only National Park for the people in 1916.

Almost circular in configuration, the island is divided in its center by what is said to be America’s only fjord. Somes Sound was formed by a glacier which sliced a wide, steep sided, half a mile to a mile wide, body of water running north and south, almost dividing the island in half.

In 1762 Abraham Somes, at the age of 22, moved with his family from Gloucester MA to Mount Desert Island – “to the wilderness” in search of greater opportunities in fishing and lumbering, as an extension of his family’s Gloucester interests. When he first sailed to the area in 1761 in a chebacco boat (a popular and highly seaworthy Gloucester fishing craft with mast forward, wide beam, sharp high stern and a tiller), Somes discovered the island’s Indians to be most friendly. When asking what it would cost to purchase an island he liked the look of, one that was endowed with great stands of oak, pine and spruce, timbers eminently suitable for shipbuilding, as well as birch and beech, he was told it would be “a lot.” This apparently turned out to be “one whole gallon” of liquor. Transacting this deal, he followed up by buying another island for an additional two quarts!

The scene is right at the location of what is now the Port in the Storm bookstore on the road to Southwest Harbor, very near to Abraham Somes’ initial dwelling. It is painted prior to the construction of a blacksmith’s shop adjacent to it. This building, which was formerly A.J. Whiting’s store and later Fernald’s store, is relatively unchanged today.

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