The final days of our Maine adventure were devoted to exploring Bar Harbor/Acadia National Park. On our way from Camden, we made two stops. The first was the Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory in Prospect. It’s one of only four bridge observatories in the world, the others being in China, Thailand, and Slovakia. Taller than the Statue of Liberty at 420 feet high (42 stories), it offers amazing views of the Penobscot River and surrounding area.
Only a short walk away is Fort Knox, a must see since we visited Henry Knox’ grave just the day before. Fort Knox was established in 1844 to protect the Penobscot River valley against a possible future British naval incursion following the War of 1812. Troops were garrisoned there in 1863 to 1866 and briefly during the Spanish American war in 1898, but Fort Knox never saw military action.
I didn’t glimpse another cemetery until later in the day after we’d arrived in Bar Harbor and had taken a bus tour of much of Mount Desert Island/Acadia National Park. My husband had to park the car some distance from where we caught the bus because in late June, Bar Harbor is packed with tourists.
On our walk back to the car, we stopped at a cemetery nestled between two fine looking churches. One is St. Saviour’s Episcopal Church (established in 1877) and the other is the Bar Harbor Congregational Church (established in 1883). St. Saviour’s boasts some beautiful Tiffany stained glass windows that I glimpsed from the cemetery.
The land was donated for the purpose of being a cemetery by Jonathan Rodick. Previously called the Rodick Family Burial Ground, it is now known as the Mount Desert Street Cemetery. A sign on the property refers to it as the Village Burying Grounds. Burials were taking place here before 1790 and many are unmarked.
The largest object in the cemetery is the Union monument dedicated in 1897. It was designed and built by the firm of Cook & Watkins of Boston, with granite supplied by N.H. Higgins of Ellsworth, Maine. It cost $4,500, with $4,000 paid by the Town of Bar Harbor and $500 from public subscription.
You’ll notice that the monument says “In Memory of Eden’s Sons Who Were Defenders of the Union.” First settled by Europeans in 1763 by Israel Higgins and John Thomas, Bar Harbor was incorporated on Feb. 23, 1796 as Eden. It was named after Sir Richard Eden, an English statesman. I couldn’t find when exactly Eden became Bar Harbor but it’s possible it happened before Maine became a state in 1820.
While this cemetery is a small one, it drove home something that I hadn’t really thought about before. Mothers of this era were painfully aware that their children might die in infancy or childhood due to a variety of illnesses, as the gravestone below testifies. But the mother of a sea captain had to worry that while her infant son may have avoided diphtheria, he could easily be dragged to a watery grave in his 20s.
Probably the most eye-catching marker in the cemetery is for Captain James Hamor. I’d now seen quite a few monuments featuring sailing ships, but this one has to be among the best I’ve seen. The detail is quite intricate.
Born in Bar Harbor in 1794, James Hamor was the son of David and Experience Thompson Hamor. The land upon which the current Bar Harbor Congregational Church building now sits was once owned by Capt. Hamor. He donated it with the purpose of the town using it to build a school on, which it did.
James married Clarissa Rodick in 1822. I’m not sure if they had any children. He served as postmaster at different times throughout the 1850s and 1860s.
He’ll ride no more the billows
Nor o’er the rolling wave
He has performed life’s final voyage
And anchored in the grave.
Capt. Hamor died at the age of 79 in 1873. Clarissa, who is buried beside him, died in 1888 at the age of 85.
The Higgins name features prominently in Eden/Bar Harbor history. According to Find a Grave, there are close to 70 people with Higgins in their name buried at the cemetery.
Son of town founder Israel Higgins and Mary “Polly” Snow Higgins, Capt. Israel Higgins, Jr. shares a stone with his wife, Mary “Polly” Hull Higgins. They had seven children, of which three lived well into adulthood (Stephen, Royal, and Sophia). Although Israel was lost at sea, there is no ship on his marker. Instead, it is topped by a winged hourglass and decorated midway down with two clasped hands.
The inscription notes that the stone was erected by Capt. R. G. Higgins and S. Higgins. I assume this was Israel and Polly’s son Royal Grant Higgins and his first wife, Sarah.
Israel was considered a master mariner and served as an Eden selectman in 1802, 1803, and 1809. He was in command of the schooner Julia Ann (his son Seth was also aboard), thought to be the first ship built in Bar Harbor in 1809. Israel and Seth died at sea on March 29, 1823 about 25 miles south of Sandy Hook, N.J., which is about 600 miles south of Bar Harbor.
Another of Israel and Polly’s sons, Capt. Stephen Higgins, is buried nearby. While there is an anchor on his marker, nothing indicates that he died at sea. I could find out very little about him. Son Jonathan did die at sea in June 1824 aboard the brig William on a voyage from Havana, Cuba to Portland, Maine. He was 24 years old.
This came less than a year after the death of his father. Polly had died before these two heartbreaking events took place.
Amid all the white stones, I did find a traditional slate one that was similar to many I saw at Eastern Cemetery in Portland. The son of Moses and Mary Day, John W. Day was 24 when he died in 1848. It features the familiar weeping willow and urn at the top.
The rain was conspiring against us so we headed on to the car, but my thoughts of that cemetery stayed with me. So many modern comforts have come to Bar Harbor since that seafaring era. Cell phones, fast food, fast cars. News came much more slowly then, such as word that someone’s ship had been torn apart in a storm or was splintered against a rocky shore in the darkness.
Weeping and sorrow surely followed as families prepared caskets and attended funerals. But alongside that grief must have rested a stoic acceptance that while the sea often swept some of Eden’s finest sons away, it kept the town alive and thriving. To stop accepting the challenge the ocean waves offered would deny their only livelihood, despite the fact she was often a painfully harsh mistress.