Beyond Arrowheads and Animal Bones at the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor

I’m a bona fide nerd and proud of it.  But, I realize that what appeals to me may not similarly captivate others, so, at least in my capacity as a blogger, I urge active use of the “Comment” function.  If something I found fascinating on Mount Desert Island was utterly boring to you, please let me – and our readers – know.  Comment.

With this strong sense of self-awareness, I visited the Abbe Museum in downtown Bar Harbor recently.  I know that high on everyone’s agenda for a visit to Acadia National Park are a trip to Cadillac Mountain, bike riding around Eagle Lake, tea at Jordan Pond House, and photographing the Bass Harbor Lighthouse.  But what are the alternatives on a rainy day in Bar Harbor?  Everyone wants to know.

It was chilly and drizzling rain, so we decided to visit The Abbe Museum.

Abbe Museum Downtown Bar Harbor

The museum actually has two sites – the original trailside museum at Sieur de Monts Spring and the newer home for the ever-expanding collection, which opened at 26 Mount Desert Street in downtown Bar Harbor in 2001.  The mission of both is to showcase the history and cultures of Maine’s native people, the Wabanaki, through changing exhibitions, special events, teacher workshops, and craft workshops for children and adults.

As we entered the renovated 1893 landmark, which has spacious, contemporary galleries, I was struck by a family with two young boys.  They had just finished an engaging conversation with the museum’s only docent and were enthusiastically referring to scavenger hunt master sheets as they pored over display cabinets of arrowheads, animal bones, and early tools.Mother and Son at Abbe Museum

As directed by the docent, I proceeded to a timeline, which was the entry point for the current major exhibition, Indians & Rusticators: Wabanakis and Summer Visitors on Mount Desert Island 1840s-1920s, which will end its run in December.  It immediately captured my imagination, because I live in Somesville, the first settlement on Mount Desert Island, founded in 1791.

There was an amazing handwritten piece by the great granddaughter of Daniel Somes about the family’s generosity in allowing the Indians to camp on the perimeters of “their” land at no cost; yet she herself yearned to be an Indian.

A basket from that period of the first settlers was the first among many.  The Abbe Museum has the largest and best documented collection of Maine Indian basketry.Basket exhibit Abbe Museum Bar Harbor

The exhibition’s timeline continued with the subsequent “discovery” of the island by artists starting with Thomas Cole and including Frederic Church and the other Hudson School painters.  The next period of Mount Desert history was the “development” of the island by rusticators, the wealthy who built massive cottages in Bar Harbor.

A while back I had learned that the first guide book to Mount Desert Island, which was very much a hiking guide, was written by a woman, Claire Barnes Martin, in 1877.  Since I’m an enthusiastic hiker, it was cool to see an original print of the book, along with a pair of women’s boots that would have been worn on these hikes.Lady's hiking boots Abbe Museum

Most fascinating was the demonstration of entrepreneurism of the Wabanakis throughout these periods.  The Indians came back to the island for the summer season and opened up “businesses” in Bar Harbor.  Here they offered summer rusticators fishing trips, paddling lessons, and activities for their children.  They even provided fortune telling.Abbe Museum Bar HarborAbbe Museum canoe

I left the museum wishing I had more time to spend there, but we had made plans for an early dinner at Thurston’s (one of my favorite restaurants on Mount Desert Island) in Bass Harbor with friends.

Later at Thurston’s, I recognized the father of the two little boys I had seen in the museum and I greeted him, “I saw you at the Abbe Museum today.  Your boys were really well behaved.”  “No,” he said.  “They are usually a lot more active.  But they just loved that scavenger hunt.”

So, don’t take it from me.  Those are two strong recommendations for the Abbe Museum as a great thing to do when it rains during a visit to Acadia National Park.

RELATED STORIES:

10 Things to Do with Your Kids on a Rainy Day in Acadia National Park

Tips for Kid-Friendly Restaurants in Bar Harbor

14 Ways to Save Money on a Family Trip to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park

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One Comment to “Beyond Arrowheads and Animal Bones at the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor”

  1. I’ve been to both museums and liked them both. They were very informative and had many many articles to look at. And yes, Thurston’s is the best place to eat lobster.

    Didn’t make it to Maine this summer. Hopefully next.

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