Ogden Point, or Point Acadie, reaches out from Mt. Desert Island to the rising cliffs of Round Porcupine, forming the natural entrance to Bar Harbor, Maine. In the late 19th century, it was owned by none other than George Washington Vanderbilt of Biltmore fame, who enlisted Frederick Law Olmsted to extend the house with outdoor stone terraces and new driveways, to site other buildings, to design the planting, and to create a salt-water swimming pool.
Existing correspondence shows a warm and frank relationship between Olmsted and Vanderbilt. In a letter to Vanderbilt in July of 1890, Olmsted notes “weather troubles” and acknowledges that Mr. Vanderbilt may not be happy:
I am afraid you will be much disappointed at the very incomplete condition of our work (In Bar Harbor) as I have been. Statistically, it is asserted that there have been but three fair days since early in April and the rains have often been very heavy, causing sweeping floods, interrupting, disconcerting and adding to the cost of all out of door operations. Besides this, it has been impossible to insure any regularity in the attendance of laborers and teams.
Of particular interest is a letter from Olmsted dated July 6, 1891:
I have been nearly disabled by mysterious and painful disorders which the doctors have lately demonstrated to have their origin in arsenical poisoning from upholstery in my private home. I am reckoning to go on with you, if you wish…but as I am not up to all the business now needed of us on the estate, … I propose, with your leave, to have [my son John] with me.
In a record dated June 21, 1894, Olmsted notes that the swimming pool is one of the most interesting features on the property: “It is Mr. Vanderbilt’s aim to have his place retain its native wildness…. No regular flower beds are laid out, no luxuriant flowers are seen. All is wild and natural but shows evidence of care and work…. Native trees have been planted on all sides of the swimming pool….”
Vanderbilt spent every summer at the Point until he died in 1917 after an appendectomy.
The property was sold to George McFadden in 1922 and passed to his niece, Mrs. Edward Browning. She, thereafter, consulted extensively with another famed landscape architect, Beatrix Jones Farrand, active in the Bar Harbor area.
Farrand remembered early visits to the Vanderbilt home and was able to describe the original plantings, many of which remained, and to suggest new ones for “rehabilitation.” She recalled a significant number of native plants used in the early days, with occasional aliens added as “fashionable plants.” In her notes to the Brownings, she advised that “the process of rehabilitation should be a slow one as cutting may be recklessly or thoughtlessly done. Each motion should be pretty carefully thought over and inspected from different points of view so that the balance of the plantation is kept.”
Notwithstanding grand histories, the Vanderbilt house and other structures were razed in the 1940s and 1950s. In 1960, a group of friends purchased the entire Ogden Point property, restricting development and employing landscape architect Patrick Chasse to undertake an extensive landscape analysis/history and to serve as a faithful advocate for the property and its historical value.
Chasse describes Point Acadie as a very special place:
It provides an interesting study in land use planning for property in a changing social, political and natural context. From its humble beginnings as foraging and farm land, through its grander historical period as a summer retreat for prominent American families, it has held an important place in the local community as both landmark and landscape.
Today, efforts are underway to restore the pool and care for the giant trees on the south side of the driveway that Olmsted and Vanderbilt planned and planted together. The stone walls and simple pillars, designed by Olmsted as the entrance to the property, and one of the chimneys of the old bath house remain intact as reminders and memories of a unique partnership on an island in Maine.
Thanks to the diligent research of Elizabeth Hodder, visitors to Bar Harbor’s Ogden Point can learn much about Job No. 01232. In a printed brochure, she provides insights into the property’s rich history and ongoing efforts to restore the Olmsted design. This article is excerpted and derived from Mrs. Hodder’s longer brochure. You can read another excellent piece about Olmsted and the Redwoods by her son, Sam Hodder, here. Sam recently spoke at The Olmsteds’ Conservation Legacy conference, which will air on C-SPAN later this year.