The Coastal Setting, Rocks, and Woods of the Sieur de Monts National Monument
Sieur de Monts Publications IV
NPS Logo


FROM Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to Cape Sable, Nova Scotia, the broad entrance of the Gulf of Maine is 200 miles wide, and it is 100 miles across from each of these capes to the corresponding end of the Maine coast at Kittery and Quoddy. Thus, Maine squarely faces the gulf's wide seaward opening, while to the east and west, beyond her bounds, stretch its two great offshoots, the Bays of Fundy and of Massachusetts. The latter and lesser bay presents a south shore, built mostly of sands and gravels, in bluffs and beaches, and a north shore of bold and enduring rocks—both already overgrown with seaside hotels and cottages. The Bay of Fundy, on the other hand, is little resorted to as yet for pleasure; its shores in many parts are grandly high and bold, but its waters are moved by such rushing tides and its coasts are so frequently wrapped in fog that it will doubtless long remain a comparatively unfrequented region. Along the coast of Maine scenery and climate change from the Massachusetts to the Fundy type. At Boston the average temperature of July is 70°; at Eastport it is 61°. No such coolness is to be found along the Atlantic coast from Cape Cod southward, and this summer freshness of the air must always be an irresistible attraction to many thousand dwellers in hot cities. Again, in contrast with the low beaches farther south, the scenery of the Maine coast is exceedingly interesting and refreshing. The mere map of it is most attractive. From the Piscataqua River, a deep estuary whose swift tides flow through an archipelago of rocks and lesser islands, to Cape Elizabeth, a broad wedge of rock pushed out to sea as though to mark the entrance to Portland Harbor, the coast is already rich in varied scenery; but there another type, wilder, more intricate and picturesque, begins. Casco Bay, with its many branches running inland and its seaward-stretching peninsulas and islands, is the first of a succession of bays, thoroughfares, and reaches which line the coast almost unceasingly to Quoddy. The mainland becomes lost behind a maze of rock-bound islands; the salt water penetrates by deep and narrow channels into the very woods, ebbs and flows in and out of hundreds of lonely, unfrequented harbors, discovers countless hidden nooks and coves. Sand beaches become rare, and great and small "Sea Walls" of rounded stones or pebbles take their place. Except at Mount Desert, great cliffs occur but seldom until Grand Manan is reached, while mountains come down only to the open sea at Mount Desert; but the variety of lesser topographic forms is great.

(Omitted from the online edition)>
Copyright by Dr. Robert Abbe.
Mount Desert Island as seen from an aeroplane toward sundown. Photograph from relief map made by Dr. Robert Abbe of New York.

(Omitted from the online edition)
Copyright by National Geographic Society.
View of Frenchmans Bay and the Gouldsborough Hills from a mountain trail in the National Monument.

The general aspect of the coast is wild and untamable, an effect due partly to its own rocky character and storm-swept ledges, but yet more to the changed character of the coastal vegetation. Beyond Cape Elizabeth capes and islands are wooded, if at all, with the dark, stiff cresting of spruce and fir, interspersed perhaps with pine and fringed by birch and mountain ash. One by one familiar species disappear as the coast is traversed eastward, and northern forms replace them. The red pine first appears on Massachusetts Bay, the gray pine at Mount Desert; the Arbor-vitae is first met with near Kennebec; the balsam fir and the black and white spruces show themselves nowhere to the south of Cape Ann, nor do they abound until Cape Elizabeth is passed. It is these somber coniferous woods crowding to the water's edge along the rugged shore which give the traveler his strong impression of a wild sub-arctic land where strange Indian names—Pemaquid, Megunticook, Eggemoggin, or Schoodic—are altogether fitting.

The human story of the coast of Maine is almost as picturesque and varied as its scenery. This coast was first explored by Samuel de Champlain, whose narrative of his adventure is still delightful reading. Fruitless attempts at settlement followed, led by French knights at St. Croix, French Jesuits at Mount Desert, and English cavaliers at Sagadahock; all of them years in advance of the English Colony at New Plymouth. Then followed a long period of fishing and fur trading, during which Maine belonged to neither New France nor New England. Rival Frenchmen fought and besieged each other in truly feudal fashion at Penobscot and St. John. The numerous French names on the eastern coast bear witness still to the long French occupation there; as, for instance, Grand and Petit Manan, Bois Bubert, Monts Deserts and Isle au Hault, and Burnt Coat—English apparently, but really a mistranslation of the French, Côte Brulé.

(Omitted from the online edition)
Copyright by National Geographic Society.
The top of Newport Mountain under whose shadow at the close of day Champlain must have sailed when he first reached the island.

No Englishmen settled east of the Penobscot until after the capture of Quebec; when they did, more fighting followed in the wars of the Revolution and of 1812. The settlers fished and hunted, cut hay on the salt marshes, and timber in the great woods; then, in later times, took to ship building. These, the occupations of a wild and timbered coast, still form its business in great part. The fisheries are an abiding resource and fleets of more than two hundred graceful vessels may be often seen in port together, waiting the end of a storm. Hunting is carried on at certain seasons in the eastern counties, where deer are numerous, and innumerable inland lakes and streams are full of trout. The large pines and spruces of the shore woods have long since been cut, but Bangor still sends down the Penobscot a fleet of lumber schooners, loaded from the interior, every time the wind blows from the north.

It was in the early sixties that what may be called the discovery of the picturesqueness, the wild beauty and refreshing character of the Maine coast took place. Then, through the resort to it of a few well-known landscape painters, the poor hamlet of Bar Harbor leaped into sudden fame and it became evident that the whole coast had an important destiny before it as a resort and summer home. Now, summer hotels are scattered all along its shores to Frenchmans Bay, and colonies of summer villas already occupy many of the more accessible capes and islands.

The spectacle of thousands upon thousands of people spending annually several weeks or months of summer in healthful life by the seashore is very pleasant, but there is danger lest this human flood so overflow and occupy the limited stretch of coast which it invades as to rob it of that flavor of wildness which hitherto has constituted its most refreshing charm. Yet it is not the tide of life itself, abundant though it be, which can work the scene such harm. A surf-beaten headland may be crowned by a lighthouse tower without losing its dignity and impressiveness; a lonely fiord shut in by dark woods, where the fog lingers in wreaths as it comes and goes, still may make its strong imaginative appeal when fishermen build their huts upon its shore and ply their trade. But the inescapable presence of a life, an architecture and a landscape architecture alien to the spirit of the place may take from it an inspirational and re-creative value for work-wearied men no economic terms can measure.

The United States have but this one short stretch of Atlantic seacoast where a pleasant summer climate and real picturesqueness of scenery are to be found together; can nothing be done to preserve for the use and enjoyment of the great body of the people in the centuries to come some fine parts at least of this seaside wilderness of Maine?

<<< Previous
Next >>>

Last Updated: 24-Mar-2010