Military History

Military history is human history. It reflects the movement of people, economies, and political forces. This is equally as true in the place we now call Acadia National Park.

Early Colonization and the American Revolutionary War

Military forces aligned with economic drivers to lead the colonization of coastal Maine and attempts to eradicate native people from their homelands. In the 1600s and 1700s, various attempts were made by European militaries to establish forts and outposts in the homelands of native peoples who had been living here since time immemorial. Early American naval attempts to conquer and kill Wabanaki people were equally as consistent. Confronting the complex challenges of survival in their invaded homelands, the Wabanaki confederacy was formed in the late 17th century to defend their ancestral homelands against English aggression. The Wabanaki confederacy gave its support to the American Revolution and played a pivotal role in the success of the revolution in coastal Maine.

Many local colonists of the Acadian archipelago and the surrounding area joined the American Revolutionary War. In 1780 the first document free African-American resident of Frazer Point on the Schoodic Peninsula, Thomas Frazier, enlisted in the American Revolutionary War in Captain Henry Dyer's company of rangers at Frenchman Bay.


The U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard

In this maritime environment, both the United States Life Saving Service (now the U.S. Coast Guard) and the United States Navy (U.S. Navy) have been a presence in and around Acadia National Park for generations.

a radio tower and large farm house style building in black and white
The Otter Cliffs radio station. NPS Photo.

U.S. Naval Radio Station at Otter Cliffs

At the beginning of the twentieth century the U.S. Navy was responsible for the development of the government radio communications systems. The Navy set up a chain of radio stations along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and by 1908 had established a system of communication capable of relaying between the two coasts. With the onset of World War I the government became interested in developing more secure overseas communication and due to the location of Mount Desert Island and its proximity to Europe, a U.S. Naval Radio Station was established at Otter Cliffs.

The U.S. Navy radio station here at Otter Cliffs served as the most important World War I facility for receiving transatlantic messages -- including the first bulletin about the armistice in 1918. Mount Desert Island and Acadia NP would play an important role in transatlantic communication for the United States during the war and in the decades to come.

B&W photo of sailors standing at attention in front of a building
Sailors stand at attention in front of the apartment building at the U.S. Naval Station, Winter Harbor, Maine. NPS Archives Photo.

U.S. Naval Radio Station, Winter Harbor, Maine

In the 1930s, when plans for Acadia National Park's Park Loop Road were expanded to include Otter Cliffs, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. successfully lobbied and funded the relocation of the Otter Cliffs radio station to the Schoodic Peninsula. The construction of the original complex of structures began in the fall of 1933, and the five original buildings were evidently completed by December 1934. Other than the radio towers, the primary buildings on the site were designed by noted architect Grosvenor Atterbury’s firm and included the Apartment Building, Power House, Pump House, Intercept Building, and Radio Compass Station.

The U.S. Naval Radio Station, Winter Harbor, Maine, was formally commissioned on February 28, 1935. The station operated during World War II and into the Cold War. During that period additional buildings were constructed on the site to serve the U.S. Navy. The Apartment Building continued to serve as housing for Navy personnel and as a base for the radio operations. The growth of the Navy’s activities during the Cold War further increased operations in Winter Harbor, and in 1950 the radio station was redesignated U.S. Naval Security Group Detachment, U.S. Naval Radio Station, Winter Harbor, Maine, and became part of the Naval Security Group Detachment. The radio station remained vital during the early 1950s as the Navy presence near Winter Harbor continued to expand.

As the Cold War wained, many of the U.S. Navy activities on the Schoodic Peninsula wained in the later half of the 20th century. In 2001 the Navy determined that it would close the base, and on July 1, 2002 the property was transferred to the National Park Service and once again became part of Acadia National Park. It is currently a National Park Service Research Learning Center and home to the park's partner-in-science, the Schoodic Institute.


Seawall Naval Radio Station

In 1930, park founder George B. Dorr acquired 233-acres in the Seawall area that included the site of U.S.Naval Radio Station. Dorr thought this area was well suited for campground and the now-historic Seawall Campground was constructed in 1937. With the onset of WWII, in 1941, the Civilian Conservaiton Corps constructed a radio station at Seawall. The radio station was later dismantled.
an explosion of water in front of an island in a black and white photo
The U.S. Navy tests torpedoes during World War II.  NPS Archives Photo.

U.S. Navy During World War II in Frenchman Bay

In October of 1944, the U.S. Navy tested twelve torpedoes by shooting them underwater at Bald Porcupine Island. When the 11th ordinance didn't explode on impact they waited 45 seconds, and then fired the 12th. In 1996 the US Army Corps of Engineers surveyed Bald Porcupine Island and found only remnants.

Cadillac Mountain Radio Station

Cadillac Mountain was selected as a radar station site by the US Army Corps of Engineers in 1941 and was run by the US Army Air Corps during World War II. During the time that the station was active, the top of Cadillac Mountain was closed for security reasons; it reopened in October of 1945. The first radar station stood on exposed ledge on the mountain’s middle peak and was surrounded by a chain link fence, 300 feet square and encompassing two acres. The station was moved to a new site, probably in 1944. The new site was half as large (one acre compared to two), and was rectangular in shape, with sides 145 feet by 295 feet.

Last updated: November 1, 2023

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