Last updated: October 14, 2020
For many, their most vivid memory of visiting Acadia National Park is having tea and popovers at the Jordan Pond House. However, the Jordan family in the 1830s could never have envisioned the millions of people that would visit their beautiful lake to hike and eat popovers. The Jordans were like many along the Maine coast in the 1800s; their lives were filled with hardship, sorrows, and severe setbacks mixed with happiness, laughter, and small successes. Such were the sketches of their lives before an influx of visitors and the era of Acadia National Park changed the face and future of Mount Desert Island.
Meet the Jordans, circa 1837
George and John Jordan were brothers from a family of 15 children, living on the banks of the Union River in the early 1800s. Their childhood farm was nestled near the end of Beechland Road between what is now Trenton and Ellsworth, Maine. In the mid 1600s, Rev. Robert Jordan was called from England to serve communion to fishermen in the Falmouth (Portland) area. His great, great grandson, Nathaniel Jordan, came to the Union River area in the late 1700s.
George and John, child number eight and thirteen, bought and sold land in Hancock County as did their father. By 1839, they had purchased several plots of land. The 2,960-acre parcel on the southeastern side of Mount Desert Island extended from the low water mark at Seal Harbor, encompassing several mountains and a lake unnamed on maps of that era. In 1840, after the land purchase, they set up a logging camp along the newly charted "pond," so named due to a statute dating from 16471. A small mill used the lake's outflow as stimulus for most likely a water-wheel-powered reciprocating saw. A second mill, located further down Jordan stream, added to the output2. John and George cleared timber and got it to their mills using oxen and horses. Winter was the best time, as fishing slowed on the island and sleds carrying goods moved fairly easily through the snow. As masts, planks, posts, shingles, shakes and stakes came out of the mill, oxcarts, sleds and wagons carried the materials to the Seal Harbor shoreline, where the Jordans could get a fair price from buyers along the coastline and nearby islands. They finished building the house on the hill in 1847 (see right). There George, twice widowed, now recently married again, would raise a new family.
Image courtesy of Northeast Harbor Library Archives
Tragedy, War, and Debt
George and John plied their trade for twenty-five years before tragedy struck, In 1863, George died in a mill accident. Then in 1864, a fire ravaged the southern slopes of their timber lot with such ferocity that even the soil was burned sterile3. However, the lake’s sawmill, home and buildings were spared. John and Alden, George’s oldest son, tried to keep things afloat, but Alden was drafted in 1865 to serve in Maine’s Civil War regiment. Even though the war ended before he was deployed, illnesses and debts would force the sale of the property.
Mr. Melvin Tibbets of Exeter, Maine operated a small business there which offered modest meals, stables, and boat rentals. By the late 1880’s the land was in the hands of Charles How, a realtor from Boston who leased and eventually sold the house to Thomas McIntire and his wife. The McIntires opened a teahouse. Mr. How brought friends and associates there to enjoy the scenery and perhaps encourage their interest in some of his real estate. This was the beginning of the tradition for which the Jordan Pond House is famous today.
Thus this article ends where it began. Yet an interesting crumb of detail remains: although the restaurant and the pond are named for the brothers, George and John Jordan never knew a thing about popovers.
1. Wikipedia contributors. (2020, January 2). Great pond (law). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20:44, October 6, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Great_pond_(law)&oldid=933706875. Accessed October 6, 2020.
2. McIntire, T. A., "The Story of Jordan Pond House" (1915). Maine History Documents. Paper 110. Pg. 3. http://digitalcommons.library.umaine.edu/mainehistory/110 Accessed July 10, 2017.
3. Eliot, S. A., Street, G. E. (1905). Mount Desert; a History. United States: Houghton, Mifflin. Pg 342