Thuya Garden in Northeast Harbor Compounds the Enchantment of Acadia

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Aug 242010

There are many ways to get to Thuya Garden. Visitors by sea can tie up at Asticou Terraces Landing and walk up Asticou Terrace Trail.  Drivers can park either at the landing or at the top of Thuya Drive.  But we preferred to hike.

The path we chose was Little Harbor Brook Trail to the top of Eliot Mountain, visiting Thuya Garden on our descent as a slight – and very worthwhile – detour.  After all, even in the most enchanted of bucolic settings, which this trail is, it is rare to come upon a wooden fence with a door that opens onto such manicured beauty.

Thuya Garden was created by Charles K. Savage in 1956 on land that was formerly the orchard of Joseph H. Curtis, who built a home on this property in Northeast Harbor in 1912.  In the style of a semi-formal English garden, it features colorful annuals, perennials, expansive lawns, and indigenous eastern Maine woodlands.   (By the way, the name Thuya is derived from Thuya occidentalis, the northern white cedar, that grows abundantly in the area.)

A special aspect of the garden is that many of its original plants and garden ornaments are from the collection of Beatrix Farrand (1872-1959), the prominent landscape architect who designed gardens for private estates, botanic reservations, college campuses, and the White House.   She worked closely with John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and designed the landscaping around Mr. Rockefeller’s granite bridges in Acadia National Park.

Thuya Garden is a lovely place to rest, contemplate, and study plantings that thrive in eastern Maine.

Come by sea, car, or hiking trail – but be sure to come.

Aug 152010

How long does it take to see Acadia?

That’s a common question among tourists and one that’s tough to answer.  You can drive the Park Loop Road, walk around the top of Cadillac Mountain, relax on Sand Beach, and visit Thunderhole in two or three days.  If you spend a week, you can see “inside” the island by biking its carriage roads and from the “outside” by taking a kayaking trip. 

But if you have a little more time, bring your imagination along and see Acadia from the vantage point of its history. 

I’m in my eighth summer now of walking and biking in the park.  Although I’ve whizzed over the carriage roads and bridges many times, I recently constructed a little tour and saw them in a completely new way.

Acadia National Park boasts 17 stone bridges, 16 of which were built by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. between 1917 and 1933.  He oversaw every element of their design and set the guiding principles for their construction:  minimal disturbance to the surrounding areas, designs to take advantage of scenic vistas and conform to the natural landscape, and use of local materials with a commitment to restore the land after construction.

 In this plan to relate to and respect the natural environment, Rockefeller demonstrated his considerable personal talent and foresight in landscape design.  Rockefeller also directed granite be quarried for each bridge close to the site for cost efficiency.  Each granite block was rough cut at the quarry and then re-shaped by a mason at the site.  One stone per day per mason was the standard.

That’s just one of the things we were thinking about as we started our first of two days visiting Acadia’s bridges by bike.  We could have covered more bridges the first day, but we combined it with a hike starting at Gatepost 22 to Long Pond in Seal Harbor to see the view that Charles Eliot, a key figure in the creation of the national park, called the most beautiful on the island.

All together we spent time at 11 of the 17 bridges in the areas of Upper Hadlock and Jordan Ponds, beginning both days at the Brown Mountain Gatehouse.  The photos are in the sequence of our route in case you’d like to follow in our bike tracks.

And lest we get too carried away here with history and design, let’s remember that the purpose of a bridge is to get you from here to there by going over something.  In Acadia National Park, those “somethings” are bound to be beautiful. Whether a charming little brook, steep ravine, or stunning waterfall, we took our time appreciating them.

Our starting point: Brown's Mountain Gatehouse

Hadlock Brook Bridge, 1926, which is only 40 feet long, was modeled after a bridge in Central Park NYC that Rockefeller favored

Hemlock Bridge 1924, lets bikers cross Maple Spring Brook across its 185-foot expanse and hikers pass under its 30-foot Gothic arch

The contours of Hemlock Bridge illustrate how Rockefeller's bridges conform to the natural landscape

Many larger bridges feature viewing platforms, such as this one on Waterfall Bridge, 1925

Stairs help you get down closer to the waterfall

Little Harbor Brook Bridge, 1919, provided a charming place to picnic alongside its 20-foot arch

Cobblestone Bridge, the first bridge to be built in 1917, is the only one with cobblestone facings, the idea not of the architect, but the carriage road engineer

Cobblestone Bridge is a popular attraction, including one of the tours by Carriages of Acadia

We then hiked to Long Pond in Seal Harbor. This is the view Charles Eliot thought to be the most beautiful on the island.

Looking south towards the ocean across "Little" Long Pond

Amphitheatre Bridge, 1928, is a 236-foot structure that features a flared entrance and dramatic viewing platforms

Amphitheatre Bridge's viewing platforms feel like parapets on a castle

Cliffside Bridge, 1932, is 232 feet long and with its crenulated railing resembles a medieval battlement

Even on a misty day the tall, narrow arch of West Branch Bridge, 1920, is the dramatic feature of this 170-foot bridge

Jordan Pond Bridge, 1920, 40 feet long, is at the popular point where Jordan Pond and Jordan Stream meet

Stunning triple-arched Stanley Brook Bridge, 1933, encapsulates much of what was learned in prior bridge design and construction

Jordan Pond Road Bridge, 1932, facilitates a Seal Harbor road above and carriage road underneath

The Triad-Day Mountain Bridge provided passage on our way home after our bike tour of Acadia's bridges.