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ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — If not for the 21st century vehicles parked in the driveway, the scene Saturday morning outside a house in the park would have resembled a bygone era.
Small groups of people came and went from the house as a bitter December wind blew through the trees. Inside the distinctive building, there were no electronic devices to be seen as people chatted, telling each other anecdotes and consulting paper books and maps.
The Jordan Pond Gate Lodge, built to resemble a 16th century French hunting lodge, usually is not open to the public, but it was on Saturday as park officials held an open house there for the second time in as many years. It and another built near Northeast Harbor on Route 198 are the only two such gate houses in Acadia.
The three-bedroom, wood-and-masonry structure near Jordan Pond was built in 1932 by John D. Rockefeller Jr. to help keep automobiles off the gravel carriage road system that the Rockefeller family built on Mount Desert Island for their private enjoyment, according to park officials. Rockefeller had opposed, in 1915, the elimination of an automobile ban on MDI and wanted to prevent incursions by the noisy vehicles onto his private, secluded roads.
“He had a gatekeeper that lived here,” Ranger Adrianna McLane said Saturday as a few dozen people milled about the home. “It’s a great place for a family to live.”
The gate house now functions as seasonal housing for park employees but once housed Paul Simpson, Rockefeller’s engineer, and Simpson’s family. The family functioned much like lighthouse keepers, watching for carriages and running out to open the gates where the carriage road crosses the Park Loop Road whenever one of Rockefeller’s carriages rolled up and someone hopped off to ring the gate’s bell.
The origin of the national park dates to 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson established the 6,000-acre Sieur de Monts National Monument not far from the downtown village of Bar Harbor. The monument was upgraded to national park status three years later, when it was renamed Lafayette National Park. It was renamed again 10 years later, becoming Acadia in 1929.
The park grew over time and, during the 1930s, the Rockefeller family still owned large swaths of MDI that now are park property. The Park Loop Road, which initially consisted only of the Ocean Drive section near Sand Beach and Thunder Hole, was extended further west and then to the north, by Jordan Pond and Eagle Lake. Rockefeller deeded the gate house to Acadia in 1939 and Simpson and his family lived there until 1941, according to park staff.
According to Anne Funderburk, a Seal Harbor resident with extensive knowledge of the village’s history, Rockefeller went to great lengths to have the home built to resemble the architecture of France in the time of Samuel Champlain, the French explorer who was the first European documented to have visited MDI, in 1604. Rockefeller hired New York architect Grosvenor Atterbury, who imported bricks from Europe and cypress wood from the South for materials. Atterbury had the house roofed with ceramic tile and even built what appears to be a pigeon coop in the top of the garage. Such pigeon coops were a common feature of 16th century hunting lodges in France, Funderburk said.
The letter “A” that appears on the shutters outside the house does not stand for “Acadia,” as many people think, she added. The letter is meant to stand for “Atterbury.”
“Did you ever know an architect who didn’t advertise?” Funderburk said.
Park staff said the open house is held in winter, when Acadia staff have more time and the park is not crowded with tourists, as a way to connect with local residents. Most of the Park Loop Road is closed to cars during the winter which, McLane pointed out, seasonally restores the quiet in much of the park that Rockefeller sought to maintain.
The interior of the home, though lived in during the summer, is maintained to resemble its original appearance in 1932 as much as possible, McLane said.
As part of Saturday’s open house, Gary Stellpflug, Acadia’s trails foreman, gave a presentation on trail improvement projects in the park. Stellpflug said a big project his team plans to take on next year is construction of a new trail that will connect Blackwoods Campground across the Otter Cove causeway to Gorham Mountain.
Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.