The Carriage Roads of Acadia National Park
Many visitors to Acadia National Park enjoy the enchantment of the park’s carriage roads. These byways of non-motorized traffic originally appeared in the early part of the twentieth century when automobiles were beginning to dominate the island.
Mount Desert summer resident John D. Rockefeller, Jr., built the carriage roads in part for nostalgic purposes, according to historian Ronald H. Epp, “so that Rockefeller family and friends could continue the pleasures they knew [of similar roads] from [their] New York and Ohio estates.” But Rockefeller also intended them as resistance to the inevitability of automobiles invading the solitude of his summer retreat. As author Terry Tempest Williams notes, “Rockefeller wanted to make certain that his beloved Mount Desert Island did not succumb to the automobile era (the irony that his fortune came from his family’s ownership of Standard Oil and the advent of the automobile was not lost on him). He wanted to preserve a way of life that valued civility and slowness that he saw rapidly slipping away.”
The carriage roads had an inspirational purpose as well: “Rockefeller wanted,” according to Williams, “to create a controlled sense of awe.” To Rockefeller and other elite residents of Mount Desert Island, their summer refuge elicited spiritual experiences of nature, but they feared viewing the island through a car window would diminish this aspect for visitors. Slowing down and relishing the glory of nature, at least as Rockefeller saw it, would be better done from a horse-drawn carriage.
Today Acadia has become infested with an epidemic of automobiles, but many visitors escape the traffic on the refurbished carriage roads. Besides touring them by equine-powered carriages, hearty tourists enjoy the park’s natural settings by foot and by bike thanks to Rockefeller’s resolute resistance to the coming of the cars.
[Daily post 048 of 260 in my year-long challenge.] ♨