History | Travel

Mount Desert Island

“Le sommet de la plus part d’icelles est desgarny d’arbres parceque ce ne sont que roches. Je l’ay nommee l’isle des Monts-deserts.” – Samuel de Champlain
(Translated into English: “The top of most of them is bare with trees because they are only rocks. I named it the island of Monts-deserts.”)

French Explorer Samuel de Champlain sailed up the Gulf of Maine in 1604 and observed the granite mountain summits on the island before him. He named it “Ile de Monts Deserts,” or “island of the bare mountains”. Through all the turf wars between the French and the English the place names haven’t always been consistent, but this one has. The map below was from the British atlas The Atlantic Neptune in 1800 that shows the name clearly, along with other place names commonly accepted. And thus the island became known by a name we’ve called it forever since; Mount Desert Island. The pronunciation of “desert” itself leans towards the French… as it should.

While exploring this island topped with pink granite peaks, Champlain hit a ledge off of Otter Cliff and had to take the time necessary to repair the hull. With the aid of a couple of Abenaki guides he explored some of the island, most likely around the Otter Creek area, but I wonder how far he explored while he was there. He and his guides would surely recognize large parts of the island today, but would be stunned by the crowds. A large part of the island and surrounding islands and land became part of Acadia National Park (from 1919 to 1929 it was known as Lafayette National Park, but changed to reflect the original French colony) and forever preserved for generations to see what Champlain saw in 1604. It would be the only time he set foot on Mount Desert Island, but his mark on history remains to this day.

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