Bar Harbor is located on Maine's Mount Desert Island facing Frenchman Bay and at the foot of Cadillac Mountain. Bar Harbor is some 105 nautical miles (63 kilometers or 39 miles by air) southeast of Bangor Harbor and just 115 nautical miles (197 kilometers or 122 miles by air) west-southwest of Saint John in New Brunswick, Canada. Bar Harbor is the terminus for ferry service that crosses the Gulf of Maine to/from Yarmouth in Nova Scotia, Canada. Adjacent to the popular Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor is now a busy resort area. In 2010, the population of Bar Harbor was over 5.2 thousand people.
Archaeological evidence shows that the area of Bar Harbor was inhabited at least three thousand years ago. In 1524, Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano traded with the people who lived on the coast of Maine. In 1604, Samuel de Champlain mapped New France, including Mount Desert Island where Bar Harbor would one day be located.
In 1629, the English established a trading post at Castine some 46 kilometers (29 miles) to the west of the future Bar Harbor. The indigenous Wabanaki came to the post to trade furs, canoes, moccasins, and show shoes for metal tools, clothing, and beads.
In the mid-1670s, Wampanoag Metacom (known as King Philip) led a two-year war to drive the English out of Native lands. Fearing the same from the Wabanaki, English settlers took their guns and ammunition. Without a way to hunt, the Wabanaki began to starve. Bounties were placed on Wabanaki heads, and trade was discontinued. Many of the native people fled to Canada or to the Eastern frontier.
The 1722 Drummer's War was fought when the English tried to take control of the Wabanaki's territories when France ceded its lands after the French and Indian War. The 1725 Drummer's Treaty allowed the English to keep their pre-war settlements but gave the rights to all other lands to the Wabanaki.
In the mid-18th Century, the Wabanaki Confederacy was formed, giving the individual tribes greater power to negotiate with European countries. The Confederacy was an alliance of five Algonquian-speaking tribes including the Abenaki, Maliseet, Penobscot, Mi'kmaq, and Passamaquoddy.
From the beginning of the 19th Century to the middle of the 20th Century, the Wabanaki tribes lost much of their original tribal lands. The State of Maine took over the management of tribal assets. Despite the loss of independence, the Wabanaki continued to follow traditional ways of life. They endured. Many Wabanaki served the Allies during World War I and World War II.
Today, the allied tribes are still known as the Wabanaki, while each group has its own tribal government, lands, and natural resources. Most of the indigenous people living in Maine today belong to one of the tribes and live on tribal lands.
Israel Higgins and John Thomas settled the future Bar Harbor community in 1763, calling it Eden after the English statesman. The first industries in the area were ship-building, lumbering, and fishing. By the middle 1800s, the beautiful rugged scenery at Bar Harbor attracted many artists like Frederick Church and Thomas Cole. Their paintings inspired writers and sportsmen to come to Bar Harbor.
The mid-1800s brought many tourists to Bar Harbor. Businessman Tobias Roberts built the first hotel and wharf in 1855, opening the way to making Bar Harbor a resort area. By 1880, tourists arrived by train and ferry to check into one of the 30 hotels in Bar Harbor. Wealthy summer residents built fabulous waterfront estates. In 1918, the former Eden was renamed Bar Harbor, a name that became synonymous with wealthy elites.
During a serious drought in 1947, a wildfire started that would burn for a month. Sixty-seven Millionaires' Row mansions were destroyed, as were five historic hotels, 170 homes, and more than 10 thousand acres in Acadia National Park. Luckily, Bar Harbor's business district did not burn, and several summer homes listed on the National Register of Historic Places survived as inns.