The village of Otter Creek toady is unique in that it’s the only settlement on Mount Desert Island completely surrounded by Acadia National Park (ANP), but its current quiet residential feel belies a varied history.

Long a seasonal Wabanaki hunting , fishing, and clamming cove, Samuel de Champlain sailed the shoreline of Otter Cove on September 5th 1604. In May 1795 the, then unoccupied, natural landmark of Otter Creek was delineated as the boundary between the Towns of Bar Harbor and Mount Desert, with the area being settled by fisher/homesteaders in the 1830’s to form the village of Otter Creek – only accessible by sea at this point!

Through the years, Otter Creek was first and foremost a fishing town,  with a thriving working waterfront. Quarrying operations were created on both sides of the cove and residents provided wood, produce and flowers for the Rusticators (ie the first groups of people who would become the summer community in the late 1800s).

The Fire of ’47 saw the destruction of much of the “Bar Harbor” side of the town which never really recovered and Rockefeller acquisition of land led to the town being completely surrounded by Acadia National Park, causing the demise of the waterfront economy. The area has a storied past reflecting the uneasy relationship with the town and Acadia National Park that is fascinating in its own right.

The Hall at Otter Creek

You’ve probably all driven past this beautiful building, but  have you been inside to see the beautiful woodwork and stained glass? Did you know it’s available for event rental?

The Hall is owned by the Otter Creek Aid Society  (OCAS) and provides  the foundation for community activity in the village.

The Fish House

In its heyday, fish houses lined Otter Cove. These were the structures fishermen used primarily to store equipment, process their catch, and maintain their boats and equipment rather than  formal dwellings. One fish house remains on the outer cove and this is visible from the Park Loop Road, it has been a controversial building, anchoring the discussion of Otter Creek residents right to access the waterfront.

When fishing (and quarrying) was king. Otter Creek Cove was a major workplace for the villagers, but with the advent of the Rusticator era, interest was sparked in the area. Rockefeller purchased much of the waterfront and surrounding land with the aim of  extending the Park and creating a swimming pond and thus the causeway and a bridge was created, culminating in today’s scenic drive. The swimming pond was never created, but  local access to the waterfront was removed, though some attempt at providing accommodations for commercial fishing was made (more on that later.)

Unfortunately,  these dealings were not the best managed and included many “handshake” agreements leaving many questions, concerns, and ill feelings.

Whilst representative of the past, The Fish House is actually dates from the early ’80’s and was built on a piece of land that seems to have been missed when land purchases and transfers were made and became a famous source of contention between the Park service and certain Otter Creek community members. The building now belongs to the OCAS with the Park Service having a conservation easement to ensure no further development and relationships seem to be more cordial. The aim is to try to preserve and save this building though problems still persist.

Jimmy’s Wharf and An’s Wharf

Mount Desert Island has long been famous for its granite and quarrying history and we all know of Hall Quarry operations on Somes Sound.  However, Cyrus James Hall started his operations with quarries on either side of Otter Cove, going into commercial scale production of the dark pink granite in 1871. You can see Otter Creek granite all over Belfast (guess where Mr. Hall hailed from). The quarries were successful, but the wild nature of Otter Cove’s tidal channel (remember there was no causeway then, just a semi natural breakwater) made it tough to ship more than two loads daily from the wharves either side of the cove and Hall eventually moved his operations to the larger, better known Somes Sound location. Quarrying operations, however, continued here until the early 20th century.

Jimmy’s Wharf bulkhead can be clearly seen on the Western side and An’s Wharf is located on the eastern side. An’s Wharf is said to be named after Ansel Davis who fished the cove, I haven’t be able to discover who Jimmy was though.

Otter Cliffs Radio Station

Amateur radio operator Alessandro Fabbri established a wireless station on Otter Point in 1912. This was donated to the US Navy at the onset of WWI. The location was incorporated into Acadia National Park as Fabrri Point and marked with a memorial. Though well known, it’s worth a mention as it formed part of Otter Creek’s social history as a new “industry” at the time – the operation even had a movie hall, that locals were often allowed to visit. Quite something for such a small village to have access to!

One extra tidbit since we’re talking Navy – Otter Cove was a submarine refueling station during WWII.

Harold Walls Memorial Piling

The Walls family is recognized as the first family to become established permanent homesteaders at Otter Cove in the 1830’s. When Rockefeller purchased the land surrounding Otter Cove and enclosed the inner cove area the controversy  was born. The local fishing industry was suddenly without water access. One “compromise”  Rockefeller initiated was to allow continued access to the outer cove on the eastern (less visible) side. This access remains today, know as Fisherman’s Lane, via the short road from Otter Cliff Road that leads to the waterfront, going under the Park Loop Road (Just before the Fabrri Picnic Area). Harold Walls maintained a fish house with lobster car here until the early 1960’s. Harold Walls was probably the last commercial fisherman in Otter Creek. His son, Robert, erected a piling in honor of his father. It’s on the bank, adjacent to Harold Walls’ former fish house and slip, the piling features a poem by Harold Walls, inscribed on a brass plaque set on the side of the pole.

Connector Trails and Village Trails

I found this map at Sherman’s a few years ago and purchased it for our bed and breakfast. Having sold the B&B, I chose a beautiful fall day to explore the Blackwoods campground to Gorham Mountain connector trails (Quarry Trail and  Otter Cove Trail). The Otter Cove Trail turns to the left from Gorham Mountain Trail and heads to the cove through the woods where it intersects with the cause way. This was a glorious walk on a sunny fall day with the colors blazing, featuring some mossy rocky areas, bog walk, and a sweet curved bridge over a natural drainage gully. We reached Otter Cove as the tide was starting to come in so set off to find An’s Wharf, but were unable to reach it before a return swim was necessitated – maybe we’ll try from the Village side next time (or plan better). Otter Cove has always been a lucky birding spot and today we were rewarded with a heron sighting. Over the winter, we were lucky enough to snowshoe down and find an eagle with fresh kill on an ice flow in the inner cove.

We crossed the causeway and bridge and joined the Quarry Trail, following the inner cove shore to Grover Ave, encountering deer and turkeys on the way. We took “Ben’s Hill” (Ben Walls lived on this road) down to the town landing for a view down the cove. From here we retraced our steps and rejoined the trail to Blackwoods campground. This trail runs along the old Quarry Road and you can see remains of retaining walls along the way.  On the return journey we noticed and couple of steps and little used trail heading down to the Park Loop Road above the Fish House. We then followed the Loop Road back to the causeway and the Otter Cove trail

Otter Creek may seem like a quiet residential village, but it has a fascinating history that I’m only just starting to discover (click through for some fascinating info about the tea house and other related info).

The residents, many from the original families that settled the land, have a wonderful community and connection to the Cove from which the town developed. Check it out!

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