AUGUSTA – Trains, steamships, yachts, and now planes. That’s how presidents have traveled to Mount Desert Island for summertime getaways.

President Obama and his family, scheduled to visit this weekend, are the latest in a string of presidential vacationers to come to the island for rest and relaxation, though the most recent came about a century ago.

The Obamas are scheduled to arrive around noon today at the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport in Trenton, where they will be greeted by Gov. John Baldacci before heading onto the island by motorcade.

According to the Bangor Daily News, the first family will stay at the Bar Harbor Regency, a waterfront hotel on Route 3 in Bar Harbor.

The president, first lady Michelle Obama and their daughters, Malia, 12, and Sasha, 9, aren’t scheduled to make any public appearances, and their itinerary has been kept under wraps.

The Obamas are scheduled to leave the island Sunday morning.

Mount Desert Island has a history of famous and well-connected visitors and summer residents, beginning in the 1800s, according to Earle Shettleworth, Maine’s state historian and co-author of the recently published book “Bar Harbor’s Gilded Century: Opulence to Ashes, 1850-1950.”

“I was just very excited when I heard the president and his family were coming, because it immediately triggered these memories of these earlier visits,” he said in a recent interview.

“Bar Harbor just grew very rapidly from about 1865 to about 1900 to become one of the major American summer resorts. And by 1900, it was a place that had so many elaborate summer cottages that were owned by wealthy and famous Americans that many people felt it was almost like a rustic, coastal Newport (R.I.) in its importance as a place of fashion and society,” Shettleworth said. “So it’s not surprising that during this period of 1865 to, say 1914, that it would be visited by presidents of the United States.”

The first president who tried to visit the island was President Ulysses S. Grant, in August 1873, Shettleworth said.

Grant and his family, who were visiting southern Maine, took a train from Portland to Rockland, where they boarded a boat headed for Mount Desert Island.

Grant was accompanied by Maine’s two U.S. senators, U.S. Rep. James G. Blaine, former Vice President Hannibal Hamlin and future U.S. Speaker of the House Thomas Brackett Reed, who was then Maine’s attorney general.

The group was rerouted to North Haven for the night because of fog, and the trip to Mount Desert Island was canceled.

President Chester Arthur visited the island in September 1882, arriving by steamship, according to Debbie Dyer, curator of the Bar Harbor Historical Society.

In the summer of 1889, President Benjamin Harrison made it to Mount Desert Island as a guest of Blaine, who by then was U.S. secretary of state and who had a home in Bar Harbor.

“Bar Harbor society rolled out the red carpet for the president’s visit with a flurry of receptions,” Shettleworth read from his book.

Harrison traveled to the island via steamship ferry after taking a train to the coastal village of Hancock, just a couple of miles from the island by boat.

President William Howard Taft was the last president to visit the island, in the summer of 1910, Shettleworth said. It was one of many stops that Taft made in his presidential yacht along the Maine coast that summer.

“He played golf at the Kebo Valley Golf Club, which is still very much in existence, and he also gave a wonderful speech on the village green, which of course is still there in the middle of Bar Harbor,” Shettleworth said. “The New York Times wrote a story about that speech and the headline for the story, printed on July 23, 1910, said, ‘Taft speaks out for long vacations.’“

Shettleworth said 24-year-old Theodore Roosevelt visited the island in 1880, about 20 years before he became president.


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