|Acadia's Historic Carriage Roads
of rustic carriage roads, the gift of philanthropist John D.
Rockefeller Jr. and family, weave around the mountains and valleys of
Acadia National Park. Rockefeller, a skilled horseman, wanted to travel
on motor-free byways via horse and carriage into the heart of Mount
Desert Island. His construction efforts from 1913 to 1940 resulted in
roads with sweeping vistas and close-up views of the landscape. His
love of road building ensured a state-of-the-art system.
Rockefeller’s interest in road building grew naturally from his
father’s. John D. Rockefeller Sr., the founder of Standard Oil, had
built and landscaped carriage roads on his Ohio and New York estates.
From his father the junior Rockefeller learned many techniques that he
applied to building his Mount Desert Island carriage roads.
carriage roads are the best example of broken-stone roads—a type of
road commonly used at the turn of the 20th century—in America today.
They are true roads, approximately 16 feet wide, constructed with
methods that required much hand labor.
were engineered to contend with Maine’s wet weather. Stone culverts,
wide ditches, three layers of rock, and a substantial six- to
eight-inch crown ensured good drainage. Rather than flattening
hillsides to accommodate the roads, breast walls and retaining walls
were built to preserve the line of hillsides and save trees.
Rockefeller, naturally gifted with the eye of a landscape architect,
aligned the roads to follow the contours of the land and to take
advantage of scenic views. He graded the roads so they were not too
steep or too sharply curved for horse-drawn carriages.
Road crews quarried island granite for road material and bridge facing.
Roadsides were landscaped with native vegetation such as blueberries
and sweet fern. The use of native materials helped blend the roads into
the natural landscape.
An Integrated System
Rockefeller participated in the construction process. He walked areas
staked out for road alignment and observed work in progress. He knew
the laborers by name and used experts to design the bridges and
engineer the roads. Throughout it all, he paid rapt attention to the
most minute details, from the placement of coping stones to the cost of
a running foot of road.
Following are some elements that unify the carriage road system:
• Coping Stones
Large blocks of granite lining the roads serve as guardrails. Cut
roughly and spaced irregularly, the coping stones create a rustic
appearance. These coping stones have been affectionately called
Cedar signposts were installed at intersections to direct carriage
drivers. The posts were stained with Cabots shingle stain #248. The
lettering was painted first with one coat of flat yellow paint, then
with another coat of enamel yellow. Today, numbers that match maps and
guidebooks are attached to the signposts and help carriage road users
find their way.
• Roadside Grooming and Landscaping
Rockefeller employed a crew of foresters to remove debris from the
roads and roadsides. Nationally known landscape architect Beatrix
Farrand consulted on planting designs to frame vistas and bridges and
to heal scars left behind by carriage road construction. The Fire of
1947 destroyed much of her work.
• Gate Lodges
Two gate lodges, one at Jordan Pond and the other near Northeast
Harbor, ornament the roads and serve as impressive welcomes to the
system. A third gate lodge was planned at Eagle Lake, but was never
built. During carriage road construction, engineer Paul Simpson and his
family lived at the Jordan Pond Gate Lodge.
Rockefeller financed 16 of 17 stone-faced bridges, each unique in
design, to span streams, waterfalls, roads, and cliffsides. The bridges
are steel-reinforced concrete, but the use of native stone for the
facing gives them a natural appearance. Over time, the stone cutters
grew very skilled and Rockefeller often requested them not to cut the
facing too well lest the rustic look be lost.
The result of Rockefeller’s vision and attention to detail is an
integrated system of carriage roads that blends harmoniously with the
The Carriage Roads Today
Maintaining the extensive carriage road system is no easy task, and the
National Park Service could not do it alone. Between 1992 and 1995, an
extensive rehabilitation of the carriage roads was financed by federal
construction funds along with matching private funds from Friends of
Acadia, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the
outstanding natural beauty, ecological vitality, and cultural
distinctiveness of Acadia National Park and surrounding communities.
Woody vegetation was removed from roads, shoulders, and ditches, and
drainage systems were reestablished to arrest erosion. The crown and
subgrade layers were restored, and new surface materials were applied
to replace thousands of cubic yards washed away over the years. Coping
stones were reset or replaced, and some of the historic vistas that
once greeted horseback riders, carriage drivers, and walkers were
To ensure that the carriage roads will continue to be maintained close
to their original condition, the park has formed a partnership with
Friends of Acadia. In 1995, Friends of Acadia established an endowment
to help protect the carriage roads in perpetuity. Each year, the
organization contributes more than $200,000 from this endowment to the
park for carriage road maintenance. Volunteers working under the
guidance of Friends of Acadia contribute thousands of hours cleaning
ditches and culverts, clearing brush, and assisting park staff with
other restoration projects. The commitment demonstrated by Friends of
Acadia in maintaining the carriage roads is only one of many ways the
organization helps support the park.
A portion of park user fees, authorized by the Recreational Fee
Demonstration Program, also helps fund carriage road maintenance.
Between 2001 and 2004, federal funds and park user fees paid for a
major re-pointing, cleaning, and water-proofing of all carriage road
bridges within the park. User fees have also funded annual projects,
including repairing stone walls and opening overgrown vistas. More than
one hundred vistas have been cleared in the past ten years.
A Spirit of Philanthropy
Park volunteers, visitors, and groups like Friends of Acadia are
continuing a tradition of philanthropy begun by John D. Rockefeller Jr.
and other early conservationists. Their valuable contributions of time,
effort, and funds help protect the park and improve the quality of your
experience. For more information about joining in these efforts, stop
at Hulls Cove Visitor Center or visit the Friends of Acadia website.
Such generous spirit allows the park to better meet its mission of
protecting and preserving its cultural and natural resources for
present and future generations.