A Most Enchanting Roadblock

Grosvenor Atterbury’s Acadia gatehouse keeps cars out, beautifully.

Deep within Acadia National Park is a house that appears to have sprung from the pages of a medieval fairy tale. Ivy crawls up its intricate masonry façade, from the ground-level granite blocks to the expanse of half timbering and patterned brick, and even trailing onto the steeply pitched tile roof. On one side, the structure is connected to a carriage house by a breezeway and porch. On the other, a high wall of granite coursed with brick extends to a wooden gate, which opens onto a dirt road leading into the forest. It looks like a playfully elaborate fortress, and in a way, that’s what it is.

The Jordan Pond Gate Lodge is the beautiful and practical creation of Gilded Age architect Grosvenor Atterbury, who considered national park architecture to be “the handiwork of man in the face of the work of God.” Atterbury designed the French Romanesque-style building, as well as the Brown Mountain Gate Lodge, with a specific purpose: to ensure that philanthropist and industrialist John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s network of carriage roads would remain automobile-free.

By the time the Jordan Pond Gate Lodge was completed in 1932, Rockefeller had devoted an immense amount of his time and wealth to all aspects of the park’s development, especially its landscaping and engineering. Ironically, considering his connection to Standard Oil, Rockefeller had a strong distaste for motorcars and sought to prevent their discordant presence on Mount Desert Island. When he lost that battle in 1913, he began building carriage roads on his own land and in the new park — 57 miles of them in all, carved into the forested hills and valleys over a period of 27 years.

The Jordan Pond Gate Lodge faces the auto-friendly Park Loop Road (also built by Rockefeller), about one mile north of Seal Harbor. Rockefeller’s chief engineer, Paul Simpson, and his family were the first tenants, tending the gate and its twin across the street, ensuring that no cars turned onto the woodland roads. Rockefeller later donated the gatehouse to the park.

Today, Acadia is among the country’s 10 most popular national parks, and sometimes the traffic is bad enough to cause gridlock and road closures. The good news is that while Jordan Pond Gate Lodge no longer houses a live-in gatekeeper, it still performs the service for which it was built. On the carriage roads, you’ll likely see bicyclists and pedestrians, as well as horseback riders and even a few carriages, but you won’t encounter a single automobile.

Portland-based writer Julie Senk holds degrees in history and historic preservation and provides property surveys and architectural analyses to homeowners and businesses.

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