October 21, 1947
Wind-whipped Fire Destroys Huge Swath of Bar Harbor
Strong wind fans the flames of fires already burning for three days on Mount Desert Island, boosting the area burned from about 169 acres to more than 2,000. On the afternoon of the next day, the wind changes and pushes the fire directly toward Bar Harbor. It travels six miles in less than three hours, destroying sixty-seven majestic summer cottages on Millionaires Row; they This Day in Maine 328 never are replaced.
Five hotels and 170 permanent homes also are destroyed. Heading in other directions, the fire also destroys the Jackson Laboratory. About four hundred people flee on boats before the roads, blocked by fire, can be opened again. When the fire is declared under control on October 27, the total area burned on the island comprises 17,188 acres, including more than 10,000 in Acadia National Park. Property damage exceeds $23 million— equal to about in $267 million in 2019.
The island’s blazes are part of the wave of fires that sweep over southern and eastern Maine in 1947, “the year Maine burned.” Among other results, the fires change the composition of the forest on Mount Desert Island. It eradicates mature stands of spruce and fir. Birch, aspen, and oak trees take their place, giving Acadia National Park a palette of fall foliage colors that it did not display earlier. Motels and other businesses catering to short-term tourists replace the summer cottages of the wealthy, but probably the latter would have disappeared even without the fire. That aspect of Bar Harbor life had been in decline since the 1890s, and many of the grand homes were demolished before the fire struck.
More than 650 News Items and Images
This Day in Maine features more than 650 news items and images stretching from the earliest known events of The Pine Tree State through the devastating coronavirus pandemic of 2020. Author Joseph Owen, who worked as a journalist for more than 40 years, highlights defining events such as wars, fires, and storms, but also spotlights athletes, politicians, entrepreneurs, artists, and other people who have shaped the state’s singular identity, including Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, L.L. Bean, Samantha Smith and more.
While the book captures many serious moments and historical events, it also leaves room for the fun and the odd, from the only appearance of Elvis in the state to a gold scam in Lubec in which two men convinced investors they could extract gold from seawater.
“Joe Owen is a veteran reporter and editor who has written a finely-researched, wonderfully readable book that is structured to focus on daily events, but those events, when taken collectively over the course of year, reveal the amazing sweep and scope of Maine history,” said Dean Lunt, editor-in-chief of Islandport Press. “As we celebrate Maine’s bicentennial, “This Day in Maine delivers a compelling journey through time that is told just like it unfolded—day-by-day.”
Owen is also the author of a popular daily news feature that appears in the Portland Press Herald and other newspapers called On This Date in Maine History. He is a former copy desk chief of Maine’s Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal newspapers. The Maine native earned a Bachelor’s degree in English from St. Anselm College in New Hampshire. He also worked in Germany at European Stars and Stripes and in Japan at its Asian counterpart, Pacific Stars and Stripes. During his time overseas, Owen covered the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989), the Persian Gulf War (1991), Operation Restore Hope in Somalia (1992-93), and the Great Hanshin Earthquake in Japan (1995), among other subjects, ultimately filing reports from twenty countries. Owen is a former president, and current board member of the Augusta-based Kennebec Historical Society.