Saturday, July 25, 2015


Not exactly an abandoned hiking trail, this piece is on an abandoned rail line and the story of the old Bar Harbor Express.  In Hancock they say you can still see the remains of the dock where the Mount Desert Ferry was once located.
  Not many people today even know that The Bar Harbor Express once helped get people to and from the island.  The railroad line,  The Maine Shore Line Railroad, was built by Colonel John N. Greene with financial backing from the Maine Central Railroad, and went on to become the premier passenger line in all of New England.  The train was first named the Mount Desert Limited, but would later get renamed The Bar Harbor Express.
Mount Desert Ferry Terminal - Bar Harbor Express

  The train transported passengers to the Mount Desert Ferry at Hancock Peninsula, at  McNeil Point from 1885 through the mid 1930's.  As many as seven train loads of passengers arrived each day in the summertime making the Mount Desert Ferry Terminal a very busy place.  Steamboat ferries  carried passengers 8 miles of Frenchman's Bay to the Maine Central Railroad Wharf located where today's Bar Harbor Town Pier is.  A train station and motel once  was located on Ferry Road in Hancock where train passengers would step off the train and board the Ferry which would drop off it's passengers at the terminal at the Bar Harbor pier.  Two ferries were used to transport passengers to the Bar Harbor terminal, the steamboat Sebanoa, which could haul 12, 299 passengers, and later the steamboat Sappho was added.  The ferry service thrived and in coming years stops were added to the villages of Seal Harbor, Northeast Harbor, Southwest Harbor and Manset.
  In 1911 a third ferry was added, The S.S. Moosehead, said to be a luxury liner, and later a forth ferry was added, the Rangely.
At first the Bar Harbor Express was made up of five cars, and in 1906 the Maine Central Railroad added dinning cars for passengers traveling between Portland, Maine and the Mount Desert Ferry Terminal in Hancock.
The Bar Harbor Express -

  Famous people who traveled on the Bar Harbor Express included President Benjamin Harrison, Vice-President Adlai Stevenson, and the Vanderbilrs.  But train service was not for just the wealthy, the Maine Central Railroad also ran "excursion trains" over the same tracks at a much lower fare.  These trains are said to have carried up to one thousand passengers a day to the Mount Desert Ferry Terminal, where they would take a ferry to Bar Harbor.  These less expensive trains usually began to make their runs near the end of the season, after many of the wealthy families are left the island.
The Bar Harbor Express as it might of looked had the train line reached Bar Harbor

  Two major events marked the beginning of the end for the Bar Harbor Express.  First, the laws were changed in Bar Harbor and for the first time cars were allowed to operate on the island.  Some time later the island was connected to the mainland by a bridge.  The second was World war 1 - the luxury ferry the S.S. Moosehead was taken into government service and would never return to the island.  Than in 1919 John D. Rockefeller transported family and guests to the island in five cars, and other wealthy people also began using cars instead of trains to reach the island.
  By the fall of 1931 both train and ferry service was discontinued from Mc Neil Point.  The Bar Harbor Express would on to continue to make runs, but now the train stopped at Ellsworth, Maine,  where passengers boarded buses to reach Bar Harbor.    In 1957 the train line was shortened again with the Bar harbor Express now only going as far as Bangor, Maine.  On September 5, 1960 the Bar Harbor express went out of business because automobiles and planes were now the preferred way to reach Bar Harbor and its surrounding villages.  
  Perhaps one of the darkest days for the rail line was on August 6, 1899.  A rumor went around that day that there was too many passengers for the ferry to carry and that some would not be able to make the 8 mile crossing  to Bar Harbor.  Large numbers of people rushed to the gangplank leading onto the ferry, so many people that their weight caused the gangplank to break, sending 200 people 15 feet below into the cold water.  20 people drowned before help could reach them as groups of people grabbed and hung on to one another.  It was said that many of the victims that were pulled from the water alive were unconscious and near death.
  The list of victims who lost their life that day included Murray, Mrs William, Brewer; Bridges, Irving, W. Hancock; Colson, Albert, Levant; Oakes, Mrs Alonzo P, Bangor; Summer, Miss Grace, Bangor; Murphy, Joseph, Old Town; Estey, Mrs Hollis W. Ellsworth; Cushman, Clifford, Corinth; Ward, Miss Lizzie, Bangor; Downes, Charles W. Ellsworth; Sweetser, F.E. Portland; Lank, Ora M, Danforth; Bennett, G.H, Brewer, Bennett, Mrs G.H, Brewer; Stover, Mrs Charles, Ellsworth; McCard, Melvin, Corinth; Billings, Mrs A.H, Bangor; Derwent, Mrs George, Bangor; Lewis, Miss, Hampden; Unknown woman, believed to be from Boston.

In recent developments, Downeast Rail Heritage Preservation Trust is purchasing  the old 470 locomotive that has set on display off of college Avenue in Waterville, Maine.  The city of Waterville has agreed to sell it, and the trust hopes to resotre the train back to its former glory days by once again making it an active train.  The 470 was one of the locomotives which hauled the Bar Harbor Express.  Back when my first child was born, we would take him over in the car to where the 470 was on display and enjoy a picnic before all climbing up into the locomotive.  You could look back at the coal cat that set behind it even, it was a pretty cool experience which we did many times over the years.  Now that I live in the Downeast area, it is nice to know that one day soon I will be able to ride on a train being pulled by the 470, the very engine that pulled passengers to the Mount Desert Ferry so many years ago.


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