In 1844 landscape painters Thomas Cole and Frederick Church came to Mount Desert Island and liked what they saw. They sketched the rugged landscape and later returned with their art students. Naturally enough, the wealthy families who purchased their paintings asked Cole and Church about the beautiful land depicted in their paintings, and soon the families began to spend summers on Mount Desert Island. By the end of the 19th century, Bar Harbor rivaled Newport, RI, as the eastern seaboard's most desirable summer resort.

WWII damaged the tourist trade, but worse damage was to come. In 1947 a forest fire torched 17,000 acres of parkland, along with 60 palatial summer cottages, putting an end to Bar Harbor's Gilded Age. But the town recovered as a destination for the new mobile middle-class of the postwar years.