Notes from the Archives: Gardens of Mount Desert Island, as related to the Patrick Chassé Landscape Architecture Collection

By Nancy Noble, MHS Archivist & Cataloger

Nose deep into slides of gardens for months, I slowly became entranced with the idea of visiting gardens for my birthday last June, on Mount Desert Island (MDI) where most of the gardens designed by Patrick Chassé were located. Patrick and I share workspace at Maine Historical Society’s off-site storage facility. As I got to know his collection (Coll. 4180), I also got to know Patrick, who was sifting through his life’s work as Principal of Landscape Design Associates, based in Bar Harbor, Maine, and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Patrick shared many stories about his clients, ranging from the more well-known (the Rockefellers, Brooke Astor, and Martha Stewart) to the less famous but equally philanthropic and high powered, as well as the average person who needed advice about their garden. Of even more interest to me was Patrick’s research into historic gardens, specifically those designed by Beatrix Farrand (1872-1959). Farrand designed many gardens on her beloved Mount Desert Island, and elsewhere including the New York Botanical Gardens, Dumbarton Oaks, and Princeton University. I felt a certain kinship with Beatrix, as her papers are at the University of California at Berkeley, and I was a Berkeley baby (my parents met while working there, and my father and brother were UC Berkeley graduates). Beatrix also was involved in the Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens, in another part of California where I spent my teenage years.

Finally, June arrived. It was time to see some of the gardens that I learned about through Patrick’s voluminous slide collection (nearly 24,000 slides) and vast project files (151 document boxes), as well as gardens in general, on MDI. Thuya Gardens opened a week after our trip, and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden opened in July. Our first garden, the Asticou Azalea Garden, was open, and we were warmly welcomed by docents. Although the azaleas were on their way out, this very Zen-like garden, with Japanese influence, soothed us, and invited us to sit and contemplate.

Next on the pilgrimage was Garland Farm, home of the Beatrix Farrand Society, and where Farrand spent her final years. Although they weren’t officially open to visitors for another week, I had wiggled my way in, by asking to see the library (as a librarian). The director, Patrick Calloway (yes, another Patrick!), kindly showed me not only the library, but also the entire house and garden area. This filled my soul with delight. Patrick Chassé was very involved with this garden, as you can imagine, and for a while maintained a studio here.

We then ventured to College of the Atlantic to view a few more beautiful gardens, although we missed the one designed by Beatrix Farrand. Next time! The final one we visited during our sojourn was Wild Gardens of Acadia in the national park. This was where Patrick first met these two “white haired ladies,” Elizabeth “Betty” Thorndike and Janet TenBroeck, founders of the garden, who influenced Patrick’s career in landscape design.

The public gardens we visited are just a drop in the bucket of the gardens that Patrick worked on at MDI, but being on his beloved island really informed my work for the rest of the “year of Patrick,” where I delved into his life and career.

To see more of my garden sojourn, visit my photo album.

International Appalachian Trail: Collection from the Founders

By Jordis Rosberg. MHS Project Archivist

In the summer of 2021, Maine Historical Society received the papers and records of the Maine chapter of the International Appalachian Trail (IAT) from founders Richard Anderson and Don Hudson. Anderson first conceived of the IAT in 1993 as a trail that would extend north along the eponymous mountain chain from the Appalachian Trail’s terminus at Katahdin, Maine, across the border into Canada and, eventually, across the Atlantic Ocean. This trail would follow the geological remnants of the original range formed by the supercontinent Pangea hundreds of millions of years ago, which today spans portions of the United States, Canada, Greenland, Western Europe, and North Africa.

Richard Anderson, 1996

It was no small feat to take the seed of this idea for an International Appalachian Trail and turn it into a reality. The organizational records gifted to MHS (Coll. 4213) reveal years’ worth of thoughtful route planning, land lease agreements, public relations, campsite creation and maintenance, and cooperative work with representatives and trail enthusiasts in a dozen countries. To accomplish these many and varied tasks, IAT incorporated as a non-profit, established a board of directors, created trail guides, maps, and other merchandise to assist hikers and raise funds, and corresponded with Maine landowners and lawmakers. The IAT collection offers a crash course in grassroots efforts, perseverance, and the physical and cultural contours of trails and hiking. The magnitude of the IAT undertaking is clear with just a quick glance at the 27 archival boxes packed with material.

Informational material by SIA-IAT, representing the trail in Canada
and the United States
Map by Charlie Gilman depicting proposed routes for the trail through the Saint Croix Lake region.

The collection contains more than administrative and organizational records, however. Filed amongst the various IAT documents, records, maps, and plans are also newsletters and brochures of other trail associations in the U.S., Canada, and beyond. Folders with pages from trail registers containing notes left by hikers using IAT lean-tos complement letters from thru hikers sharing their experiences of and suggestions for the trail.

Carefully penned and hand-drawn plans for routes and drafts of trail guides are housed alongside correspondence revealing the depth of thought, planning and detail that went into the creation and maintenance of the IAT. And throughout are hundreds of photographs documenting the beauty of Northern Maine and Canada. All of these records together immerse the user in the world of long-distance hiking – its language, camaraderie, and particular quietude.

Architectural drawings for an IAT lean-to, 2005

The IAT collection has many potential uses. Certainly, anyone with an interest – personal, professional, or scholarly – in hiking, trails, non-profit organizations, and Maine’s recreational land use would find much of note in the collection. Anderson and Hudson delivered the IAT materials particularly well-organized, and this fact, coupled with their overall diligence in record keeping, means that the IAT collection also offers an interesting glimpse into general organizational processes and administration. 

Altogether, the IAT collection is one of historic, aesthetic, organizational, and human interest. We look forward to sharing it with visitors to the MHS Brown Research Library in the years ahead, and to learning more about its connections to the people, places, and story of Maine. 

Jordis Rosberg is an archivist and librarian who processed this collection for MHS as part of an internship sponsored by the International Appalachian Trail (IAT).

Spite House in Rockport Maine: Garden Papers and Correspondence

By Steven Deschenes, MHS Volunteer

Garden lilies: L. testaceum, L. washingtonianum, L. humboldtii, and more – they came by the dozens from across North America, and they came to a small corner of mid-coast Maine.

Their destination? The gardens of the Spite House in Rockport, Maine.

Despite some plants having come thousands of miles their travels are not nearly as impressive as that of the Spite House itself. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974, the Spite House owes its existence to a family dispute from the early 19th century.

When Captain Thomas McCobb returned from a long voyage at sea, he discovered that his relatives had broken his father’s will and moved into the fine house his father had built in Phippsburg. In retaliation, or “spite,” he had an even more ornate home built strikingly close to his father’s usurped house.

The house was completed in 1806. By the early 20th century the house had seen better times and, in 1925, it was bought by Mr. and Mrs. Donald D. Dodge.

Shortly after purchasing the home, Mr. Dodge arranged for it to be moved (completely intact) from Phippsburg to Deadman’s Point in Rockport. The house was braced, lifted onto a barge, and shipped 85 miles to its present location. Once safely back on dry land, two more wings were built.


The following year, Mr. Dodge had gardens installed according to a design by the landscape architect Robert Wheelwright. Now, thanks to a recent donation to the Maine Historical Society, we know just what bloomed!

Relatives of Mr. Dodge donated his documents pertaining to the gardens of the Spite House to the Maine Historical Society. Among the papers are purchase orders, receipts, plant lists, notes on plant care and propagation, catalogs, and letters.

Looking through the correspondence with over half a dozen plant nurseries (most of which appear to no longer exist), you discover the wide variety of lilies, roses, and alpine plants ordered and planted by Mr. Dodge and his gardener, Henry B. Williams, during the 1950’s. Mr. Dodge kept carbon copies of his letters detailing their successes and failures. It’s clear that he was an avid gardener with a keen interest in learning all he could about lily propagation.


Reviewing the papers, you’re regaled with their struggles to control a common plant disease, Botrytis, that plagued particular species, especially during wet and damp periods of weather. Controlling the local woodcock population also took precedence, as it’s assumed the gamebirds – primarily an insect eating species – rooted around in the flower beds, disturbing young seedlings and causing general havoc to the flower beds.

Here’s a passage from a letter addressed to A.D. Rothman of Strawberry Hill Nurseries, dated October 15th, 1954:

I am having a wonderful time in my garden now preparing the planting arrangements for these lilies and planning where to put them. You can be assured they will have every care possible. They are planted amongst shrubs – Azaleas, Kalmia, Rhododendron, Mahonia, Bayberry – but I have learned to give them plenty of room and I have also learned to restrict the roots of the Mahonias and Bayberries by putting in sheets of zinc to give the lilies a head start. The Kalmias and Rhododendron are no problem and the same applies to most Azaleas but some of the Azaleas do have runners. However, I am having a hard time keeping up with my woodcock shooting and getting the lilies planted too!

By all appearances, the time period covered in the collection marked one of the high points in the history of the Spite House Gardens. While under the care of Mr. Williams, the gardens underwent an extensive expansion with a lily and wildflower garden planted in the woods south of the house, installations of a rock garden, an enclosed rose garden, island gardens in the lawns surrounding the property, and the construction of a greenhouse.

All in all, the collection provides a glimpse into what it took to plan, execute, and nurture flower gardens on the coast of Maine nearly 70 years ago!