REMEMBERING 100 YEARS
Although Southwest Harbor celebrated its centennial in 2005, the town's history began well before 1905. As Mount Desert Island's largest natural harbor, Southwest Harbor attracted seasonal residents long before European explorers came, namely the Abenaki Indians who came for fishing, clamming and hunting. The first permanent settler was William Gilley, who moved ashore from the Cranberry Isles sometime after 1777 and built a cabin at Norwood's Cove.
The town became one of several villages within the incorporated township of Tremont. Though many houses were built on the north side of the harbor, the town and working waterfront were concentrated on the Manset side. The town's focus shifted to Clark Point Road and Main Street gradually. It started with the building of the public steamboat wharf in 1853, the growth of inns and hotels, the town's first car dealership, the coast guard station growing from a buoy-tending operation to a fully operational base, the building of the library, and the move of the post office from Manset.
But it was a dispute over the building of a new school that led to the town's secession from Tremont. In the late 1800's high school students attended school at Seal Cove in the fall, Tremont in the early winter, and Southwest Harbor in the late winter and spring, an impractical arrangement as enrollments grew and larger buildings were needed. When Tremont balked at the cost of a new school in Southwest Harbor--$6,000--the citizens of Southwest Harbor voted to form their own town in 1905.
Southwest Harbor's centennial celebration started in February, 2005, and lasted through much of the year. As part of the celebration the Southwest Harbor Historical Society was given the task of collecting artifacts and sealing them in a time capsule to be opened in 100 years.
IIt is noteworthy that Southwest Harbor is home to Mount Desert Island's oldest church congregation, founded in 1792. A building was originally built on the County Road in about 1819. The Manset church was rebuilt on the present Seawall Road site in 1828 and became the home of the historical society in 2018. Southwest Harbor is also the home of the oldest continuously operating inn on the island, the Claremont; the first public cemetery on the island, the Old Burying Ground on High Road; and the first hotel on MDI, the Island House (1850).
The time capsule is in the Southwest Harbor Historical Society office at the Manset Union Meetinghouse,192 Seawall Road.