By Ward Miller
The City of Bar Harbor should make this a priority to protect the farm (also known as Mizzentop Gardens, mizzentopgardens.com) from commercial encroachment by hotels and other businesses in the surrounding neighborhood.
While the owners of the farm property and neighbors are very grateful to the many distinguished companies that have made great contributions to the local economy, the seasonal employee housing goals presented to the planning board will go a long way in modifying this property. history and the surrounding community which is primarily residential.
The owners of the farm are very sensitive to the importance of affordable housing and local jobs and therefore feel that this development is not sustainable for Bar Harbor in the long term. The planning board should consider a location more suitable for the housing needs of seasonal employees, such as one of the many large vacant lots along Cottage Street.
Locating housing needs on Cottage could go a long way in generating a stronger sense of community in this part of town.
The city should protect the farm for many reasons. It is one of the most historic and iconic properties on the island. It was built around 1810 for the Richardson family, one of the first families to settle on the island. At that time, according to a map from the CEO’s office, the land stretched from the water’s edge at Harbor Lane to the base of Cadillac Mountain and Great Hill.
It’s important for other reasons as well – it has renowned colonial-style gardens originally designed by Beatrix Farrand and it barely survived the 1947 fire thanks to loyal gardeners Mildred McCormick, Mr. Riddell and Mr. Daigle.
There is evidence that the property could also have been used as a shelter for the rustics: intellectuals, writers and painters, people like Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church. Thanks to their art, the beauties of the island have been revealed to the world. Most importantly, the farm is a testament to the local families who built Bar Harbor, names like Richardson, Rodick, Higgins, Hamor, Hodgkins and many more. The descendants of the Bar Harbor families should regard the farm as their own and protect the old place.
Additionally, the farmhouse is McCormick’s remaining property in an area that once had five more. Thus, it is one of the last links to the great American legacy of the McCormick Reaper, the machine that revolutionized agriculture and played a central role in making Chicago the center of the world commodity trade.
These roots go back to the 1830s, when Cyrus Hall McCormick, an inventor from Virginia, finalized his version of a horse-drawn mower and moved to Chicago in 1847 with his brothers. Together they built what has become the International Harvester Company, one of the great corporations of the 20th century.
Their invention, the first practical mechanical harvester, ended centuries of harvesting grain by hand with a sickle, scythe and cradle. The McCormick Reaper was a revolutionary contraption when 90 percent of the world’s population was farming. The machine performed the work of five men and thus freed up hands to work in booming cities and, simultaneously, lowered the price of grain and helped establish the Chicago Board of Trade. In doing so, the brothers became the recognized giants of the new farm machinery company and a name known the world over. As Chicago’s largest employers, they have played a major role in guiding this city’s growth into the center of the global agricultural industry. This is referenced in the book “City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago & the Making of America”, by Donald L. Miller.
The issue facing the farm and the surrounding neighborhood is also about good manners of building local infrastructure – which is first and foremost about people because it is the people who make communities alive and prosper.
The road to building thriving cities and towns must be through engaging citizens and ensuring that their voices are part of the future of the community. In recent years, we have seen a rise in new approaches to citizen engagement in cities around the world, trying to listen and map the needs of citizens. All in all, this crucial process is still a long way from obtaining useful data, on a large inclusive scale.
Everyone’s buy-in is not only at the heart of our democratic values, but at the very root of economic growth and environmental stewardship for all cities.
Ward Miller is the Executive Director of Preservation Chicago, a nonprofit organization that works to protect and revitalize Chicago’s architecture, neighborhoods and urban spaces. Occasionally, Preservation Chicago advocates for causes outside of Chicago that are important to the city’s cultural heritage.