Bar Harbor provides most of the meals and beds to travelers coming to the island, as it has since the grand resort era of the late 19th century, when wealthy vacationers first discovered the Acadia region. Later, sprawling hotels and boardinghouses cluttered the shores and hillsides as a newly affluent middle class flocked here by the steamboat and rail car from the city.
The tourist business continued to boom through the early 1900s, then all but collapsed when the Depression and the growing popularity of car travel doomed the era of steamship travel and extended vacations. Bar Harbor was dealt another blow in 1947, when an accidental fire spread rapidly and leveled many of the opulent cottages and a large portion of the island. Some 17,000 acres burned in all, though downtown Bar Harbor and some in-town mansions on the oceanfront were spared.
In recent years, though, Bar Harbor has bounced back, revived and rediscovered by visitors and entrepreneurs alike. Some see Bar Harbor as a tacky tourist mecca, replete with T-shirt vendors, ice-cream shops, and souvenir palaces, as well as crowds spilling off the sidewalks into the street and appalling traffic for such a small town. That is all somewhat true. Yet the town's history, distinguished architecture, and beautiful location on Frenchman Bay still make it a desirable base for exploring the island anyway, and it has by far the best selection of lodging, meals, supplies, and services. If you want to shop, fine-dine, or go out at night, you've pretty much got to stay here. Otherwise, consider elsewhere on the island.
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