Mount Desert was in the Frenchman's Bay Customs District, and in 1850 the district ranked 4th, at 11.2%, among Maine's 13 customs districts, for its investment in the cod fisheries. The thick, old-growth forest provided ample opportunity for sawmills and the export of pine lumber and timber, as well as shipbuilding, which went hand-in-hand with fishing vessels for the cod fisheries.The coasters of the island found ample freight in the shipment of lumber from the sawmills of the Union River at Ellsworth. The rugged interior of the island limited settlements to the coastal fringe, creating a number of independent, isolated communities. Mount Desert's small fishing and farming communities, in the early 1850s, were set like small diamonds in an incredible crown of natural beauty. These small, isolated villages, clinging to a jagged coastline which stood resolute against the breaking sea, would have reminded artists like Lane of an America untouched by the progress of time. This was New England as it had once been, and there were few places in coastal New England where this claim could still be made.
Mount Desert, as it is colloquially known, has been known by many names throughout its history. The Etchemin called it Pem-etn-ic, "a range of mountains," as seen from the sea, "where the hills rise in a long saw-toothed range," Champlain called the island, notable for its granite mountains, of which one rises 1530 feet , "Isle des Monts Deserts," "barren mountains Island," and Sieur de la Mothe de Cadillac, who was granted a large tract at the head of Frenchman Bay in 1687, called Douaquet. Cadillac is one of a number of Frenchman whose presence in history is denoted by Frenchman's Bay.
At the beginning of recorded history Asticou was an Etchemin Sakom who lived seasonally on Mount Desert with his band. His larger homeland, Ketakamigwa, "the big land on the seacoast," was "an ecologically diverse coastal woodland environment, combining a saltwater archipelago with a 1000 mi.² freshwater hinterland broken by hills, swamps, lakes and ponds, and drained by a few major rivers in numerous smaller streams." The highly mobile Wabenaki families, ethnically identified as Etchemins, inhabited Penobscot Bay, making full use of the abundance of natural resources, including the building of a fish weir, K'chi-siti-mokan'gan, "The Great Fish Weir," between Little and Big Deer Isle, from which Eggemoggin Reach is derived), and shaping the natural environment to suit their needs.
Asticou, or members of his band, were on hand to greet Champlain in 1604, and he was at Manchester Point in 1613 when Father Baird and three Jesuit priests dropped anchor on their way to establish a Catholic mission on the Penobscot River. Asticou invited them to stay, the invitation was accepted, and the mission of St. Sauveur at Fernald Point began to be built. The work had barely begun when the mission was destroyed by Capt. Samuel Argall, an English privateer from Jamestown.
Champlain named Mount Desert but left its sentinel rock, 26 miles off shore, unidentified. The island was given the name of Mount Desert Dry Rock in the 18th century, and shortened somewhat after this. The island served as a navigational aid, not a hazard, for coastal seamen. The US government purchased this pile of rocks from the State of Maine in 1829, there surely must have been a few laughs over this transaction, and the government authorized $5000 to build a light station, which began operation in 1830.
– Mark Honey