By Britney Grover
The year was 1916. Charlie Chaplain signed his first film contract. The kingdom of Poland was founded. John D. Rockefeller became the world’s first billionaire. The first supermarket, the Piggly Wiggly, opened in Tennessee. Half a million Ford Model Ts were produced and sold for $345 each; automobiles were quickly replacing horse-drawn vehicles on American roadways. In a world bursting with innovation and modernization, there were some whose vision included maintaining the simple and beautiful luxuries in life. On July 8, 1916, George B. Dorr succeeded in gaining federal protection for the Sieur de Monts National Monument, which would eventually become Acadia National Park.
Sharing George Dorr’s vision, John D. Rockefeller Jr. worked with him to plan and develop carriage roads, the Park Loop Road, gatehouses, and other iconic buildings on Acadia land, including 10,000 acres Rockefeller donated. Now, the Acadia carriage roads span 45 miles and are maintained in old-fashioned beauty by Friends of Acadia. To celebrate 100 years in 2016, Friends of Acadia hosted the Centennial Carriage Drive, a weekend of carriage driving, dining, and camaraderie. “What better way to celebrate the Centennial?” said Gail Clark, who chaired the event. “The reason John D. Rockefeller Jr. built these roads was for horses and carriages — no cars go on these roads.” As a summer Maine resident, it was Gail’s idea that sparked the drive as part of the centennial celebration.
All of the park’s Wildwood Stables was reserved for four days last September for the four-in-hand and pairs that participated in this one-of-a-kind event. With men dressed in appropriate jackets and ties and the women donning hats, whips had the choice of three marked routes each day, each two-and-a-half to three hours long, with an area for a picnic lunch provided by Friends of Acadia on each route. Bob Bell, the President of Sidelines, described the ride as going back in time. The pomp and circumstances of fine champagne served when the horses had a break was just the beginning of the day. After driving from 10:30 to around 2:00 each day, evenings were occupied by incredible cocktail parties and dinners around the island.
Gail and her husband, Percy Hamilton Clark III, better known as Ham, hosted the Welcome Cocktail Buffet at their summer home, Gulls Way, on Somes Sound in Northeast Harbor, Maine. “It was magnificent,” said Gail. There were 15 four-in-hand for the four-day weekend, 80 horses in total, with 4 to 6 guests per carriage. Around 150 people attended the party including whips, guests, and the coachmen or grooms. “The people own the carriages; these are not public carriages. Many of these people who own the carriages also have a professional who helps them with it, and each carriage has two coachmen in the back. Anytime they stop, the coachmen would get out and go to hold the horses’ heads so they don’t walk away.”
Friday night’s cocktails and dinner were hosted by Lynne Wheat at her lovely home called Mainstay in Northeast Harbor, Maine. On Saturday, the third night, everyone gathered at Martha Stewart’s Seal Harbor house, Skylands, for a lobster bake. “It was held at the carriage house, and Martha has these gorgeous carriages in there,” Gail said. Bob Bell, who is a friend of Martha Stewart’s, and Bradley Spragg, Sidelines Publisher, stayed in Martha’s guest house for the long weekend.
The dinner on Sunday was hosted by the 101-year-old David Rockefeller, Sr. in honor of his great coaching friend Frolic Weymouth, who passed away earlier in 2016. “It was impressive,” Gail said of the seasoned man hosting the dinner party. “It was a sight to see, unbelievable.” David himself even took part in the carriage drive celebrating the park one year younger than he was. The same year, David donated 1,000 acres to the Land & Garden Preserve, including private carriage trails which were used during the carriage drive.
“The Acadia National Park Centennial Carriage Drive was a tremendous success!” raved Bob Bell. “The Rockefeller Roads are one of the most important parts of the park. They make it accessible to far many more people on safe gravel roads for biking, walking, and driving than other parks. With the 100th year anniversary, top drivers and incredible carriages drove the Rockefeller roads together for four full days. The four dinner parties had speeches all of which included how important Friends of Acadia is to the park and to the carriage roads. There were many toasts to the organizers for such a spectacular event with so many beautiful antique carriages celebrating our past!
“Everyone enjoyed being entertained by the sounds of the coaching horn,” Bob continued. “Everything was well thought out and extremely organized. Gail Clark, Lynne Wheat, Martha Stewart and David Rockefeller Sr. all did an outstanding job of hosting all the participants each evening for dinner. This was hospitality beyond the call of duty, and they pulled it off better than anyone. The drive was fantastic, the weather was perfect, and I can personally say everyone truly loved their visit to Acadia.”