Archives: Pebble Point goes missing
Three grainy color slides from 1959 and a one-hour video clip of a May 2000 interview with landscape architect and historian Patrick Chasse lead us to the bittersweet story of the Asticou Azalea Garden’s lost Pebble Point. Often referred to as “Pebble Peninsula,” the mounded low spit of land jutting into the Great Pond at the Azalea Garden was a key feature in Charles K. Savage’s initial garden construction.
The softly curved spit of land was topped with a four- to six-inch deep pile of beach rocks and served as a bermed extension of the grassy area adjacent to the granite foot bridge across the stream. Pebble Point created a peaceful margin of transition between the grass and the pond. It was a crowd favorite and provided a terminus for walking in the garden. Regrettably, by the time of Savage’s death in 1979, most of the subtly variegated colored rocks were missing or submerged in the pond. The point hosted grass and weeds and no longer served as a feature to attract the eye to the serenity of the pond. What remained of Pebble Point was completely eliminated during the 1983 dredging project that was required to reclaim the Great Pond from weed growth, annual silt, and erosion from the upper brook and adjacent Asticou hillside.
The rocky point was conceived by Savage as a visual enticement, drawing the visitor’s attention to the reflection of the clear pond water and away from the immediate grass plain and bordering azaleas that had been brought to the site from Beatrix Farrand’s Reef Point estate in Bar Harbor. According to Chasse and others familiar with the early garden construction and design, Savage relocated a sampling of a unique geological piece of Maine by sending men and trucks to remove several loads of smooth stones from Jasper Beach near Machias to ground an Asian-inspired Azalea Garden landscape into the center of his beloved Asticou village. The physical underpinning to secure the loose, smooth pebbles on a spit of land was an adeptly placed combination of mud and gravel, pushed and shaped from the swampy bottom material of the excavated Great Pond area. The Azalea Garden was feverishly assembled to accommodate Farrand’s plants. Although this temporarily established an aesthetically arranged waterside pebble collection, the feature slowly succumbed over the years to the water rushing from the brook and heaving ice from the predictable annual winter freeze.
The Preserve archives hold a dozen recorded oral histories of people such as Katharyn Savage, Joseph Musetti, Don Coates, and Tim Taylor, all associated with the early creation of Preserve properties. Among these is a video oral history in which Patrick Chasse, closely involved in the 1980s reclamation of the garden, recounts the story of Pebble Point in an interview conducted May 27, 2000 by Asticou Azalea Garden Manager Mary Roper and Mark Davison, a consultant with the Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation in Brookline, MA. Chasse describes the point as “graphic and pure form” that was uniquely envisioned by Savage. Although the public was always encouraged to visit the garden and Savage wrote of his intent to leave a built landscape of lasting value to the community, the Garden was primarily arranged as a private space for the enjoyment of summer residents and guests at the Asticou Inn, a Savage family business. The main garden entrance was at the Route 3 gate, directly across the road from the lower inn parking lots and the garden was oriented toward a visual intersection with a field and land that tumbled from the garden area, across the State Road, and into the harbor, all bordering the southern edge of the inn property.
Building a fragile landscape feature into a private garden, steeped in a summer season culture, is one thing. After Savage’s death in 1979 and the passing of the garden to the Town of Mount Desert and later to the Island Foundation (which became the Land & Garden Preserve), garden visitation grew exponentially as more day visitors and tourists came to the area and media publicity about the garden circulated. Pebble Point was a casualty during this period in the garden’s history when the property transitioned from Savage’s precisely conceived but overgrown 20-year-old semi-private garden to a public space with few financial resources and extensive needs for deferred maintenance. In the face of enthusiastic youngsters lobbing the Jasper Beach pebbles into the pond and the forceful annual water and ice rush from the woods to Northeast Harbor that eroded the brookside, Pebble Point largely disappeared by the late 1970s and then did so completely with the 1983 pond dredging.
The slide photo transparency that is archived and shared here was donated to the Preserve by Patrick Chasse in 1999. It was initially thought that this was taken by prolific photographer Charles K. Savage. The photo is probably not Savage’s. Chasse suggests that it might be a photocopy made of a postcard scene at the Asticou Azalea Garden that was created by several local entrepreneurs and sold at Maine souvenir outlets during the 1950s and thereafter.
If any of our readers have historical images that depict our gardens and lands in their early years, we would love to see what you have. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have historical postcards or photos that you would be willing to share. We are not accepting hard copy accessions for the archives but would love to be able to make unrestricted scan images with your permission.
Betsy Hewlett is a former employee of the Preserve and now helps to curate our archives collection.