Rabbits and Residents

published march 29, 2023 | Written by emily cough | edited by bhhs staff
Photo of a large group of local Bar Harbor residents from the 1940s, surrounding a set table, awaiting their rabbit feast.

In the past Way Back Wednesdays, we’ve touched on topics, names, and faces that have already had their day in the sun. But what about the everyday man? Our neighbors? The names of folks which are familiar from growing up on the island? What can history tell us about them?

Alongside the ostentatious lifestyles of the rich summer residents stood the humble year-rounders. They were the shopkeepers, farmers, doctors, policemen, and everything in between. And while they may not have had a richly powerful last name like Astor or Morgan, they kept the island running behind the scenes with their hard, dedicated work. 

The year round residents had their own identity – their own lifestyle that differed from the flashy summer elites. They had their granges (social clubs for farmers and dairy farmers), theaters like Odd Fellows Hall and Star Theatre, Sproul’s Cafe, and the Casino. Not a gambling casino as the name suggests, the Casino served as a hub for local events; anything from basketball games, town meetings, and plays. They even had their own balls and dances. 

So while the Astors, Morgans, and Rockefellers went to their glitzy balls and parties, year-round residents had their own versions of these dances, known as the Way Bak Ball or Hayseeder’s Ball. Started in the late 1800s as a satirical play on the wealthy summer residents’ dances, the Hayseeders leaned into the hick stereotype that the high society members placed on them. It was all in good fun and more of something to do in the off-season for locals. To learn more about the Hayseeder’s Ball, check out our podcast, Through the Dooryard, our just-released new season, detailing all about it! 

But what else did local residents get up to on their own time? Taking a page out of Elmer Fudd’s book, some locals took part in the annual wabbit–er rabbit hunting season. Known as “The Rabbit Feed,” the event marked the end of the season in March. It was put on by Bill Horner’s (pictured on the left of the photo, as the little boy in 1948) grandfather Asa Hodgkins, the feast included stewed rabbit, Bill’s grandmother’s dumplings, and “more than an occasional nip from the bottle.” Local men from different walks of life, such as summer caretakers, an editor from the Bar Harbor Times, a village optometrist, a policeman, and a barber came together for these annual hunting parties. Altogether, Dr. Horner described these men he looked up to as his “heroes.” Not the famous men of the time like Bing Crosby or Humphrey Bogart, but regular, humble men who made their living with their hands and hard work. 

The photo, from 1948, also marks an important time. A year prior, as most of us know, was the devastating Fire of ‘47, which wiped out a plethora of land, displacing many residents, and razing Gilded Age summer homes. At a time when the summer population was beginning to dwindle and Bar Harbor became less and less of a vacation spot, the fire truly marked the end of an era for the island; the wealthy elite weren’t interested in rebuilding their cottages and their sights were on other summer destinations, leaving the island to its locals.

In the past 50+ years, Bar Harbor’s reputation as the ideal summer getaway grew again, thanks to the locals and residents who’ve made it possible. Through their hard work, blood, sweat, and tears, they built Bar Harbor from the ground up again, whilst giving a nod to its bygone era by maintaining its reputation for being a close knit community. 

If there’s anything we’ve learned from living or working in Bar Harbor, it’s resilience and selflessness. It’s not just a seasonal, summer destination, but it’s a year-round, thriving community. Just take a look at the Facebook groups for Bar Harbor Barter and Swap and Downeast Maine Traffic and Road Conditions, you’ll see just how quickly this community bands together in times of great need. Whether it’s needing a new dog leash, giving out free furniture, or offering advice, Bar Harbor’s residents have been bonded by the island’s open-hearted and open-minded identity. And we’re proud to be a part of that! 

If you’d like to be a part of our community here at Bar Harbor Historical Society, it’s never been easier! Just head to https://barharborhistorical.membership.veevartapp.com/membership/view/join and be in-the-know for all upcoming happenings with our newsletter. And mark your calendars, because we open May 26th! See you then!