Baker Island, a remote part of Acadia National Park, occupies a longtime special spot in the lore of the park.
The region’s first lighthouse was constructed on the Acadia island and its first keeper was the head of the self-reliant Gilley family that settled Baker in the early 1800s. Hikers enjoy the island for its mystical views of the Acadia mountains on the horizon on a clear day, unusually large sand bar and reef and paths through grassy fields around the coast. People are attracted by the light tower, an Acadia ranger-narrated boat trip and walking tour of the island from mid-June through early September, and giant slabs of granite on the south shore called the dance floor, once used by smooth-stepping rusticators and recently by at least one local swing group.
Now, Cornelia J. Cesari, whose family has owned one of only two private homes on the Acadia island for more than 30 years, has written the first comprehensive history of the island.
In her book, called “Baker Island,” Cesari writes that the island is “an out-of-worldly experience, a timeless Brigadoon” and a historical hub for fishermen, locals, tourists, summer people, artists, academics, military families and naturalists.
Cesari said she was driven to write the book because the island affects the lives of many people and its complete 200-plus year history was never previously written. Visitors often approach her on Baker Island and tell her how much it means to them, or become rapt when she tells stories about the island, she said.
“I have always felt this book needed to be written,” Cesari said in an interview. “It had to be put together. So many people love Baker Island.”
The island is known largely because of its light tower and the pioneering Gilley family that settled there.
Charles W. Eliot, the youngest ever president of Harvard and a summer resident of Mount Desert Island who helped create the national park, was so fascinated by the island’s history that he wrote what is now called “John Gilley, One of the Forgotten Millions,” a little tome, originally published in 1899, that tells the history of the family that settled the island.
Cesari’s book, part of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series, expands on Eliot’s research and brings the history up to the moment.
The book is set for release on June 18 and is available for pre-order at the website of Keepers of Baker Island, a private nonprofit group that works with the park to preserve and maintain the island, located a little more than three miles south of Mount Desert Island. Cesari is president of the board of directors of the nonprofit and says books bought on the website will benefit the organization, although the book will also be available at the same price of $21.99 elsewhere, at bookstores and Amazon.com. (NOTE: Please see sidebar about Amazon.com links)