Early settlement of the land was by fishermen and lumbermen and originally this Town of Mt. Desert included several off shore islands. In 1796 Eden (now Bar Harbor) was formed. The Town of Mansel (later called Tremont) was incorporated in 1848. The Town of Southwest Harbor further divided itself from Tremont in 1905 over a dispute about whether to build a new school.
Because Southwest Harbor was an exporter of lumber and fish, boatbuilding grew to be an important part of the economy, though today most of the boats built are for recreation and pleasure. In its time, Southwest Harbor has had a lobster cannery and more recently a sardine cannery, though both have long since closed.
Southwest Harbor was “the first destination on the Island for summer visitors in the years after the Civil War, and since then has had a double personality. Before the war it was a long established fishing, trading, ship building, lumbering and agricultural village. It then became the seasonal home for a considerable population of upper middle class and affluent summer residents.”*
Maine Route 102 begins at entrance to Mount Desert Island and leads directly south to the main village of Southwest Harbor. Here the Wendell Gilley Museum celebrates the life and work of Gilley, a pioneer of decorative bird carving.
South of the harbor, the small villages of Manset and Seawall face the entrance to Somes Sound and the Cranberry Isles.
Southwest Harbor, on Mount Desert Island, Maine was first settled in 1761and was incorporated in 1905.
It lies on the southwest entrance to Somes Sound, thus the name, diagonally across from Northeast Harbor, a village in the town of Mount Desert.
Southwest Harbor has been both a fishing and summer resort community from its earliest days as a town. The Moorings Inn claims a heritage that extends “Sometime before 1784 [when] Andrew Tucker established himself on this lot. Of the fifteen families located near Southwest Harbor, ten lived very near the little cove beside The Moorings. This natural protection from the sea was then. as now, a fine place for ships as well as people to ‘moor.'”
Southwest Harbor Properties on the National Register of Historic Places
SWH Town Pier, 1945 - Courtesy of Chuck Liebow