You never know what you’re going to learn at the grocery store. Sunday, we ran into a neighbor at Shaw’s. He not only pointed out a coupon we’d missed, but he also told us that his fireplace and chimney were built by Hans O. Heistad, who was the landscape architect who built Beech Nut on top of Beech Hill in Rockport. It’s one of my favorite day walks, but I’d never spared a thought about its history.
Beech Hill is a blueberry barren owned and maintained by the Coastal Mountains Land Trust. At its top, 500 feet above sea level sits a peculiar, lovely stone structure called Beech Nut. It was designed and built in 1917 by Heistad as a picnic hut for a local estate. It affords a fantastic view of Penobscot Bay and the Camden Hills.
A long carriage drive curves up the hilltop. It is designed to slowly reveal the scenic panorama as you climb. At the top, Beech Nut stands a little behind the path. A squat and sturdy stone building, it hints at Heistad’s Norwegian heritage with its sod roof and deep porch.
Heistad also designed the interior furnishings, none of which have survived. The site was rehabilitated and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.
Hans Heistad was born in Brevik, Norway. He studied landscape gardening and horticulture there and in Denmark and worked in Germany before immigrating to the United States in 1905. Employed by the Olmsted Brothers, he came to Maine to work at Chatwold, the Pulitzer estate in Bar Harbor.
Heistad worked on numerous private estates in Camden and Rockport . When the Depression caused private money to dry up, he began working in the public sector. He worked as staff landscape architect to develop Camden Hills State Park as a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) project.
Camden Hills was a fortuitous meshing of Heistad’s own style and the prevailing ethos of park developers. Heistad liked working with native plants and local stone. At the same time, park services were instructing their employees to respect their sites’ natural character and use local materials and construction techniques. Heistad was primarily responsible for developing the fifty acres along the oceanfront to be accessible to the public. To this end, his CCC workers cleared brush and built roads and structures.
The next time I take someone for a walk up Beech Hill, I’ll know a little more about its history.