(Bloomberg News) The Rockefellers, the Morgans and the Astors, the most powerful Gilded Age families, knew how to pick real estate. The worth of the properties they once owned on Mount Desert Island in Maine has soared during the national real estate bust.

Americans watched their home values tumble an average of 29 percent from the start of the real estate collapse in 2006, according to the Federal Reserve. Mount Desert estates owned by the descendants of oil and industrial barons gained by almost the same amount, according to local records.

While the recession erased more than 8 million jobs and brought the home-construction industry to a grinding halt, billionaire Mitchell Rales bought a $5.5 million estate and tore it down to build a $25 million mansion on Mount Desert in Maine, the U.S. state with the highest proportion of vacation homes, according to new figures from the 2010 U.S. census.

"The upper end has survived the crash better than most," said Gary Fountain, a broker at Mount Desert Island Real Estate in Bar Harbor. "There are still plenty of Learjets parked at the Bar Harbor airport every weekend."

The rest of Maine isn't used to summer residents arriving on private planes. Packed minivans filled with families from nearby states is more the norm. As a whole, the value of Maine's real estate has fallen 12 percent since 2006. There's no separate gauge of the vacation-home market in the state. In the same period, New York's home values dropped 15 percent.

Beating Southampton

The gain in the value of real estate in Mount Desert, a town with the same name as the island, outpaced even the 14 percent rise in Southampton, the priciest of the villages on the eastern tip of New York's Long Island where Hollywood starlets and Wall Street bankers spend their summers. The roster of Hamptons summer residents includes Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., and Hollywood producer Steven Spielberg.

Purchases of luxury homes in both communities are often made with cash, according to brokers.

"Even if the very rich lose money in the stock market, they still have enough left over to buy a luxury vacation home and, really, do whatever else they want," according to Jonathan Miller, the president of Miller Samuel Inc., a residential appraisal company based in Manhattan.

Stern, Spielberg

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