Along with breathtaking views of the rocky Maine coast, Bar Harbor is also home to a stunning number of fine old homes, once called “cottages” by the wealthy “rusticators” who came to enjoy the mild summer weather and incomparable scenery. Some of these homes are mentioned in my book Bar Harbor in the Roaring Twenties. All of them have a story to tell…
Socializing in a Dry Town: Oasis Club/Mount Desert Reading Room, 7 Newport Drive. Built 1887, the Mount Desert Reading Room began as a “social club” in the dry town of Bar Harbor.The revival of yachting after WWI led to the building’s transformation to the Bar Harbor Yacht Club in 1924 but after the roaring twenties came to a crashing end, so did the Yacht Club. During the Depression several local hotel owners joined together to make the building a social club for their guests. In 1948 the building was sold to Bar Harbor Hotel Corporation and reopened in 1950 with a wing added, as the Bar Harbor Hotel. The building now houses a restaurant that is part of the Bar Harbor Inn.
A Young Beauty Marries an Older Man: The Turrets, 105 Eden Street. This French Chateau style summer home was built in 1895 by John J. Emery, whose family made their fortune in Cincinnati real estate. Emery built the Turrets for his young wife Lela when he was 62 and she was 30. The couple spent their summers here with their five children, where Lela in particular made her mark as one of the leading beauties of Bar Harbor society and a popular hostess. The Turrets, which the Bar Harbor Times described as “one of the most charming and pretentious of Bar Harbor villas” was the scene of John’s death in 1908 and Lela’s death in 1953. It is now an administration building for the College of the Atlantic.
A Home for a Horsewoman: LaRochelle 127 West Street. The brick mansion was built in 1901 for banker George Bowdoin, one of the “Morgan Men” who followed J.P. Morgan’s lead and summered in Bar Harbor beginning in the 1800s. The Bowdoins were horse people, keeping one of the finest stables in the summer colony. Bowdoin’s daughter Edith could be seen around town driven by her liveried coachman in her Brewster Victoria, a mink robe over her lap. In the early 1900s Edith lost her father, her brother and her mother in quick succession. She inherited LaRochelle and never married. Her love of horses led her to play an active role in Mount Desert Island’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. After Edith’s death the house was purchased by Tristam and Ethel Colket. Ethel was a Campbell Soup heir, and after her death in 1965 the house was donated to the Maine Seacoast Mission which still uses it as their headquarters. Tours are being offered during August 2016 at 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays through August 30th.
Two Independent Women: The Willows, 119 Eden Street. Built in 1913, the Willows was first the home Charlotte Baker, a very independent woman for her time. She was the long-time partner of Clara Spence, founder of the Spence School, still a private school for girls in New York City. Together the couple adopted and raised four children while also overseeing the day to day activities at the school or enjoying their summer vacations in Bar Harbor. In 1938 the estate was purchased by Sir Harry Oakes, a Maine native famous both for discovering gold in the Yukon and getting murdered in the Bahamas. In 1958 Lady Oakes donated the Willows to Bowdoin College as a conference center. In the late 60s Bowdoin sold to a developer. The Willows is now part of the Atlantic Oceanside Hotel.
Escaping the Heat: Yellow House, 15 The Field. The house was built in 1872 in a different location but moved to its present setting near the water some time before 1885. Beginning in 1894, Mrs. Sarah Linzee of Boston and her daughter Elizabeth stayed at the Yellow House every summer to escape the heat of their Back Bay townhouse. After Mrs. Linzee died in 1903, Elizabeth continued to summer at the Yellow House with her aunt Ann Torrey and after Miss Torrey passed away in 1911, for a few more years by herself. Elizabeth lived quietly at the Yellow House, enjoying the refreshing sea breezes from her porch. It is now a B&B.
The Doctor is In: Ivy Manor Inn, 194 Main Street. The home was built in 1939 by Dr. R.E. Weymouth who had begun practicing medicine in Bar Harbor in 1933. When he was in his 40s he served in World War II in the South Pacific. For the last eighteen years of his career he was chief of staff at Mount Desert Island hospital. Now a B&B.
Politicians and Scientists: Mira Monte Inn, 69 Mount Desert Street. Developer Orlando Ash built the house for his family in the 1870s. In 1884 he rented it to U.S. Senator James Blaine who might not have spent much time relaxing there since he was running for president that year. Then again, perhaps he spent too much time enjoying the Bar Harbor summer because he lost the presidential election to Grover Cleveland that fall. Dr. Henry C. Chapman purchased Mira Monte in 1892, and his family summered here for 39 years. Dr. Chapman was one of the foremost biologists in the country. He was the author of several books on a surprisingly broad range of subjects from evolution to toxicology to medical jurisprudence. He was also the curator of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. Now a B&B.
photo courtesy of Yelp
Newspapers and Motor Cars: Bass Cottage, 14 the Field. Built in 1885, the house was purchased soon after by the Bass family. Joseph Bass was publisher of the Bangor Commercial newspaper. He led the fight against allowing automobiles on Mount Desert Island, but by 1913 the opponents had to bow to the times and allow the motorized carriages on the island. After giving up the fight, Bass was seen driving one of the biggest and nicest autos in Bar Harbor. In 1915 Joe Bass celebrated his 80th birthday at this cottage.Now a B&B.
Newspapers and Duels: The Central House, 60 Cottage Street. Once called Briarfield, the home was often the summer residence for the McClean family, owners of the Washington Post, around the turn of the century. Briarfield then became the summer residence of former New York City fire commissioner Henry Winthrop Gray and his wife. Gray had become infamous in the gossip columns for a duel he once fought against his friend John Heckscher in Canada over Gray’s wife. The duel ended in a draw; however, Gray and his wife divorced, and she eventually married Heckscher. Gray was with his second wife in Bar Harbor. In 1925 Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Hodgkins bought Briarfield, renamed it Central House, redecorated and refurnished and began running the establishment as a rooming house. Now an inn.
Counting Money and Writing Books: Seacroft Inn, 18 Albert Meadow. This was once the summer home of Robert B. Bowler, son of a wealthy Cincinnati merchant. In 1893 Bowler became Comptroller of the U.S. Treasury and the following year he and his wife Alice bought the house, also known as the A.L. Higgins cottage. Later a popular American novelist summered here in the early 1900s. His name was Winston Churchill, but he was not the British Churchill who remains famous today. Now a B&B.