Executive Director Carolyn Rapkievian puts the finishing touches on an exhibit at the Bar Harbor Historical Society’s Museum at La Rochelle. PHOTOS COURTESY OF BAR HARBOR HISTORICAL SOCIETY

The making of a museum 



Executive Director Carolyn Rapkievian shows a toy car spared (mostly) from the Great Fire of 1947.

BAR HARBOR – What if you threw a party and nobody could come? Hopefully that will not be the case for the Bar Harbor Historical Society, but as the finishing touches are put on its new museum at the historical La Rochelle mansion, the society waits to learn when the doors can open to the public due to limitations in place because of COVID-19. 

The museum had a working date of May 23 slated for opening day, as well as a full summer’s worth of programming lined up, which might be scaled back. “We may have to get to that next year,” said Executive Director Carolyn Rapkievian about the summer programming. In the meantime, she said, she and the society’s board of directors have been working to bring a collection’s worth of ideas and objects to life through the creation of immersion-style exhibits placed throughout the mansion’s 41 rooms and 13,000 square feet.   

The soon-to-be-open museum is housed in the society’s newly acquired West Street building named La Rochelle. Bar Harbor Historical Society purchased the building, which was built in 1903, from the Maine Seacoast Mission last year. The building served as the mission’s headquarters for nearly 50 years.  

As visitors make their way through the museum, said Rapkievian, they will find that what once had been the living room is now an exhibit highlighting the so-called Cottage Era. The butler’s pantry gives an historical look about life in Bar Harbor, and other exhibits are planned on the Wabanaki people, rusticators, the maritime and steamship industries, and the Fire of 1947.  

An aerial view of the La Rochelle property. PHOTO COURTESY OF SWAN AGENCY

The museum will also feature people such as Beatrix Ferrand, a notable landscape designer who planted the original gardens at La Rochelle, and George B. Dorr, also known as the “Father of Acadia National Park.” 

The museum is coming together, albeit more slowly than expected because of the need for social distancing and staggered work schedules, said Rapkievian, who promised that they will accept visitors to the grounds as soon as they can.  

For more information about the museum or the Bar Harbor Historical Society, visit barharborhistorical.org.  

Faith DeAmbrose

Faith DeAmbrose

Managing Editor at Mount Desert Islander
Faith DeAmbrose

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