La Rochelle, the 41-room headquarters of the Maine Seacoast Mission, is to be purchased by the Bar Harbor Historical Society. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SWAN AGENCY

Historical society in talks to buy Mission building

Updated Oct. 5

BAR HARBOR — The Bar Harbor Historical Society announced last Friday that it has signed a purchase and sale agreement with the Maine Seacoast Mission to buy its headquarters on West Street, which was built in 1904 as a 14,000-square-foot summer “cottage.”

The Historical Society would use the building as its headquarters and museum.

The purchase price is not being disclosed at this time, said Earl Brechlin, a member of the Historical Society’s board.

“A lot still remains to be done in the next 60 days to make this a reality,” he said.

Brechlin told the Islander that the purchase would include the Mission’s entire 2.9-acre waterfront lot.

When the Mission put the property on the market in July 2017, the asking price was $6.3 million. The price was lowered to $4.5 million this past July, but the new price did not include the eastern, undeveloped third of the lot, which the Mission had said it was open to selling separately.

The building and land are assessed for tax purposes at $5.37 million.

The Mission’s headquarters was originally named La Rochelle. Since Tristram and Ruth Colket donated it to the Mission in 1972, it has also been known as the Colket Center.

Brechlin said that if the sale goes through later this fall, the Historical Society would move from its current location, a former convent on Ledgelawn Avenue, into the much larger West Street building. He said that could happen as early as next spring.

He described the possible acquisition of La Rochelle as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to preserve one of the last remaining ‘cottages’ from the community’s Golden Age.”

The Historical Society said in a press release that it will be “reaching out to major donors in the coming weeks as well as investigating to make sure there are no legal or regulatory roadblocks to the preservation and use of the property.”

Seacoast Mission President Scott Planting was quoted as saying he is pleased the two organizations have reached an agreement.

“The future of La Rochelle as a museum and repository of Bar Harbor’s history is a great role for this beautiful building,” he said. “The Historical Society news is welcome and promising. This is still a work in progress. We remain optimistic.”

Earlier this year, the Historical Society bought a vacant lot at the corner of Cottage and Kennebec streets as a site for a museum and has requested an amendment to the town’s Land Use Ordinance to allow for museums in that zoning district. A vote on that amendment is to be held at the annual town meeting in June.

Brechlin said in a letter to the Planning Board in July, “As the Bar Harbor Historical Society has grown in its Ledgelawn Avenue location, our collection, our program offerings and the activity has increased as well. We now find ourselves in need of larger spaces, not only to fulfill our mission of protecting and sharing this town’s proud history, but also to house a growing collection.”

Asked if the Historical Society would sell the Cottage Street lot if the La Rochelle sale goes through, Brechlin said last Friday that he couldn’t speak for the board, but he said the Society would not need three pieces of property — including the Ledgelawn building — in downtown Bar Harbor.

The Historical Society purchased the Ledgelawn property in 1997 for $260,000. Its current assessed value is $485,200.

The assessed value of the Cottage Street lot is $510,800.

The Seacoast Mission decided last year to sell its West Street property to provide more money for its programs and services, which it says include “healthcare for fishermen…food for families and life-changing opportunities for kids.” Its ship, Sunbeam, is used to take “spiritual, health and youth development programs” to several outer islands.

The Mission announced in February that it plans to move its administrative offices to a building soon to be constructed in Northeast Harbor by Mount Desert 365, the non-profit organization created to promote economic revitalization.

Reporter Becky Pritchard contributed to this story.



Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]
Dick Broom

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