Bar Harbor Historical Society board members Kim Swan, left, and Dick Cough at La Rochelle this week with the organization's new Acting Executive Director Carolyn Rapkievian. ISLANDER PHOTO BY LIZ GRAVES

History on the move

BAR HARBOR — The Bar Harbor Historical Society group has found a buyer for the former convent building it owns on Ledgelawn Avenue, the group announced this week, and hired an acting executive director to guide the process of turning its new headquarters, the West Street mansion known as La Rochelle, into a museum.

The convent building, which has housed the historical society and served as a museum since 1997, is under contract to be sold, according to Kim Swan of the Swan Agency Sotheby’s International Realty and a board member for the society. The purchase price and buyer have not been made public.

The group’s collections and archives are set to be moved at the end of this month from Ledgelawn to La Rochelle.

The proceeds from the sale will help pay down the society’s debt from the purchase of La Rochelle this past spring. Two local banks provided bridge loans to supplement the gifts the society had received and make the purchase possible, board member Dick Cough said.

“(The banks) will be thrilled, too, to know that we’ll be able to pay down a big part of it right away,” he said. “And then next year, from our revenues and our fundraising campaign, we hope to do even better.”

The news of the sale also comes just as the Bar Harbor Designer Showhouse at La Rochelle ended its run Sunday, after welcoming nearly 2,300 guests since opening in July.

The Showhouse, a separate organization that raises funds for nonprofits by showcasing the work of designers, donated over $50,000 to the historical society. It also provided a way to open the first floor of La Rochelle to the public, historical society board member Dick Cough said, for this summer while working on its plans for a more permanent museum. The society purchased the building in April from the Maine Seacoast Mission, which currently leases the second floor for offices.

The historical society’s new Acting Executive Director Carolyn Rapkievian has decades of experience working in museums, and especially with opening new ones. She worked from 1992 until earlier this year for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, including helping plan and open the New York museum and expanding programs at the National Mall museum.

Often people stumble into museum work from other career paths, Rapkievian said, but she always knew she wanted to work in museums.

Growing up near the Louisa May Alcott House in Concord, Mass., she approached the staff there when she was a kid and said she wanted to be a volunteer.

“They said, ‘You’re not old enough yet,’” she remembered.

“I knew that if I worked in a museum I’d get to go to school my whole life,” she said.

“I love history, I love digging into things,” she said. “My mom had saved the old brochures [from Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island] from when we were children, so when I brought my husband and son for the first time she gave them to me. I brought them with me and I said, hey, there are some things on these maps and guides that aren’t there anymore. I was hooked.”

She and her husband have owned a home in Bar Harbor for several years, and she plans to move here full-time in 2020.

Curator Debbie Dyer, who has led the historical society as a volunteer for many years, will continue to be involved in its work as a local historian.

“She has been the mainstay of the society for years and got us to this point,” Cough said. “We wouldn’t be doing this if it hadn’t been for her, everything that she did getting (us) here.”

Eventually, they hope to include more than the first floor in museum exhibits, to show how staff lived and how the communication system of bells and buzzers worked.

Next year, Cough said, some cruise ship passengers will visit the museum on tours. Because it’s in walking distance from where they arrive in town, they won’t need to board buses.

Upcoming events

The historical society is this year’s winner of the Acadia Arts Achievement Award from the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce, which will be presented Monday at the chamber’s annual meeting.

The Bar Harbor Village Improvement Association (VIA) has also moved its office from the convent building on Ledgelawn to La Rochelle. The VIA will hold its annual meeting Thursday, Oct. 24 at 10 a.m. at La Rochelle. New members and the public are welcome. Visit

A double feature of the two recent Peter Logue/Bar Harbor Historical Society documentary films is set for Friday, Nov. 8, at 7 p.m. at the Criterion.

“The Fire of ’47” discusses the fire that burned much of Mount Desert Island, and “Consolidation” is about the founding of Mount Desert Island High School. The films are both less than 45 minutes long, so the double feature will be about the same length as a short feature film.

DVDs of “Consolidation” will be available during the upcoming Chamber of Commerce Pajama Sale event.

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.