During the gilded age, when the remote Maine resort of Bar Harbor was considered second only to Newport on the summer social tour, partners in the Morgan Bank, or ‘Morgan Men’, as they were known, were mainstays of the opulent summer community. It was understandable. Their employer had long and deep ties to the resort—J.P. Morgan’s wife, the former Frances Tracy, had summered there since childhood, when Bar Harbor was still called Eden and had returned most summers since. The great banker, more restless, traveled back and forth on his yacht Corsair, an imperial presence on the social scene. Louis Auchincloss, in A Voice From Old New York, remembered his parents, who summered in Bar Harbor, cancelling a previous social engagement when summoned to dine with Morgan aboard Corsair. When young Auchincloss questioned his parents—his father did a great deal of business with the Morgan firm—about throwing over their intended hostess for that evening, his mother simply told him that ‘someday you will understand’.
One of the Morgan partners at Bar Harbor was George S. Bowdoin, a grandson of Alexander Hamilton—another of whose grandchildren was married to Morgan’s son-in-law Pierson Hamilton, also a partner in the bank, also a Bar Harbor summer resident. Mrs. Bowdoin, the former Julia Irving Grinnell, was the great niece of Washington Irving.
|The newly completed ‘La Rochelle’, 1903|
In 1901 Bowdoin purchased an in-town shorefront lot on West Street, and commissioned a cottage from architects Andrews, Jacques & Rantoul. Completed in 1903, the house , curiously urban in that way of houses in grand resorts—were it not for the ocean behind it, one could imagine this house in Kalorama—was a blend of French Renaissance & Georgian, built of brick and Indiana limestone. Large (Some 35 rooms on four levels) but not vast, elegant but not opulent, it was the first major brick house in a resort hitherto filled mostly with massive stone, shingle and stucco cottages. The new cottage was called ‘La Rochelle’ after the Bowdoin family’s ancestral town in France.
|First floor and grounds plan|
|Second Floor Plan|
Andrews, Jacques and Rantoul, who designed many of Bar Harbor’s finest cottages—Herbert Jacques summered on Schooner Head south of town—excelled in the design of integrated houses and landscapes, and ‘La Rochelle’ sat well supported by an elegant entrance court separated from the street by an brick and iron fence. On the ocean side, a huge curving terrace with lattice brick and limestone balustrade on the ocean bluff anchored the house to its site. An intimate sunken walled garden was adjacent to the entrance court. Although the architectural framework was provided by the architects, the layout and planting plan were by Beatrix Farrand, whose family had an estate nearby.
|The sunken garden at ‘La Rochelle’, once upon a time, and last week|
George Bowdoin died the same year as J.P. Morgan, 1913, and his son, Temple Bowdoin, also an associate of the Morgan Bank, died the next year. “La Rochelle’ was inherited by the Bowdoin daughter Edith. Miss Bowdoin, intensely proud of her Huguenot heritage, sometimes styled herself as Edith Baudoin. Earnest and serious, a major supporter of the ASPCA, she was a firm opponent of the motorcar on Mt. Desert—a battle soon lost—and is best known today for her donations, both in Bar Harbor and New York, of watering troughs and fountains for horses.
|The entrance portico is beautifully detailed. Sadly, the balsutrade on the entrance terrace, seen in the top photo, is lost.|
After Miss Bowdoin’s death in the 1940’s, ‘La Rochelle was acquired by the Tristam C. Colkets of Philadelphia. Mrs. Colket was the former Ethel Dorrance, daughter of John T. Dorrance, the Campbell’s Soup king, who had summered at Kenarden Lodge south of town. The Colkets maintained ‘La Rochelle’ in perfect order—one of the last houses in Bar Harbor to be kept to the precise standards of earlier time, every shrub groomed to perfection, the lawns mowed in English stripes by reel mowers, the gravel in the drive raked daily, the shutters kept in perfect gloss.
|Also lost are the brick balustrades that defined the terraces around the house.|
After Mrs. Colket’s death, ‘La Rochelle’ was donated to a favorite charity, The Maine Seacoast Missionary Society, which maintains the boat Sunbeam as a floating church, providing services to the islands of the region. As so often happens, the Mission took their lovely gift, and immediately started thinking of ways to change it. And change it they did. Down came the lovely brick balustrades, whose plinths had only the summer before held tubs of perfect geraniums. Out went the French doors to the beautifully wrought iron balconies on the driveway side, replaced by solid panels topped by a single square pane of plate glass. The iron gates were removed. Inside, a partition went up, separating the central hall from the cross hall, and cutting off the vista of Frenchman’s bay from the front door.
|A small circular vestibule opens under the curved double stairs and looks ahead to French doors to the ocean terrace, and a 90 foot cross hall. Notice the curved mahogany door.|
|Although Ogden Codman is known to have done the interiors of the Bowdoin’s Park Avenue town house, this picture of Mrs.Bowdoin’s sitting room at ‘La Rochelle’ would suggest that he probably wasn’t involved at Bar Harbor.|
After a few years, happily, the Mission reconsidered these early changes. The partition was taken down inside, and although the windows have been replaced in recent years, with square heads instead of the graceful round head they once had, French doors were put back. Although not as well designed as the originals, it is a vast improvement, and despite the loss of the balustrades, a chimney, and the formal landscape of the entrance court, I will complain less than usual, because unlike most of its peers, at least it survives and is mostly respected.
|Side terrace, once upon, and now. The eastern end of Bar Island, once owned by another Morgan partner, E.T. Stotesbury, is visible on the right. Stotesbury purchased it in the early 1900s and had intended to build a cottage there, but, his second wife clearly had other ideas about accessibility for entertaining, and the Stotesburys finally built a cottage on Eden Street, dead center in the heart of fashion|
Of the gilded age resorts, Bar Harbor’s decline was more dramatic and final than that of any other. After weathering the vicissitudes of the Great Depression and World War II, a forest fire swept through Bar Harbor, destroying half the remaining great cottages overnight. ‘La Rochelle’, the first house on the West Street as one turned from Eden Street, Bar Harbor’s grandest thoroughfare, missed the fire by only one building. Its neighbor on the corner of Eden and West, the exclusive De Gregoire hotel, burned.
|The De Gregoire hotel on the Corner of Eden and West streets, burned in the Bar Harbor fire. A few hundred feet to the right, La Rochelle escaped the flames.|
And there the tale would end, but for a tiny postscript: In 1905, ‘La Rochelle’ was published in House & Garden. The article was seen by a Hartford industrialist, Dr. George C.F. Williams, who so admired it that he commissioned Andrews, Jacques & Rantoul to design a smaller variation of the design on Prospect Avenue in that city. The Williams house is now the Connecticut Governor’s mansion.
|The Connecticut Governor’s mansion|
For the 1905 House & Garden article about ‘La Rochelle’, click HERE