Before movie stars became currency, America’s celebrity obsession was focused on Society figures..  One of 1911’s major tabloid stories was the marriage of recently divorced 47 year-old John Jacob Astor IV, one of the richest men in America, to 18 year-old Madeline Force, a Bar Harbor summer resident.  Thousands of columns of ink were spent on the subject.  The marriage was denounced from pulpits, and from Bar Harbor, the redoubtable Clara B. Spence founder of Miss Spence’s School for Girls, who herself had an opinion or two about the proper raising of a Society girl,  weighed in with a letter to the Editor of The New York Times:

Miss Spence had formerly summered across the bay at Sorrento, but now spent her summers with her longtime companion, and assistant principal the heiress Miss Charlotte Baker, in a cottage on ‘Kenarden Lodge’, the estate of Miss Baker’s aunt,  widow of railroad financier John Stewart Kennedy.  Two years later, they would move to ‘The Willows’ a beautiful cottage designed for Miss Baker by the Boston firm of Andrews Jaques & Rantoul on Eden Street, where they summered with their four adopted children.  The Willows would eventually pass to Miss Baker’s sister, Mrs. Francis Kellogg, and later be sold to Sir Harry Oakes, but that’s another story, which can be found HERE
The Misses Spence & Baker, with adopted daughters Margaret Spence & Ruth Baker (Spence School)
Despite Miss Spence’s disapproval, the marriage went ahead, cut short when Col. Astor perished aboard the Titanic in April of 1912.  In August of 1912, three of the survivors, Madeline Astor, Mrs. George Widener, and Mrs. John B.Thayer, were in Bar Harbor as the guests of Mrs. A.J. Cassatt (whose granddaughter Lois would later marry Mrs. Thayer’s son) at Four Acres, the Cassatt estate abutting the property where Miss Baker and Miss Spence’s new cottage was rising.  
The Willows, the Charlotte Baker cottage
The next summer, even as the Misses Baker and Spence were moving into The Willows, Mrs. Astor was also moving into a cottage designed by Andrews, Jaques & Rantoul a few carefully raked gravel driveways down Eden Street from the famed educator.
La Selva, ocean front in better days
That house was ‘La Selva’ built in 1903 for Pennsylvania coal baron Andrew Davis.  Mrs. Astor’s occupancy attracted endless press outside the gates.  
In 1916, Harper’s Bazaar caught Mrs. Astor as she was about to be remarried.
Mrs. Astor departed after her next marriage a few years later, but La Selva would soon attract another colorful tenant, sometimes referred to as ‘the most beautiful woman in America’, already planning to leave her husband to obtain a Paris divorce, that she might run away with her lover, one of the most famous actors of his day.
La Selva’ is currently for sale.  It is in condition more than a little reminiscent of ‘Grey Gardens’,  I have written its colorful history for ‘House of the Month’ in the current issue of Portland Monthly.  That article can be found HERE.

La Selva, views of entrance front taken two weeks ago

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