BAR HARBOR, ME—The Turrets, College of the Atlantic’s iconic building, is in sore need of repair. The 1895 national historic landmark is one of the few “cottages” of the golden era of Mount Desert Island remaining on the Bar Harbor shore. But the very turrets for which the building is named are cracking. Slate shingles from its roof have already slipped off. An anonymous $500,000 challenge grant has spurred the college’s fundraising drive to cover the necessary renovations.
COA has stewarded this granite treasure since it acquired the building in the college’s early days—restoring and renovating it in the 1970s after years of disrepair. The current work, to begin April 8 and continue into the fall involves a temporary reorganization of campus traffic to ensure the safety of visitors and the community. The two granite turrets facing the water will be removed and reinstalled. A new slate roof—estimated to last another century—will cover the building. To enhance the college’s conservation efforts, energy-efficient, historically honest doors and windows will be installed.
With the new challenge grant, $1.24 million has been raised toward the $3.9 million estimated repair cost. Beyond the slate roof, turret reconstruction, 99 new windows, and new doors, renovations include a new copper drainage system and copper roof flashing, 12-inch repointing of the granite over 40 percent of the exterior and three-inch repointing over another 30 percent, reconstruction of granite chimneys, and new exterior woodwork.
“In the college’s early years, students, faculty and staff came together to restore this remarkable building to habitability as one of the first—and major—hands-on, learning-by-doing projects of the college,” says COA President Darron Collins, a 1992 alumnus. “Now, once again, the COA community has come together to save the building and make it a model for the ecologically smart restoration of historic landmarks. With some 10,000 individuals coming to visit this landmark each year, the entire MDI community will benefit from the project.”
The Turrets was a wedding gift from the 40-something candle and soap magnate John Josiah Emery to his 18-year-old bride, the former Lela Alexander. Seeking to cement his position within MDI society, Emery hired the elegant and popular architect Bruce Price, who was simultaneously working on the storied Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City. One hundred men spent two years building The Turrets, quarrying the 42,500 cubic feet of granite from near Eagle Lake, using draft horses to drag the blocks across the five miles. The building’s $100,000 price tag in 1895 would cost between three and 13 million in 2013 dollars.
For more information on the restoration, or ways of assisting in the project, contact the college at 207-801-5620, or visit coa.edu/saveturrets
College of the Atlantic was founded in 1969 on the premise that education should go beyond understanding the world as it is, to enabling students to actively shape its future. A leader in experiential education and environmental stewardship, COA has pioneered a distinctive interdisciplinary approach to learning—human ecology—that develops the kinds of creative thinkers and doers needed by all sectors of society in addressing the compelling and growing needs of our world. For more, visit www.coa.edu.
Photos: Historical photo of workers outside of The Turrets
Contemporary photo of The Turrets; the side turrets are to be removed, repointed and returned, among other repairs.