January 29, 2020
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Historical society seeks to buy 116-year-old Bar Harbor mansion

Bill Trotter | BDN
Bill Trotter | BDN
The Maine Sea Coast Mission headquarters, housed in a mansion historically known as La Rochelle, on West Street in downtown Bar Harbor has been for sale for more than a year. The Bar Harbor Historical Society announced Friday that it has an agreement to purchase the property and is looking to raise the needed funds.

A 41-room mansion in downtown Bar Harbor that has been owned and used by an ecumencial organization as it headquarters for the past 46 years may be getting another nonprofit group as its new owner.

The Bar Harbor Historical Society has signed a purchase-and-sale agreement to buy the mansion known as La Rochelle from the Maine Seacoast Mission, according to a statement released late Friday afternoon.

The mission has been looking to sell the waterfront mansion for more than a year, in part to help fund its services and programs in Downeast Maine, mission officials have said. The mission’s programs provide pastoral, medical, and other services to residents of Maine’s offshore islands and other communities along the state’s eastern coast.

Earlier this summer, the mission reduced the asking price for the 13,000-square-foot Greek Revival mansion from $6.3 million to $4.5 million.

Officials did not say in the release whether they have agreed on a price for the mansion, but did say that the historical society “will be reaching out to major donors in the coming weeks” to help fund the purchase of the prominent property.

“We felt the opportunity to preserve not just the town’s history, but also the incredible historic and community resource La Rochelle represents, could not be passed up,” the society’s spokesman, Earl Brechlin, said in the release. “A lot still remains to be done in the next 60 days to make this a reality.”

Mission President Scott Planting said in the statement that having the historical society acquire the mansion for use as a museum and to house its collection would be a “great role” for the mansion.

“The historical society news is welcome and promising,” Planting said. “This is still a work in progress. We remain optimistic.”

Originally built in 1902, La Rochelle was donated 70 years later to the Mission by Tristram C. Colket Jr., one of several heirs to the Campbell’s Soup fortune, and his wife, Ruth Colket. The Mission has called its headquarters The Colket Center ever since, though the name “La Rochelle” can still be seen etched into the masonry by the mansion’s gates onto West Street.

In addition to raising funds, the historical society intends to make sure there are no legal or regulatory roadblocks to the preservation and use of the property as a museum before it moves ahead with the purchase, Brechlin said.

Earlier this year, the historical society purchased a lot on Cottage Street in downtown Bar Harbor to use as a site for a possible museum and headquarters. It currently is seeking a change in the town’s land use ordinance that would allow such a use on that lot, but the earliest a zoning change on that lot could be approved is next June, according to Brechlin. It then would take “several years” to design, get approval and then construct a building on that site, he added.

If the society is able to purchase La Rochelle instead, it could relocate from its current location on Ledgelawn Avenue to the West Street property as early as next spring.

“We are going to need a lot of help,” Brechlin said. “There is no question La Rochelle is a major asset to this island, and it is going to take the assistance of the entire community to see that it continues to be.”

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