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January 31, 2019

Bar Harbor Historical Society on track to buy Seacoast Mission building

Courtesy / The Swan Agency Sotheby's International Realty
Courtesy / The Swan Agency Sotheby's International Realty
The Bar Harbor Historical Society is on track to close March 31 on the purchase of the former Maine Seacoast Mission building, a historic structure known as “La Rochelle” on West Street in Bar Harbor.

The Bar Harbor Historical Society is scheduled on March 31 to close the purchase of the former Maine Seacoast Mission building, a historic structure known as "La Rochelle" on West Street in Bar Harbor.

The society plans to move its growing collections to the new location out of a building it's outgrown on Bar Harbor's residential Ledgelawn Street.

The society announced last October that it had signed a purchase-and-sale agreement with Maine Seacoast Mission to buy La Rochelle. The mission listed the building for sale in 2017 for $6.295 million. The historic La Rochelle mansion was built on the waterfront at 127 West St. in 1902.

"We hope to set up parts of the mansion just as it was when construction was completed," Richard Cough, vice president of the society's board of directors, told Mainebiz. "Our first order of business, however, is to raise another $1 million before the closing to get our debt down to a reasonable amount where we can cover costs."

With the purchase-and-sale agreement, the society committed to raising $4.75 million in the fall of 2018, according to its website.

"Together with a leadership pledge of $1 million from a generous Bar Harbor summer resident and generous donations from several board members, the society is more than halfway to the goal," the website says. "It is imperative that another $1.5 million is raised from donors through cash donations, three-year pledges and stock donations by March 15, 2019."

Cough said the board itself has pledged over $500,000 and has received commitments of another $1.25 million committed from other donors.

"We hope to start moving things onto the first floor of La Rochelle in April and open by June 15," Cough said.

Building is in 'great shape'

Once the society is in the building, he added, it plans to put on functions and events that will further help with the fundraising.

The society plans to do a soft opening, so getting set up shouldn't require much up-front money, he said. The plan is to set up the first floor and do most of the work themselves.

La Rochelle was built as a mansion, with more than 40 rooms on three acres. It was donated to Maine Seacoast Mission in 1972 by the Colket family of Philadelphia.

In February 2018, the mission announced it would move its headquarters to a multistory building planned for construction in Northeast Harbor, in order to provide better cost efficiencies that are expected to result in more money for programming.

"The building is in great shape thanks to the Maine Seacoast Mission and the Colkets, so there are no structural issues that need to be addressed," Cough said. "We will focus on displaying period furniture from local estates and unique items from our own collection."

Once the debt is paid off, the society will work toward building an endowment to maintain the building and grounds, which are expected to require a lot of upkeep, he said.

La Rochelle is a perfect fit for the society and its collection, he said.

"To be able to preserve this iconic estate for all future generations will also be a boost to the local economy and add one more cultural activity to our list of must things to do in Bar Harbor," he said.

The society's building at 33 Ledgelawn Ave., is paid for and will go on the market, he said. The building is a three-story former convent.

"Hopefully any buyer will allow us ample time to carefully inventory and move out our collection for appropriate display or storage at La Rochelle," he said.

The society also briefly owned a half-acre vacant commercial lot in downtown Bar Harbor, at 56 Cottage St., which it bought last May for $1.3 million. The original idea was to build larger accommodations there. But with the impending La Rochelle closing, the society sold 56 Cottage St.

According to the Mount Desert Islander, the sale, to Karol Foss of Nokomis, Fla., was finalized Dec. 19. Foss is an honorary member of the board of directors of the Criterion Theatre, and donated money for a recently installed elevator there, the Islander reported.

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