History of BHHS

From a small room under the stairs of the Jesup Memorial Library to a three-story “cottage,” the Bar Harbor Historical Society has certainly seen big changes in our nearly-80 years of operation! Here at the BHHS, our goal is to serve and safeguard Bar Harbor’s history for generations to come, and for La Rochelle to be a part of the future as a cultural center, with exciting events and enriching programs for all to enjoy.

A black and white photo of George B. Dorr standing on a cliff, overlooking Acadia.

Humble Beginnings

Following the passing of George B. Dorr, “the father of Acadia National Park” in August of 1944, a public exhibition was held in Bar Harbor’s Jesup Library celebrating Dorr’s life and the history of the Park. Due to the positive response to this exhibition, the Bar Harbor Historical Society was founded on August 19, 1946 with the first physical location established in a small room under the stairs in the Jesup Library.

Mary Peltz of New York City was the first Chairman. Mrs. Peltz, who summered in Bar Harbor, often traveled abroad, and was the archivist for the Metropolitan Opera. She continued to participate in curatorial activities, and was an active benefactor of the society, through the 1970s.

Following Mrs. Peltz, Gladys Franklin O’Neil stepped in and was the archivist of the Bar Harbor Historical Society from 1989 through 1995.

Assuming the leadership role upon O’Neil’s depature, Debbie Dyer joined the organization in 1989 as secretary and curator, enhancing its collection and broadening the Society’s impact in the community.

In 1997, the Bar Harbor Historical Society purchased its own building, the former St. Edward’s Convent on Ledgelawn Avenue. Which became home to a modest seasonal museum and collections space.

Then and Now

A New, Bigger Place of Our Own

In 2019, the Bar Harbor Historical Society purchased La Rochelle, a 13,000 square foot brick estate built in 1902 on West Street. The collections and archives were moved to La Rochelle that same year. Carolyn Rapkievian became the organization’s first executive director, creating the opening exhibitions and expanding the museum’s programs. With the assistance of staff, board members, volunteers, and community support, the museum continues to add new exhibitions, programs, and special events.

The museum is advancing its collections care and expanding the digitization of its archives to provide greater public access to the history of Bar Harbor. It welcomes visitors to the La Rochelle Mansion and Museum in the spring, summer, and fall seasons.

Photo of La Rochelle with an antique red car in the front.