La Rochelle’s History

Built in 1903, La Rochelle has seen the glitz and glam of the Gilded Age to the lean years of the Great Depression. Today, it stands as the headquarters of the Bar Harbor Historical Society as well as a museum, housing all kinds of Bar Harbor history!

A sepia photo of La Rochelle being built, circa 1902, with scaffolding put up.

Building the Foundations

La Rochelle was built in 1903 and is the largest estate built along the shore of West Street in Bar Harbor. The architects were Andrews, Jaques & Rantoul – the estate was built for George Sullivan Bowdoin and Julia Grinnell Bowdoin. The home was one of the first to be made of brick since there was no brick factory on Mount Desert Island. The forty-one room, 13,000 square foot lavish chateaux had twenty bedrooms and ten full bathrooms on two acres of land. The home contributes to the historic character of the West Street Historic District which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


The Bowdoins

Mr. Bowdoin was a partner and Treasurer of J.P. Morgan and his father had been a partner in the firm years before. His great grandfather founded Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine in 1794. He was the great-grandson of Alexander Hamilton and the 4x great-grandson of Huguenot Pierre Baudouin who arrived in the province of Maine in 1686 before moving to Boston. Other prominent ancestors include John Winthrop, Thomas Dudley, and Pierre Schuyler.  Mrs. Bowdoin’s father was Moses Grinnell and on her mother’s side, she was related to Washington Irving of Sleepy Hollow, New York.

Before arriving in America, the Baudouin’s lived in La Rochelle, a seaport in Nouvelle, Aquitaine, France (hence the name of the estate, La Rochelle and New Rochelle in New York). The translation of “La Rochelle” means “little rocks”. The Baudouins fled their country to find relief from religious persecution. (The Huguenots were French Protestants.)

A photo of George Bowdoin.


Modern La Rochelle photo from the back, looking at the piazza.

Changing of Ownership

In early 1943, the Coughs purchased La Rochelle and the caretaker’s cottage across the street where Bun Cough, his wife Helen, and their four children resided until shortly after the Fire of 1947.

Then in 1944, Ethel Dorrance Colket and Tristram Colket of Philadelphia acquired La Rochelle from the Cough family.  Mrs. Colket was the daughter of John Thompson Dorrance, a chemist who invented condensed soup and eventually became president of the Campbell Soup Company.  Tristram Jr. and Ruth Colket gave the property to the Maine Seacoast Mission in 1972 and it served as their headquarters for the next forty-seven years.

Finally, in 2019, the Bar Harbor Historical Society purchased the estate in order to preserve the building and grounds for future generations and to present the history of Bar Harbor, displaying its rich collection of historic objects and archives.