History of La Rochelle

The La Rochelle mansion was built in 1903 and is the largest estate built along the shore of West Street in Bar Harbor. The architect was Andrews, Jaques, and Rantoul of Boston, and the estate was built for George Sullivan Bowdoin and Julia Grinnell Bowdoin. There was no brick factory in the vicinity, so this home was only the second one to be built of brick on Mount Desert Island. The forty-one room, 13,000 square foot lavish chateaux has twelve bedrooms and nine full bathrooms on two acres of land. The home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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, Moses Grinnell, and Pierre Schuyler.

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.)

Beatrix Farrand is reported to have designed the original sunken garden at La Rochelle. She was one of America’s most celebrated landscape gardeners, renowned for designing private gardens, many of which were located in Maine, as well as gardens for some of the country’s most prestigious universities and colleges.

In the early 1940’s, local speculator Bun Cough purchased La Rochelle and the caretaker’s cottage across the street where he, his wife Helen, and their four children resided until shortly after the Fire of 1947.

In 1944, Tristram Colket of Philadelphia and his wife Ethel Dorrance Colket, daughter of John Thompson Dorrance, a chemist who invented condensed soup and eventually became president of the Campbell Soup Company, acquired La Rochelle from Mr. Cough. 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. 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.