MONEY USED TO GO FURTHER, # 3: Bar Harbor Property Taxes 1903

In the course of researching a story about the Vanderbilts in Gilded Age Bar Harbor for today's New York Social Diary, I came upon this little tidbit in the July 3rd, 1903 New York Times.  Here in down east Maine, late Winter is when the annual Town Reports are released, and absolutely everyone indulges in the voyeuristic sport of seeing how much their neighbors paid in property taxes in the preceding year.  Apparently it has been ever thus:

Naturally, I found this entertaining, and since I had far more important things to do, I decided to match those long-ago taxpayers to their houses instead.

Tax assessing has always been something of a mystery to this Dilettante, and this list was no exception.  It include several of the grandest estates in Bar Harbor, and left out several others.  Four of the cottages, Vanderbilt, Dorr, Kennedy and Morrell, sat on properties of 20-35 acres, and had many support structures---gatehouses, gardener's cottages, greenhouses, stables and carriage houses.  Most, as is typical in many resorts, sat on smallish lots of 2-4 acres, with perhaps a carriage house or lodge.

Pointe d'Acadie, the main house on the George Vanderbilt estate.

'Islecote House' at 'Pointe d'Acadie', the cottage occupied by Mr. Vanderbilt's niece, Mrs. William Jay Schieffelin, designed by Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow, nephew of the poet.
A rights-free image could not be found of 'Whileaway', also designed by Longfellow, the third main cottage at George Vanderbilt's 'Pointe d'Acadie'
Total Tax Bill 1903:  $3,200.
The main house at George B. Dorr's 'Old Farm' off Schooner Head Road, designed by Henry Richards  (click HERE to see the porch at the left today)
Tax Bill in 1903,  $2,390
Augustus C. Gurnee's 'Beaudesert' on Eden St., designed by William Ralph Emerson
Tax Bill in 1903, $1,369
Charles T. How's 'Guy's Cliff', designed by W. Jordan, was next door to Beaudesert on Eden St.
Tax Bill in 1903, $1,263.
George S. Bowdoin's 'La Rochelle' on West St., designed by Andrews, Jacques & Rantoul.  
Tax Bill in 1903, $980.

John Stewart Kennedy's 'Kenarden Lodge' designed by Mrs. Kennedy's nephew Cornelius Baker's firm, Rowe & Baker, on Main St.
1903 Tax Bill, $2,280.
Joseph Pulitzer's 'Chatwold' by designed by Rotch & Tilden, with tower by McKim, Mead & White at right,  on Schooner Head Road.
1903 Tax Bill, $2,198.

John J. Emery's 'The Turrets', designed by Bruce Price, sat on Eden St. next door to 'Guy's Cliff'.  1903 Tax Bill, $1,375..

Edgar Scott's 'Chiltern' designed by A.W. Longfellow, on Main St., a few doors down from Kenarden Lodge.
1903 Tax Bill, $2,451.
Edward T. Morrell's 'Thirlstane' formerly the R.B.Scott cottage designed by William Ralph Emerson, sat on the largest property, 35 hilltop acres on Eagle Lake Road.  1903 Tax Bill, $1,046.
Charles Allen Porter may well have been one of Bar Harbor's biggest taxpayers in 1903, but he and his real estate eluded all attempts at identification.

Robert P. Bowler's 'Corfield' on Eden Street, designed by Rotch & Tilden.
1903 Tax Bill, $1175.
 Alexander J. Cassatt's 'Four Acres' designed by Chapman & Frazer, on Eden St., two doors of Corfield, and later the summer home of the E.T. Stotesburys.
1903 Tax Bill, $1175.
J. Montgomery Sears's 'The Briars', designed by William Ralph Emerson, was later the birthplace of Nelson Rockefeller, and still later, summer home of Evalyn Walsh McLean and her unlucky diamond.
1903 Tax Bill,  $1200.
One wonders if the article just selected these few, as there were many other houses in Bar Harbor grander than some on the list, one example being Major George Wheeler's 'Avamaya' on the highest summit in town.

'Avamaya', renamed 'Blair Eyrie' by later owners
Having wasted enough time on this silliness, I continued.  I searched the Bar Harbor assessor's site to find out how the properties were assessed today.  This was not as easy as it sounds, for most of the houses referenced have been demolished or were destroyed in the 1947 Bar Harbor Fire, and the properties are mostly abandoned or subdivided. today.  Hence some, like the Vanderbilt and Morrell estates, were impossible to reconstruct for comparative purposes.

The three surviving properties offered some basis for comparison to their 1903 valuations:

Kenarden Lodge retains its original 26 acre property and outbuildings, and is still residential.  The 40 room main house was torn down in the early 1960s and replaced with a (relatively) smaller house on the same site.  The current tax bill on assessment of 7,177,900 was 67,759.  This tracks about right if one accepts a suggested adjustment factor of around 30 from 1903 to 2011 dollars, and a bargain compared to similar property on Long Island.
Gate House at Kenarden Lodge
'The Turrets' is now owned by the College of the Atlantic. Since 1903 it has lost its large stone and shingle carriage house to the Bar Harbor fire of 1947, and sits on 2.41 acres of land, and the cottage has gross square footage of 28,686 sq. ft. of which 18,825 is  living space. The house, used as an administration building, was slightly enlarged after 1903 by the addition of a third floor to the servant's wing (one can never be too rich, too thin, or have too many servant's bedrooms. Sadly, none of these apply to me).  Valuation in 2011 was 4,851,000.  Measured against Kenarden, with its main house gone, the Turrets, in much shabbier condition and without its significant carriage house, seems to have maintained parity with Kenarden from the 1903 assessments,  
The Turrets as it appears today.
Incidentally, College of the Atlantic is the recipient of the Dilettante's 2010 Bad Preservation Award, for removing the original granite wall, iron fence and magnificent iron gates, the finest in Maine, which were a significant landmark on Eden Street for over 100 years.  The College was a 2008 recipient for a willfully insensitive renovation  of 'Sea Urchins', a highly entertaining and idiosyncratic cottage designed by the seminal firm of Rotch & Tilden, given them by an owner who doubtless expected better. In fairness, The Turrets, abandoned for 25 years after the original owner's death in 1953, would not stand at all if the college had not saved it, and thus the college also has a Lifetime Achievemetn Award for that effort..  Although that does not excuse the removal of the gates.

La Rochelle had the biggest discrepancy between 1903 and 2011 valuations and parity.  I suspect that this is because the cottage was probably still under construction at the time of the article. According to the assessor's report, the house sits on two acres has 41 rooms on four levels with 13,392 square feet of living space.  The current valuation is 5,369,000.  The house was donated by the family of its last private owner, Campbell's Soup heiress Ethel Dorrance Colket, to the Maine Sea Coast Mission as their headquarters.  It is a three time winner of the Dilettante's Bad Preservation Award, for removing elegant French windows on the entrance front, and replacing them with blank panels topped with single panes of glass.  They also built a pre-fab 2-car garage in the service court, removed several hundred feet of iron fencing, and removed two of the sculptural tall chimneys essential to the architectural composition.  Although they did not have enough money to repair the chimneys, or worse, just didn't care, they did find the money to re-landscape the entrance court.  Obviously some well intentioned soul thought it was too formal, and replaced it with a 'natural' composition of boulders and shrubs.  

La Rochelle as it appears today.  The cedar trees replace iron grill fence
Good intentions are often the enemy of good design.  I like naturalized clusters of rocks and shrubs just fine, but not when they replace the carefully integrated design intent of the architects and landscape designer, in this case the great Beatrix Farrand.  Context is everything.  This was not one of those cases in which an interesting aesthetic tension was achieved between formal and informal elements.  Rather, it was just dumb.  On the plus side, the Mission did receive the Dilettante Good Preservation award once, for realizing their mistake with the French windows and putting them back.  (For Pete's sake guys, if it ain't broke, don't fix it).  One has to have seen this property when still in private hands to appreciate the sad decisions made since then.

But I've wandered far from the point.  Be sure to check out this week's piece in New York Social Diary (Click HERE)

And to read the Dilettante in a completely different vein, click HERE for a story  in the current issue of Portland Monthly, about a lost mid-century building in Down East Maine with ties to the early days of Design Research. (the article opens on a full-page kitchen ad.  Just scroll down)


ArchitectDesign™ said...

the natural progression is to change, but these do sound like a lot of BAD changes....what about good ones?

The Down East Dilettante said...

Let's see: only two of the houses stand, only one of the properties is intact and none of the properties that once held the houses is in lovely condition,...and the upside is?

The Down East Dilettante said...

Actually Stefan, I spoke too soon. I meant to say that in fact the owners of Kenarden have restored their Beatrix Farrand gardens to perfection, but for all the other properties---subdivided, motels and ranch houses or nothing at all on the sites, and generally pretty bleak...As for the old house at Kenarden, it was more interesting historically than architecturally, huge and baronial, magnificently built, but not purty.

Change is inevitable, but oh, that one could control the quality.

The Devoted Classicist said...

Architectural Ignorance has clearly spread to epidemic proportions. I should never cease to be amazed at the effort and expense that owners of historically significant properties will go to for distructive action. It looks like they would have learned from the willful distruction of the past. Thanks for another enjoyably informative post.

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Topaz said...

I think we share a devotion to the fantastical at the expense of the practical.

Or at least a case of adult A.D.D.

Beth said...

This is a great post - lots of houses and great history!

I agree that the "new" Kenarden Lodge is largely unremarkable, but the grounds really are lovely. It's occasionally open for the summer garden tour, which gives regular folks an opportunity to see the footprint of the old estate firsthand (the stonework and fountains are really great). I think of when Shore Path used to continue along to Kenarden (alas, before my time).

I also remember the first time I saw Old Farm's ruins - quite by accident. Intrigued by the small parking area off Main Street, I decided to explore the walking path beyond. Suddenly this massive and amazingly well-preserved foundation emerged! And the granite steps, and the remains of the old swimming pool on the beach. If you time it right, the huge rhododendrons provide color and life to the old foundation Wonderful!

The Down East Dilettante said...

Oh, Topaz, always good to hear from a fellow sufferer

Beth, it's too bad that the Park Service doesn't see stabilizing the 'Old Farm' ruins as part of their mission (and after all, it was they who tore it down), for if they don't,they will be completely gone in a few more years. Dorr liked to say that it was the first really well built cottage in Bar Harbor, and the remains bear that out.

home before dark said...

You have had a very taxing day, DED. What a lovely stroll through the tax rolls.

If you have already written about this, can you link to it; if not may I put in a request for our favorite Maine snoop to go to Kenarden and report back on the Beatrix Farrand gardens? Pretty please?!

Decor Arts Now said...

Awesome shout out to be doing a post for the New York Social Diary. I will tweet about it with a link! Congrats!
And thank you so much for all of your support for Decor Arts Now.
All best,

smilla4blogs said...

I would echo home before dark...a Dilettante's tour of the Beatrix Farrand gardens would be wonderful, realizing, of course, that today is not is not the day...

Turner Pack Rats said...

and while he's at it, why doesn't he take in Thuja Garden and the Rockefeller pansy patch too but definitely not today. i spent 3 hours raking 10 inches of poor man's fertilizer of my shed roof.

security word def - "pandistr" - used to ba called a "drummer"

The Down East Dilettante said...

A Thuya post is definitely in the works. I could pull together a Kenarden garden post in a couple of hours using only vintage photos and materials, but I think adding the restoration of the garden in recent years, with recent photos, would make the story more interesting. And that requires writing letters and asking permission, and hoping permission is granted. Stay tuned.

And TPR, I too raked ten inches of the stuff off my roof. We were only supposed to get 3-5 here on the coast.

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La Petite Gallery said...

Taxing us right out of our homes and have no money to fix the roads. 3 thrillion in Gambling last year.
Follow the money where is the lotto money?? They are Closing schools
laying off teachers..
Maine's roa's look like a 3 world country. I am fed up with it.


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