I had occasion to be on the College of the Atlantic campus in Bar Harbor yesterday, on a decidedly indirect route to an appointment in Northeast Harbor. The College, with a curriculum emphasis on environmental issues, occupies several former gilded age summer estates along the Eden Street shore. Before acquisition by the college, these properties have had varying fates---one was until recently occupied by the woman who had gone there as a young bride in the 1920s, another was abandoned and ready for demolition until the nascent college rescued it in the 1970s, yet another, the present subject, had been a monastery of the Oblate Fathers, along with the site of its long demolished neighbor, Beau Desert, the Augustus Gurnee estate by William Ralph Emerson, since the 1940's.
Several of the college's estates had very grand garden schemes, by some of the most prominent designers of the era. Remnants of those gardens survive, romantic in their desuetude, little resembling their former lushly planted, groomed and manicured selves. Students often take on restoration of one of these gardens as projects, but with little sense of design history or intent, the results are charmingly tatty---and of course, students graduate, and move on---and the campus has many student landscape projects left in stasis. I hardly criticize these good intentions---though I would love to get my hands on the myself, straightening and pruning and restoring vistas and edges, I cannot deny that there is real charm in how they have morphed into campus use, rather than disappearing completely, as have so many others. (But still...)
|Guy's Cliff c. 1880. (Photograph courtesy of Maine Historic Preservation Commission. Rights reserved)
Guy's Cliff was originally a large stick style style cottage, built on a granite outcropping high above Frenchman's Bay. Later purchased by the Cushman family, who alternated between their Bar Harbor and Newport houses in summer, it was sold in 1926 to prominent attorney James Byrne of New York. Byrne commissioned Guy Lowell to remodel the fusty wooden house as a Tuscan Villa. In 1928, the Byrnes hired Beatrix Farrand to design a series of terraced formal gardens, cascading down the steep slope from the long main terrace of the house. Although less complex, these terraces and their architectural features have much in common with her famous work at Dumbarton Oaks.
|Guy's Cliff, c. 1975.
|In this view of Guy's Cliff during the Oblate era, the gardens retain original shrubbery and planting, overgrown and beginning to show signs of age and neglect, but still following original design intent. On the upper terrace can still be seen decorative Soderholtz pots (click HERE for more about the fascinating Mr. Soderholtz)
|Guy's Cliff ablaze
|Trees on the bluff below have obscured the view of one of the Porcupine Islands beyond, originally framed by the vista
|The neighboring cottage, 'The Turrets' by Bruce Price, visible from the upper terrace, was screen out in the Byrne's day.
|A corner of wall on the far upper terrace
|Once carefully defined shapes have become rather more, um, free form, as with this central bed that once surrounded a statue
|Once these steps led to carefully maintained lawns, and each shelf would have held a large planting pot