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)

 The front door at Guy's Cliff.  One reader may recognize herself (MDI Historical Society Collection)
After Mrs. Byrne's death her daughter, Mrs. Walter Lippman, sold the house to the Oblate Fathers.  they removed the tile roof and replaced it with asphalt, installed aluminum frame storm windows, added a flat roof wing behind the ballroom, and the decline began.   A few years after the college purchased the property, Guy's Cliff, used as the library and dining hall, went up in flames, taking with it the Byrnes elegant 3 story spiral stairs with their delicate iron railings and the Chinese scenic papers that had been installed in the 1920s.  Sadly, the fire also burned the photographs stored in the library of the estate in those more glamorous days.   Today, a new library building, using the gardens as an axial focal point, occupies the site.  In late winter, the bones of the original layout, two sets of cascading terraces centered on each end wing of the house, are clearly revealed.

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


The Ancient said...

Dilettante --

It's too bad COA lacks a real gardening program to go with its gardens. (I see only 13% of COA students go on to "the profit-making community." Maybe a good gardening program could improve on that.)

The Devoted Classicist said...

Unfortunately garden preservation does not have the support in this country as in does in England. Hopefully, at least the records of some of these great works can be maintained for study and appreciation.

ArchitectDesign™ said...

What magnificent stone walls! Why in the world would they remove a clay roof (which lasts for 150 years) for cheap asphalt??!!

Donna said...

Yes, those Oblate Fathers have something to answer to--I wonder why gardens in decline seem romantic and depressing, rather than merely depressing? I suppose the potential for restoration is more attainable with gardens than with houses (or people)!

Mark D. Ruffner said...

It's so sad to see such a decline, but it also looks as though the good bones are still there for a renaissance!

The Ancient said...

What sort of house did Helen Byrne Armstrong Lippmann build for herself and her second husband?

(I assume it was fairly simple, as the Lippmanns referred to it as a camp.)

The Down East Dilettante said...

Ancient, I'm not sure where the Lippman Camp is/was, though I suspect Long Pond on Mt. Desert which is where most of the 'camps' of the rich and famous are---I'll find out. They also once occupied this house in Seal Harbor, designed in a very House of Seven Gables mode by Lobert Little Froman in 1927 for the Robert Powers of Colorado Springs (once stained dark as the style requires, more recently lightened). It overlooks David Rockefeller and Robert Bass.


The Down East Dilettante said...


Here's the skinny on the Lippman camp:


Pigtown*Design said...

Funnily, you wrote about the College of the Atlantic housed in an old estate, and I wrote about Atlantic College, housed in an old estate - a 12th century castle.