A Brief History
By: Richard Sassaman
One of the last great buildings of Bar Harbor’s Cottage Era, High Seas was built in 1912 for a Princeton professor of Semitic languages (Arabic, Hebrew, and Assyrian, among others) named Rudolph Brünnow. The granite came from Mount Desert Island, but the bricks were imported from Philadelphia. With nine master bedrooms, a servant’s wing with five more bedrooms on the second floor, and five guest bedrooms on the third floor, it’s basically a mini-hotel.
High Seas sits near the base of Champlain Mountain, on a property with almost 1,500 feet of ocean frontage. It’s said that Brünnow, who taught at the University of Heidelberg before moving to the U.S., wanted to create an American version of a typical castle along Germany’s Rhine River.
Because of his German ancestry, Brünnow was subject to local rumors during World War I that he was a spy who had a secret room at High Seas for espionage activity. The second owner, who bought the house in 1924 for $25,000, was a divorcee from New York City named Eva Van Cortland Hawkes. During World War II, she had some of the mansion’s roofs painted green for camouflage in case German bombers made their way across the Atlantic.
Ms. Hawkes kept mostly to herself, except for occasional parties where, as one account notes, “the champagne flowed freely and lobster Newburg was prepared in thirty-gallon batches.” She was noted for owning twenty-four Sealyham terriers, which would seem perfect for a house with so many rooms, but only a single ‘house dog’ was allowed inside at any one time.
During the Fire of ’47, while the surrounding area was devastated, High Seas was saved by its gardener, who sprayed water on it until the flames had passed. (The garage, with its eleven-room apartment, the butler’s nearby house, and a greenhouse all burned.) Ms. Hawkes died not long after that, leaving the property to three nephews, who donated High Seas in 1951 to the nearby Jackson Laboratory. It has been used since then as a residence for the high school and college young scientists who attend the Lab’s Summer Student Program.
FUN FACT: Most Bar Harbor bus or boat tours go past High Seas, and one of the first tales learned by every new guide describes how Rudolph Brünnow built his mansion as a wedding present for his fiancé, who died on the Titanic. It seems true that a) Brünnow, a widower since 1907, did want to remarry; b) Edith Evans, the woman in question, did die on the Titanic; and c) Evans was a good friend of Brünnow’s. According to sources at the Bar Harbor Historical Society, however, the two never planned to marry. (Still, it makes a good story.)