This small private co-ed nonsectarian school occupies 35 acres along the shore of Frenchman Bay just outside downtown Bar Harbor. Founded in 1969 as an alternative to traditional liberal arts colleges, COA held its first classes a few years later. Today the college is home to 35 faculty members, 70 staff and approximately 350 students (all but a handful are undergraduates) working in three main areas — arts and design, environmental sciences, human studies. All graduating seniors receive the same degree, a Bachelor of Art in Human Ecology.
Additional facilities of the college include: the Beech Hill Farm – a 73 acre property on the western half of Mount Desert Island that includes six acres of fields in vegetable production, three small heirloom apple orchards, pasture land for pigs and poultry, five greenhouses, and open forest.; The Peggy Rockefeller Farm – a second farm that raises certified organic fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, broilers, turkeys, pasture and hay, as well as pasture-based beef and lamb; the Dorr Museum of Natural History on campus; and offshore research stations on Great Duck Island (for seabirds) and Mount Desert Rock (for whales).
In 2007 College of the Atlantic became the first carbon-neutral college. Since then, their approach has evolved toward engaging students in a comprehensive, hands-on educational approach to all aspects of sustainability and eliminating their reliance on fossil fuels.
The Turrets, one of the college’s administration building constructed in 1893-1895, is the finest remaining example of a Bar Harbor family’s summer cottage.
The Turrets was built as a wedding present to his wife from John J. Emery of Cincinnati, one of those now forgotten millionaires who summered on Mount Desert Island. Beginning in 1893, one hundred mostly local men spent two years building the four-story, 50×100-foot structure, at a cost equivalent today to more than $2.5 million.
Architect Bruce Price (1845-1903) designed The Turrets around the same time he was creating the Chateau Frontenac hotel in Quebec City and an elite collection of homes in Tuxedo Park, New York. (The latter, with their open interior spaces and frequent use of local materials, strongly influenced Frank Lloyd Wright.) In all, Price designed seven buildings in Bar Harbor, of which only The Turrets remains. It has been called “perhaps the climax of the informal seaside house of the nineteenth century.”
To learn more about College of the Atlantic, please visit their website.
On the day before Christmas, 1974, it became the first building in Bar Harbor to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Ironically, that year The Turrets, then as now on the campus of College of the Atlantic, was in terrible condition and falling apart. A concentrated restoration project from 1975-1982, headed by student Barbara Sassaman (COA class of ’78, then clerk of the works) and professors Roc Caivano (architect and project manager) and Harris Hyman (engineer and project contractor), brought the building back to its former glory, and The Turrets now serves the college as its administrative center.
Fun Facts: John J. Emery’s father Thomas made his family’s fortune in the candle and soap business. He specifically became wealthy by inventing the dripless candle. Bruce Price’s daughter, the etiquette guru Emily Post, lived in one of the homes at Tuxedo Park. Thanks to her influence, the unusual formal dinner wear worn at the community’s first Autumn Ball in 1886 became known as the ‘tuxedo.’