Located in Bar Harbor, Maine on the campus of the College of the Atlantic, the George B. Dorr Museum of Natural History, named for Acadia National Park founder George B. Dorr, displays an extensive collection of natural history items prepared by COA students and researchers and offers interactive exhibits on Maine’s natural resources and ecosystems.
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Born on December 29, 1853, Bar Harbor resident George Bucknam Dorr was the son of wealthy Boston transplants and traveled extensively throughout Europe during his young life. Door first visited Maine’s Mount Desert Island at the age of 13 on an 1868 family vacation and vowed to make the island his permanent residence one day. After graduating from Harvard University, Dorr devoted much of his life to the development of Acadia National Park, working with landscape architect Charles Eliot and his father, Harvard president Charles W. Eliot to secure land donations and advocate for the park’s creation at the state and national levels. In 1916, the Sieur de Monts National Monument was established on Mount Desert Island, and in 1919, the monument was converted into Lafayette National Park, honoring American Revolution supporter Marquis de Lafayette. In 1929, the park was renamed Acadia National Park, referencing the original French colony of Acadia. Today, Acadia National Park encompasses 49,000 acres on Mount Desert Island and its surrounding barrier islands and welcomes an annual attendance of over three million visitors. For his four decades of contributions and campaigning related to the park, Dorr is remembered today as the “father of Acadia National Park,” and the remains of his family residence in Bar Harbor are preserved as part of the park’s facilities.
The College of the Atlantic was founded in 1969 as the first United States higher educational institution to focus primarily on the relationship between humanity and the environment, organized by educators and community members looking to utilize Mount Desert Island as a year-round learning location. The college’s first class, consisting of 32 students, was admitted in 1972 and is credited as a major research facility and environmental lobbying force in the American Northeast, playing a major role in enacting Maine’s returnable beverage container bill in 1974. Today, the college has a student body of 350 and runs on a self-designed major model framed around studies of human ecology and environmentalism.
Permanent Exhibits and Collections
The George B. Dorr Museum of Natural History is operated as part of the College of the Atlantic campus, located within the renovated original headquarters building of Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor. The museum is open on Tuesdays through Saturdays, with a suggested donation requested as an entrance fee. It is accessible via the #2 Island Explorer Bus during the summer months, and visitor parking is provided on the COA campus.
All of the museum’s natural history specimens have been prepared and preserved by COA students as part of academic studies and are accessible by students, researchers, and artists by appointment. Notable specimen holdings include mammal and bird taxidermy mounts and study skins, preserved holdings of reptile, amphibian, fish, and marine species, and collections of bones, skeletons, and eggs belonging to a variety of species. More than 15,000 plant specimens are also held by the museum in conjunction with the Acadia National Park Herbarium. Specimens from the museum’s collections may be borrowed upon request by contacting the museum’s collections manager via phone or email. Information about the museum’s collections is also accessible online via the college’s ARCTOS database.
All museum exhibits are created by COA students and designed to be highly interactive, encouraging visitors to touch, smell, and explore all specimens up close. Notable specimens on display at the museum include a pilot whale skeleton, a preserved snowy owl, and a skunk study skin, available for hands-on examination at an Experiential Learning station. A Touch Tank exhibit offers up-close touch experiences for young visitors with live sea creatures from nearby Frenchman Bay, and dioramas constructed by COA students elaborate on Maine’s native plant and animal species. A number of rotating temporary exhibits also feature specimens from the museum’s collections, along with nature-themed artwork and photography created by COA students. A gift shop also features a selection of nature-themed jewelry, books, and souvenirs.
Ongoing Programs and Education
A variety of educational programming is offered by the Museum for elementary and secondary students, including custom-designed museum tours meant to incorporate individual classrooms’ curriculum needs. Tours may include experiences at the museum’s tide pool, examination of study skins, or scavenger hunt activities. In-classroom programs are also offered, including the Whales on Wheels program, which encourages students to assemble a 17-foot minke whale skeleton. Nature exploration programs are also offered on the COA campus, with museum educators leading student groups in observational activities.
105 Eden St, Bar Harbor, ME 04609, Phone: 207-288-2917