Located in Bar Harbor, Maine, the Bar Harbor Historical Society preserves the region’s social and cultural history through a museum facility located within the city’s former St. Edward’s Convent building. Bar Harbor’s St. Edwards Convent was built in 1916, designed by Milton Stratton and donated as a present to the city’s Holy Redeemer Church by Colonel Edward de Veau Morrell and his wife, Louise Drexell Morell, though the Colonel died prior to the building’s 1918 dedication.
Louise’s sister Katherine, a wealthy socialite from Philadelphia, later became a member of the convent’s religious order and was canonized as Saint Katherine Drexel in October of 2000. During her religious service, Drexel used her large family inheritance to open a number of schools, including a university for the education of indigenous and black Americans. She also founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament order, a religious institution located near Bensalem, Pennsylvania.
The Bar Harbor Historical Society was established in 1945 as a committee of directors from the Jesup Library. The Jesup committee formed to create an exhibit to honor area resident George B. Dorr, the founder of Acadia National Park. Due to popular demand after the exhibit’s closing, the committee embarked on the creation of a permanent exhibit honoring the city’s history, located within the library’s former children’s room. As museum collections continued to grow throughout the second half of the 20th century, the Society began a search for a larger permanent location, and in 1997, purchased the former St. Edwards Convent building.
Permanent Exhibits and Collections
Today, the Bar Harbor Historical Society is operated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, serving as the primary historical organization for the Bar Harbor, Maine and Mount Desert Island areas. The Society’s museum, located at 33 Ledgelawn Avenue in Bar Harbor’s residential district, is operated by a board of directors and overseen by a museum curator. The museum is open regular hours on weekdays from June through October, with winter tours available by special appointment. Museum admission is free and open to the general public.
As the only extant example of Jacobethan architecture in the Bar Harbor area, the Historical Society Museum stands two and a half stories tall and is constructed of red brick. The building spans three bays, featuring a cross-gable roof configuration with a projected section and a series of windows with diamond-paned transoms. Other features include Tudor arches and Jacobethan-style stone work. In 1998, as a result of the Society’s renovations and preservation, the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Permanent exhibits at the museum include the Society’s original George B. Dorr Exhibit, which contains photographs, documents, and other memorabilia chronicling the life and accomplishments of the Bar Harbor native who devoted his life to the development of Mount Desert Island’s Acadia National Park. An exhibit documents the personal and professional accomplishments of Bar Harbor resident Beatrix Farrand, who landscaped the grounds for Washington D.C.’s Dumbarton Oaks Library and New York City’s Morgan Library and donated her personal rare plant collection to the Society. Blueprints of works by famed local architect Fred L. Savage are also featured, along with a list of his constructions.
A Hotel Artifacts Exhibit showcases artifacts and memorabilia connected to a number of local historic hotels, including the Malvern, Belmont, Porcupine, and Newport and Rodick Houses, and highlights original menus and china service from their restaurants. Playbills and photographs from the historic Star Theatre are chronicled in an exhibit, along with preserved memorabilia rescued from area estates lost in Mount Desert Island’s 1947 fire. A Milk Bottle Exhibit displays antique milk bottles manufactured by the island’s former dairy farming industry, which totaled over 40 farms in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A general Bar Harbor Artifacts Exhibit also displays memorabilia from local schools, trophies of local sports teams and clubs, and preserved artifacts of local businesses, and a reference archive provides information on past and present owners of local city buildings.
Ongoing Programs and Events
The Bar Harbor Historical Society hosts a variety of public programming throughout the year, offering free admission to all events and programs. Periodic public lectures are hosted at the museum, bringing in local historians and experts to discuss topics related to the city’s history and culture. Periodic book signings are also offered, with signed book copies available for purchase. An annual gingerbread house competition takes place in December, allowing local residents to submit gingerbread house creations for judging. An annual opening day celebration in June also showcases new exhibits with a reception.
33 Ledgelawn Ave, Bar Harbor, ME 04609, Phone: (207) 288-0000