Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

The College of the Atlantic - What an Inspiration

Saturday July 8, 2017                                                                                Most Recent Posts:
Bar Harbor, Maine                                                                                     Celebrating a Proud Heritage
                                                                                                                    Lost Loons – Somes Pond


I know several full timers who try to visit college campuses on their travels.  We have never been one of these.  Perhaps it’s due to working for so many years on a beautiful college campus at the University of Virginia but for whatever reasons, we do not seek them out.   We did not seek out The College of the Atlantic but are very very glad we found it.  What a delightful surprise!


COA MapThe first time we visited The College of the Atlantic was for the Native American Festival in 2013 and I was really amazed.  It’s unlike any college I’ve ever seen or even known about.  There are 350 students and 35 faculty in this gorgeous campus on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean.  Each student designs his or her own course of study in human ecology—an exploration of the relationships between humans and their natural, cultural, and built environments. Even though  all students have the same major, no two students have ever taken the same set of classes

They describe the college as  having mission-drive engaged education which isn’t just about learning. “It’s also about transforming thought into action to make a difference in the world, starting now. We believe that tomorrow’s problem-solvers will need to work across multiple disciplines, collaborate, innovate, and think far outside the box.”


IMG_5941When we first arrive at the festival this year, we park in the small field next to the Art Gallery, #6, on the map which you can click to enlarge.  We walk through to Kaelber Hall which houses the computer lab and the library upstairs and has a wonderful outdoor covered dining area next to the dining room on the ground floor.  The view from there is of the Beatrix Ferrand Gardens which we visit later in the afternoon.    For now, we walk throuh the outdoor seating to take a look before heading in the opposite direction to the festival field.  When I turn around, I see some of my favorite words in the windows above the balcony.



“BOOK SALE” - I file that away for after the festival!



The red star on the campus map above shows the grassy area in which the Native American Festival was held.   My most recent blog post, above in blue, was all about it.  To say it was wonderful, is an understatement.

  In the afternoon after the festival we walked around the campus but we only had time to see a part of it and really need to return to see more.  Our first stop was the building known as the Turrets, #23 on the map.


IMG_0098It houses the Administrative offices, Office of the President, of Allied Whale, the marine mammal laboratory, the Educational Studies Center and the office of Summer Programs.   In 1895, 100 workers spent two years building the “summer cottage”, a gift from John Josiah Emery of Cincinnati for his bride Lela Alexander, just 18 years old on her wedding day.  The building survived the 1947 fire on MDI, a 1950’s renovation and subsequent years of neglect before being renovated again in 2013 by the college.  It’s a splendid building.



The back of the Turrets is just as exquisite as the front and has a wonderful water view which we saw from the lawn on our way to fantastic student housing.



This sure doesn’t look like any student housing I’ve ever seen.  This is the Kathryn W Davis Resident Village.  It has 6 separate houses all integrated into a little village.  What a great place to live.





Notice the unique downspout in the form of a daisy chain of bells.  I’d love to see and hear it in the rain.  How clever.




From there we walked down to the waterfront and spent some time at the Garber Memorial in honor of Mike and Nettie Garber who acquired the property from the Oblate Fathers when they  abandonded it.  The Garbers leased the land to COA's founders in 1969, and then sold it to them very cheaply in 1971.  This low, horseshoe-shaped stone wall faces seaward with a stone seat running along its inside, above a brick floor.  The  memorial was built in 1999 to serve as a reminder of the Garber’s crucial role in the creation of COA



It’s a wonderful place to sit and enjoy this view. Notice the boats on the left.  They are at the college’s dock where we head next.


IMG_0150The College of the Atlantic operates two organic farms, Beach Hill and Peggy Rockefeller Farms donated in 2010 by David Rockefeller to COA   These are in separate locations and places we’d love to visit.

The college also has  two off shore island research stations which are accessed from this dock.

The Frenchman’s Bay Research Boating sails a ferry to Schoodic Peninsula from the dock at COA Mondays through Saturdays. For $25 you can ferry over and bring pets or bicycles. You can also particpate in the ongoing research of this group. The Schoodic Ferry purposefully combines baseline environmental monitoring research directly into their passenger service – “resulting in unique opportunities to observe, participate in, and interact with working scientists.” On their website, they describe 2017 summer research.  Today is Saturday but we’ve missed the ferry.




To the side of the ferry is this small beach also available to the students and to all of us today.



From the dock we head back up to the Beatrix Ferrand Gardens for a closer look.  



There are benches for you to sit and enjoy the beauty.  You can see the ocean through the trees behind and below the garden.


This is only a small sampling of what was in bloom today.





I’m wondering if this is some sort of allium.










From there we climb back up to the building we first visited this morning.




There’s my sign again.



I was able to take my time going through the fiction, non fiction, paperbacks and other categories of books since after he took this picture, David used their comfy reading chairs to take a nap.   The price of the books was right, $1 for hardbacks and 50 cents for paperbacks.  I can donate them back to the book swap at the park so I brought home 3 books.   I do love books!!


Other facilities of the college include an arboretum (with a geocache), the Blum Art Gallery, the Dorr Museum of Natural History, Gardens (both the flower garden we visited and a community vegetable garden), a Greenhouse, the Hatchery (Sustainable Enterprise Accelerator) and the Herbarium

Our last stop at the college was to visit the George B Dorr Museum of Natural History which we had been so impressed with on our 2013 visit.   We came away today with the same experience.


Just across and in front of the museum we both enjoyed this sign in front of the Arts and Sciences building.  COA is an “Idle Free” campus.  Pretty sure they mean it both ways.  Wish all our streets were Idle Free.  Think of the pollution savings.


The building used to house the Dorr Museum was formerly his office when he was the first Superintendent of Acadia National Park from 1916 until his death in 1944.  The structure was given to the College of the Atlantic in 1995 and it was moved through Bar Harbor on a trailer to this very location. Electric lines were disabled to assure its safe arrival. 


One of our very favorite things about the Dorr Museum is that it show cases some of the COA student senior projects.  One of those is this amazing model of Dorr’s house which was, as I mentioned in a previous post, allowed to fall into ruin and was razed only a few years after his death.  Given his importance to this national park, those actions were unconscionable.  You can find pictures and information about what’s left in this post.

The research that went into this project and its detail is more than impressive.  This side is the one you enter when you walk up the steps at the site.



This is the side facing the water as you take the staircases down to Compass Point.  The top of this model opens up and you can see the individual rooms.  I’m quite chagrined that I did not get the name of the student who did this exceptional work.





IMG_6104Another student project displayed on the wall opposite the house model is this collection of photogrpahs.
From the 1840’s through the 1860’s painters from the Hudson River School visited the land that would later become Acadia National Park.  Their paintings were influential in sharing the striking beauty of Mount Desert Island’s wilderness with residents of metropolitan areas and creating interest in preserving the scenic sites still appreciated today.  College of the Atlantic professor Steve Ressel challenged his Biology Through the Lens class to use photography to recreate these iconic Mount Desert Island landscapes that inspired the creation of Acadia.

The top grouping are photographs of the same areas which were painted by the Hudson River School Artists whose paintings are show below.  The students had to find the spots and the angle and the time of year and the lighting that would best duplicate what the artists saw.


In the next room is the museum’s permanent touch tank where a park ranger is giving a program to enthusiastic youngsters.



Another of the student senior projects that amazed me was this one entitled Beachcombing Bar Harbor by Connor O’Brien class of 2017.  This assemblage is the product of four years of beachcoming in Bar Harbor.  Each piece can be traced back to an object and era.  What he found and his research and diligence in locating the originals is really astounding.  The pictures suffer from the museum’s lighting.  For each object, one found piece is attached to the object and the other found pieces, if there are any, are displayed around it.


Naturally, the found pieces are often weathered and faded.  Everything in all the cases of this exhibit was found on local beaches around the island.



Must have been a popular china pattern for there to have been so many pieces.


One of several dishes full of sea glass – eat your heart out Pam.






There are many other exhibits, both permanent and temporary in the museum to excite and educate all of us at any age.


This was one of my favorites, showing the different rocks that make up the mountains we are climbing and the trails we are hiking.



Being on the campus of The College of the Atlantic is very inspiring.   As is clear from our visit here and from the following quote from their website, this is a place and these are people with a mission and a value system by which they design everything they do

Every Wednesday at the student-moderated All College Meeting (ACM), COA students, staff, and faculty come together to shape the policies and practices that guide the college’s operations. We learn engaged citizenship by putting it into practice—in all its inspiring, frustrating, empowering, mundane, and messy glory..

To live so intentionally seems to me to be the height of the human experience.  They are asking important questions and attempting to answer them.  I would have loved to be a student here or to have spent my career in such a fantastic environment. 

I’ll close with this very important work by another student of the College.   It’s a question we should all ask ourselves every day.


  1. What a neat place! So glad you got to explore a little – I love the photography and beach combing projects and would love to hear those daisy bells in the rain. Also, I too, wish everywhere was "idle free"!

  2. yep you found a lot of the reasons we love to visit college campuses

  3. I remember this from 2013 and agree it's someplace I'd love to attend or work - or to have my kids/grandkids attend. What a wonderful experience it must be! Certainly the senior projects reflect a level of thought we don't often see. That beachcombing project is wonderful!!! Wish the house model was on a higher platform, it looks strange nearly on the floor. But the work is beautiful. With their extreme weather I wonder how much the students and staff get to enjoy the lovely grounds? Thanks for taking me back again.

  4. Great post about a wonderful place!! One of these days we may get over there for a visit. But thanks to you, we at least get to see what we are missing;o)) Really, we need to get over there!!!

  5. If I could go back to school I would love to attend this college, and especially to live in the student housing! Beautiful.

  6. I love how when you visit a place you "REALLY" visit a place. Thank you

  7. I hereby nominate you as unofficial Ambassador for the College of the Atlantic. Great job of telling their story and articulating the importance of the values they teach!

  8. Loved the sea glass. We used to have multiple jars of it that we collected when we were stationed at the NJ shore. Sadly, we had to find new homes for them when we went full time. :c(

  9. I can't recall ever hearing of this place. Beautiful architecture!

  10. Now that's a college I would have loved attending! What a beautiful place, doing such inspiring work. Those senior projects are amazing. How come in all of my years of beach combing I've only ever found shells and rocks and driftwood? Oh, and a smidgeon of beach glass.

  11. What a great campus!! We have been to a few, most notably Yale and Harvard while in those areas. Some of the older ones are so incredible! I sure recognized that first bowl in the pictures of Beachcombing. My grandmother had that exact bowl, which I inherited, but lost in the flood :(

  12. So interesting. I want a downspout like that one.

  13. As you know we don't miss a college campus whether large or small. With both of being educators and loving college sports, we find visiting a campus great fun. We usually ride our bikes around to get the best tour. College of the Atlantic is beautiful and such unique buildings. I LOVE that Beachcomber Project. Boy, I would have really enjoyed seeing that in person. Thanks for sharing! I am drooling over that dish of sea glass!!!!

  14. This is one absolutely amazing college. A place I too would love to attend. Such powerful and creative minds will come from this place.

  15. Wow! Isn't this now we always say learning should be? I can only wonder how different Kate's college experience would have been had she gone to a college like this. Small student to teacher ratio- something I have always said was important. The buildings are lovely as are the grounds. (Never mind being by WATER!) Those flower pictures are awesome! That one purple flower has a center that looks like a cactus. The sea glass! Some of those colors are rare. I've never seen pink. The blue "found" bowl is so pretty. What an interesting post- thank you! xxxooo

  16. What a great display made from the items found beachcombing, fascinating


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