The Willows was built in 1913 for Miss Charlotte Baker, a patron of the arts who was closely associated with the Spence School for Girls in New York City. The entire project was completed for $50,000, an extravagant sum to spend on a summer home in Bar Harbor in those days. The Willows was named for the stately willow trees that lined the curving entry drive. In 1938, the property was purchased by Sangerville, Maine resident Sir Harry Oakes. Mr. Oakes who had left his home in Western Maine in search of gold during the summer of 1897, purchased the summer home for his wife and their five children.
By 1920, he was one of the world’s richest men. Married to Australian beauty Eunice Bailey, Oakes became a British citizen in protest of high Canadian taxes, and in 1939 was created a baronet in recognition of his philanthropic endeavors.
On July 8, 1943, Lady Oakes and three of their five children were in residence at Bar Harbor, with Sir Harry expected to arrive the next day from their home in the Bahamas. He never arrived. That morning, he was found murdered in his bed, in what became one of the most sensational murder cases of the day, temporarily blowing World War II from the top of the headlines.
The 27 room cottage was designed by the prominent Boston firm of Andrews, Jacques & Rantoul, who maintained a practice in Bar Harbor. While not an architectural masterpiece, The Willows was nevertheless a comfortable and gracious design in a modified Regency style that architects used to do so well, set on rolling lawns at the edge of an ocean bluff. Here Miss Baker spent her summers pleasantly, entertaining the many Spence alumna who summered nearby, painting in the mornings in her large conservatory, giving musicales, and visiting her aunt’s fortress-like cottage, Kenarden Lodge.
In 1947, a devastating forest fire swept through Bar Harbor, destroying much of the town, including seventy of the summer estates that had survived the twin depredations of the Great Depression and WWII. In 1953, the abandoned Stotesbury estate next door was demolished and replaced with a Canadian National Railways ferry terminal, providing tourist service to Nova Scotia. Across the road from the rolling lawns of The Willows, two burned out estates were replaced by motels. In only a few years, the neighborhood around the Willows had changed irreparably. In 1958, Lady Oakes donated The Willows to Bowdoin College as a conference center.
By the late 1960’s, the Oakes Center of Bowdoin had become an expensive luxury for the college, and the estate, still holding graciously against its changing neighborhood was sold to local developers Jimmy and Sonny Cough in 1969. The Coughs began to renovate the mansion, expanding and updating it, as well as adding several more buildings to the property, creating the hotel complex called The Atlantic Oakes.
The Coughs ran the Atlantic Oakes until 2008 when it was sold to David J. Witham, owner of Witham Family Hotels. The Witham’s renovated and updated the property, tearing down some buildings and adding new ones, until it is what you see today, The Atlantic Oceanside Hotel and Event Center. Today Witham Family Hotels, which encompasses a total of 9 hotels in Bar Harbor, Maine, and 3 in Ellsworth, Maine, is run by David C. Witham, son of David J. Witham.