When she donated her large estate in York, Maine to Bowdoin in 1974, Mary Marvin Breckinridge Patterson explained that she was giving up her home "because I want it to go on living, breathing, and serving human beings." As the Breckinridge Public Affairs Center, it fulfilled her vision of providing space for intellectual and creative growth.
Mrs. Patterson felt that only an "outstanding institution" could maintain the estate "suitably in perpetuity." Despite her intent, "perpetuity" for Breckinridge was shortened to 30 years when the College decided last year to sell the property. Many were willing to accept the sale as a necessary casualty of tough economic times, but the College's opposition to granting Breckinridge historical protection is certainly inexcusable.
Simply put, Breckinridge's time had not yet come. In fact, at the time of its sale, the estate was still thriving and serving the common good the College values so dearly.
As it turns out, the College was merely lucky to find a buyer who was committed to preservation. By opposing efforts to place historical protection on the site, the College demonstrated its willingness to sell to a buyer with less noble intentions?intentions we feel are contradictory to the spirit in which Mrs. Patterson gave the house to Bowdoin. For the sake of the Breckinridge legacy, we are glad that despite the College's apparent indifference, the estate has found a steward with the desire to preserve it.
Nevertheless, because the College resisted attempts to be "unnecessarily encumbered" in the sale of Breckinridge, nothing?except, perhaps, an appreciation of the rich heritage of the property?will prevent any future owner from demolishing the house that meant so much to so many members of the Bowdoin community.
Mrs. Patterson chose to give her home to Bowdoin because of "its excellent reputation, its history, its distinguished graduates, its integrity, its high standards." It is all too unfortunate that the qualities Mrs. Patterson admired in Bowdoin did not guide its decision making process on the fate of the estate. By risking the estate's integrity, the college sacrificed a piece of its own.