When Mary Marvin Breckinridge Patterson gave the College River House in 1974, it's unlikely she anticipated the controversy that would surround the property thirty years later.
Last fall, the College decided to put the 23-acre, 25-room manor house, then called the Breckinridge Public Affairs Center of Bowdoin College, on the market for $5.3 million. A purchasing sale agreement with two buyers, Mark Toney and Daniel Hartigan of Cape Neddick, is scheduled to close this fall.
"I think people understood it was impractical for us to hold on to [Breckinridge]," said Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration & Treasurer Catherine Longley. "Conference centers are difficult to run in the black."
Officials said the estate's distance, an hour and 15 minutes from Bowdoin, made use by faculty and staff difficult. It was also unusable during the winter.
"Campus use of Breckinridge had declined over the years," said Del Wilson, Director of Facilities Administration. "If more than 19 people wanted to stay there they needed to find local accommodations."
And while some did approve of the College's decision to sell the property, other York residents were less than pleased at the prospect of developers taking over the land.
Several residents approached the York Historic District Commission in the hope of designating the estate a local landmark. The Commission found that Breckinridge should be a local landmark and made its recommendation to the York Selectmen.
Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs Scott Hood said that not every York resident was against the College's actions. He said that a small group of people objected and wished to place the property under the jurisdiction of the town.
"Our first [feeling] with this was to essentially say they didn't even talk to us about this," said Hood. "We felt that it unnecessarily encumbered us and the sale."
On August 31 the Selectmen decided to not carry the issue forward to the November election; however, concern from the local community has subsided since the property was sold to buyers who plan to preserve Breckinridge as a single-family home.
"Overall people are happy that the property is being sold to local buyers," said Tobin Tracy, chair of the York Historic District Commission. "But there's still concern among local people because the buyers could change their minds. There's no guarantee."
Isabella Breckinridge, niece of Mary Marvin Breckinridge Patterson, also expressed her concern this summer through a letter to the College, which she also sent to the York Selectman and York Historic District Commission.
According to the York Weekly, Isabella Breckinridge said in the letter that her aunt would have objected to the "blatantly inappropriate way" the College was marketing the property.
"I was scared that it might be sold to developers," said Breckinridge in a phone interview with the Orient from her Georgetown home. "There's so much beautiful river-edge property there that I hated to see it developed."
Longley said Tuesday that the College never planned to sell the property to developers.
"We didn't show the property to any commercial developers and we kept our word on a strong preference for a historic buyer," said Longley. "We're thrilled with the buyers. They're exactly what we were looking for."
Because of the anticipated buyers' dedication to protection, Isabella Breckinridge said that some of her fears have been placated. She even decided to give two family portraits to Toney and Hartigan in order to keep the paintings "at home."
"I think they're really quite avid preservationists," said Isabella Breckinridge. "I hope that's true, and I think that they plan to bring back the gardens and restore some of the property."
Wilson said that the anticipated buyers plan on keeping the first floor as it is and upholding the original landscape design to maintain the estate's historic integrity.
"They're buying internal furnishings to maintain the atmosphere," said Longley. "Some pieces of art will be brought back to campus and some will remain with the property."
All of the proceeds of the sale will go to the Breckinridge Fund, an endowment which supports public affairs.
With the sale of Breckinridge, Bowdoin no longer has a retreat or conference center, though Longley said that the Coastal Studies Center has been used quite a bit and that the school is looking into other options.
Professor of Government Allen Springer brought several of his classes to the estate in order to break away from the campus setting and to small group simulations.
"You can't replace a place like Breckinridge. It had a special atmosphere associated with it," said Springer. "I'd love to think that someday there will be another place like it."