A gate blocks the path entry to Ringing Point
Mitchell Rales, a billionaire industrialist who four years ago bought Ringing Point, David Rockefeller Sr.'s former oceanfront estate on Mount Desert Island, is demolishing Rockefeller's former summer home and is believed to be planning a new mansion for the property. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

Four years after buying the former Seal Harbor estate of fellow billionaire David Rockefeller Sr., the new owner of Ringing Point is making changes to the oceanfront property.

Mitchell Rales, the billionaire co-founder of Danaher Corp., is having Rockefeller’s former summer house torn down.

Rales bought 14.8 acres of the former Rockefeller property for $19 million in January 2018, a year after Rockefeller died at the age of 101. Later that year, David Rockefeller Jr. bought the remaining two acres of the property that line Cooksey Drive from his father’s estate, including a house that had been built in 2012.

In March, Ringing Point LLC, the legal entity Rales established to be the technical owner of the property, obtained a demolition permit from the town of Mount Desert to remove the main house that David Sr. and his wife Peggy Rockefeller had built in 1973, according to Kim Keene, the town’ code enforcement officer.

Work has since begun on tearing down the structure, which is not visible from Cooksey Drive, and hauling away the debris.

A description of the property maintained online by a local real estate company indicates that Peggy Rockefeller designed the “comfortable and gracious” 7-bedroom house in the early 1970s and helped to plan out the surrounding landscaping design, which includes a granite swimming pool and a circular rose garden.

“The tiered living room has two fireplaces and floor-to-ceiling glass windows facing west; these frame unforgettable views across the lawn to the Great Harbor and beyond,” the description says. “The dining room offers views to the west and south; off the kitchen is a comfortable sitting area with a cozy raised-hearth fireplace. So many tasteful and understated touches are evident throughout, from Portuguese tile murals to painted patterned floors to barn-siding interior walls.”

The town has not received an application for a building permit to construct any new buildings on the property, but it is expected that Rales will build a new summer home there.

Signs erected at entry points to the estate indicate that Nate Holyoke Builders of Bucksport has been hired as the general contractor on the project. Holyoke Builders is known for constructing large, traditionally styled “rustic” Maine waterfront cottages for wealthy summer families on Mount Desert Island and elsewhere in Hancock County.

It would not be the first summer home that Rales has built on MDI. In 2007 he bought Blueberry Ledge, the former Northeast Harbor home of Washington socialite Susan Mary Alsop, for $5.5 million and then tore it down. He replaced it with a larger, $24 million contemporary-design mansion he dubbed Ruthy’s Way, which he still owns.

Forbes estimates Rales’ net worth to be $5.8 billion, placing him in a tie with several other people as the 438th richest person in the world.

Prior to Rockefeller’s ownership, the Seal Harbor property was known as Glengariff when George Borwick Cooksey (who the road is named after) owned it in the late 19th century, according to a 2020 report by Mansion Global. Boston banker Ernest B. Dane bought it in 1909, tore down Cooksey’s cottage and built a much larger stone-and-wood house.

“Despite keeping the Glengariff name, locals forever referred to the new home as the Dane Cottage,” the website reported. “Then Rockefeller bought the property and demolished the cottage, making way for Ringing Point.”

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....