Hops and Skips

A Guide to the Libraries of Mount Desert Island

I consider myself a Library Tourist. For as long as I’ve traveled, a local public library has been a stop at nearly every destination I’ve visited. What better way to meet a local or two and get an overview of a new place?

As a librarian, I’m not shy about my library nerdom. To me, the public library embodies all that is good and right with the world. They’re open repositories of knowledge, inspiring curiosities and guiding inquiries. They don’t judge; they don’t exclude. Everyone has equal access. 

Every city has its story, and so does its library. Their buildings range from one room to many, from historic to modern. Some were founded by cities, some by individuals. But the mission of any library is the same—to provide open access to information, advance learning, and connect communities. 

There are six public libraries on Mount Desert Island, and I’d take a job with any of them. I hope you enjoy this tour.

Southwest Harbor Public Library

This library began in 1884 as a small lending collection housed on a shelf in a corner of a drug store. Two years later, it expanded to a former coffin shop, and in 1888, the Tremont Public Library Association was formed. In 1893, the Association bought the land that houses the current library building for $100. The architect of the project was Professor Eleazer Bartlett Homer, a Southwest Harbor summer resident, and it officially opened on October 31, 1895. An addition built in 1939 doubled the size of the space; a children’s room was added in 1955; a third addition was built in 1963; a fourth addition in 1984 involved an extensive interior remodeling; and a fifth addition was completed in 2000.

FUN FACT: The library wasn’t officially catalogued and organized until 1937, and today it has one of the largest book-per-capita ratios in the state.

Source: History of the Library – Southwest Harbor Public Library

Northeast Harbor Library

Founded in 1892 by year-round and summer residents, it began as a seasonal library in a shingled bungalow. A second, Winter location opened in 1906 and hopped around a couple different locations over the decades until the Northeast Harbor Library Corporation was formed in 1949 and bought land for a new (privately-held) library home. In 1951, a Cape Cod-style house was designed and built, and it underwent several additions and modifications before a brand new building (at the same location!) opened its doors in 2007.

FUN FACT: This library has always served as both a public and school library. It once served Mount Desert High School across the street which is now home to Mount Desert Elementary School.

Source: Library History – Northeast Harbor Library

Jesup Memorial Library

It began as a conversation on a cottage porch in 1875. One person donated $20 to get the project started; another offered a room in her home to house the volumes. Two years later, the permanent residents of Bar Harbor found the idea of a library so desirable that they formed a committee to ensure its future. The collection had outgrown two small buildings when George Dorr, a preservationist responsible for spearheading the creation of Acadia National Park, enlisted the wealthy Mrs. Morris K. Jesup to fund a larger, more adequate facility. (Personally, he needed a permanent home for his valuable collection on gardening.) The new building opened in 1911 and was deemed one of the “finest library buildings of its size in New England” by the New York Times. A campaign is currently underway to fund the library’s first renovation and expansion in over a century.

FUN FACT: Originally offering a maximum of $20,000 for the building’s construction, Mrs. Jesup had a great deal of influence in the space’s design and eventually signed the $77,000 contact without question.

Source: History – Jesup Memorial Library & Jesup2020

Somesville Library

As the first European settlement on Mount Desert Island, Somesville had a long history of community and civic organizations. The library began as twelve women who formed the Ladies Aid Association with the goal of gathering and circulating books among Somesville residents. They later reorganized as the New Library Society and sought a permanent home to house their collections. After land was secured, construction on a library building began in 1895 and finished the following year. A furnace room and Music Room (now Children’s Room) were added in 1974.

FUN FACT: Much of the labor and materials for the building’s construction were donated; the total cost of the building came to just $457.94.

Source: History | Somesville Library

Bass Harbor Memorial Library

A library had already been established four miles away in Southwest Harbor, but in 1900, Vesta E. McRae organized her own lending library for the town of Tremont in the living room of her home. By 1901, the collection numbered 413 texts circulating among 60 patrons for a membership fee of 5 cents a week. By 1905, he collection had grown to 800 volumes, and by 1920, it was up to 1200. The current library, across the street from Mrs. McRae’s home, was built in 1922 and funded by a Tremont resident to memorialize her late husband. An extension was built in 1991, and a new children’s room with a large, impressive circular window was added in 2020.

FUN FACT: Mrs. McRae was also listed on the census as (self-proclaimed)
“librarian” for an unnamed “public library” – truly a literary

Source: About Us & Bass Harbor Memorial Library

Seal Harbor Library

There is frustratingly little to be found online about the Seal Harbor Library. Its website tells us it was formed by a group of private citizens; from its logo, we can infer it was established in 1890. It’s an old clapboard building squeezed in between two roads, tucked in the trees on a hill overlooking Seal Harbor. A plaque posted on the building is dedicated to George Ledyard Stebbins, “Co-Founder and Library President.” It hosts an annual fundraising library sale, and according to its Facebook page, a flag is raised to indicate the library is open. This is a community library at its core. It’s evident that people, not a webpage, hold the details to the life and history of this place.

Source: About :: Seal Harbor Library & Library Visit: Seal Harbor, Maine

Note: If planning an in-person tour, be sure to check websites and Facebook pages for the most accurate hours and season schedules. And in the meantime, take a deeper dive down the rabbit hole via the Southwest Harbor Public Library’s Digital Archive!

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