The First Library
The original Northeast Harbor Library and Reading Room opened in 1892 as a seasonal subscription library on South Shore Drive. The founders – most of them summer residents – developed an outstanding collection for that era. In 1905 the need for a winter library was met when the Neighborhood House opened with a single large room as a winter library called the Northeast Harbor Village Library. This was a free library for the community and its collection was expanded each fall when books were brought from the summer library. The village library also served Gilman High School.
By the mid-1930s the old Reading Room and Village Library were inadequate. A practical test was proposed to see if the people of the town would actually use and support a full-time library. Through the influence of William Draper Lewis a storefront was rented on Main Street, Lillis Joy was hired as Librarian, and a full-time year-around library operated through the years of World War Two; it served the Town of Mount Desert.
The Second Building
It was in 1949 that Lawrie and Mary Holmes provided property at the intersection of Joy and Summit roads for a town library. The old Reading Room was disbanded; its assets transferred to the new Northeast Harbor Library Corporation, which was chartered as a privately held library for the Town of Mount Desert. Roger Griswold designed the building as a classic four-bay cape cod style house with a large carriage shed -intended primarily for seasonal use – and, all constructed over a concrete slab. It opened in 1951, a decision having been made that the library would also serve the new Mount Desert High School across the street.
The physical plant was too small from the beginning. The Milliken family added a small wing to house Maine books. In 1966 Mrs. Flagler Harris donated a wing to serve as the school library. In 1980 Mrs. Astor gave the Astor Room for children: The Board of Trustees expanded the Patterson Room in the same year. Each of these additions was outgrown almost as soon as it was completed. Matthew Mellon’s gift in 1985 of the Mellon Room addition provided breathing space for the collection and space for meetings, music and other programs. And, in 1990 the Trustees raised the funds necessary to combine the various roofing, heating and electrical systems into an integrated system.
A New Home
Six valiant efforts to enlarge the second building and make it serve the community’s needs brought the structure to 7,500 square feet. Then, long range planning studies revealed no option for further expansion and no way to make the building accessible, suitable to the computer age, or large enough for programs. In fact, the old building could not be modified within current building codes. In 2002 the trustees reluctantly concluded it was time to say good-bye to the much modified old building and replace it with one that would serve for many years to come.
But first came the funding, not only for the building, but also for an increased operating endowment. The trustees and a Capital Campaign Committee, with professional help, managed to raise about five and a half million dollars through the generosity of more than seven hundred donors!
The architectural partnership of Samuel Woodward and Stewart Brecher was chosen to design a new building that (preserving the Mellon Room) would give us 14,000 square feet of space including a full basement and second floor. The contractor, E.L. Shea of Ellsworth, the engineers and a host of subcontractors invested all their skills and pride in a facility that addresses the needs of the present, anticipates the future, and reflects much of the library’s heritage of more than 116 years.
We currently serve as three libraries using a single collection: A privately funded library for seasonal residents, a “free” library for the towns’ inhabitants, and a school library for Mount Desert Elementary School. We also work cooperatively with other libraries on Mount Desert Island, providing services to residents of other towns who are in good standing with their hometown libraries.
Funding is largely private. Less than 10% of annual operating funds are derived from public monies; 90% is from endowment income and annual giving. Any patron residing anywhere who registers to borrow is given the opportunity to support the library. The new building is staffed by two full-time and nine part-time librarians and a custodian.
The Northeast Harbor Library is a nonprofit public charity operating under Section 501 (c)(3) and in compliance with Section 170(c) of the Internal Revenue Service Code. Contributions are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.