BAR HARBOR — The building that came down last week to make room for the Jesup Memorial Library expansion has been a summer cottage, a secret men’s club, a women’s hat shop, two optometrist offices and a used bookstore. Over the years it has also housed local families and prominent summer visitors.
The federal-style house on the corner of Mount Desert Street and School Street was referred to in the early years as Grace Cottage.
The late historian Richard Walden Hale, Jr. wrote in his 1949 book “The Story of Bar Harbor,” some men in the summer community rented the cottage in 1874 “for a male hide-out” called the Oasis Club. The name Oasis, Hale speculated, was “presumably with reference to the ‘Maine Law,’” or prohibition law, which banned the sale and consumption of alcohol in Maine from 1851.
Hale went on to describe the club as “a place where men of the summer colony could be free from women’s control and find newspapers, and in circumstances winked at by the county enforcement officials, liquid refreshment.”
The Oasis Club moved on in 1881 to “a new and more splendid building” and became known as the Reading Room. To this day Bar Harbor Inn, on the site of the old Reading Room, has an Oasis Club Lounge, in a nod to this history.
Meanwhile, the Grace Cottage on Mount Desert Street went back to being a summer cottage.
Each year the Bar Harbor Times Record listed the names of prominent people staying in Bar Harbor each week. According these columns, well-to-do individuals such as Dr. and Mrs. Shober of Philadelphia, Miss Ella White of Henrietta, N.Y., and Dr. A. L. Mason of Boston all stayed at the Grace Cottage through the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
In 1947, milliner Alma Farrar moved into the building and set up her French Hat Shop there, according to a Bar Harbor Times article.
The “About Town” column of the Bar Harbor Times always noted when Farrar returned to Bar Harbor from one of her “millinery buying trips” to Boston or New York City. Each spring she would open her hat shop in time for Easter shopping.
“I remember Alma Farrar,” said Debbie Dyer of the Bar Harbor Historical Society. “I had a hat [of hers] from out west: somebody sent me a hat that was made in Alma Farrar’s hat shop.”
Later, the building held the offices of optometrist Dr. John Weast. According to Abbie Savage, volunteer at the historical society, Weast lived with his family in the building, and had his office in the front.
The optometrist practice was later taken over in the early 1990s by Dr. Roger Brignull, who also lived in the building. After 30 years at that location, Brignull retired in 2012. He sold the building to Jesup Memorial Library that same year, according to town tax records.
The library bought the building for the purpose of future expansion. But for the next six years, the library used the front of the building for Secondhand Prose, a used bookstore. The back half of the building was rented out as year-round apartments.
“We’re so excited to be able to do this now,” library director Ruth Eveland told the Islander when Secondhand Prose opened in 2013. While the library raised money to expand, Eveland said, “It’s good to get a bookish use in that space now.” All proceeds from sales at the shop benefited the library.
Last week the library proceeded with the plan to have the building torn down. Now that the lot is empty, library officials say they will have the lot excavated and the library drainage line extended to the town’s storm drain system, to prevent future flooding.