By Ron Beard
Visit the Jesup Library on most any day and you will find we are bursting at the seams. While George Dorr saw the need for a year-round library for Bar Harbor in the early 1900s, he could not foresee what a modern community library would become: lending books, to be sure; caring, resourceful librarians; but also public access to computers and the internet; programs for children and parents; talks by authors, travelers, public officials and poets; concerts and contra dances.
We are grateful for Dorr’s vision. By the time he approached Maria DeWitt Jesup in late summer of 1910, he had found and purchased a lot at 34 Mount Desert Street. With her support, he hired architect William Adams Delano for its design. Mrs. Jesup approved the plans and construction started later that year with granite from Mr. Dorr’s Bear Brook Quarry. In August of 1911, the new library was dedicated to the memory of her husband, Morris K. Jesup.
The library building they constructed continues to inspire. We marvel at its classic beauty, even as we use every nook and cranny to fulfill the mission of a library in the 21st century.
Anticipating this expanded role, the Jesup’s board of directors laid plans both to preserve and protect the historic library and to imagine a graceful, functional addition. With a mortgage supported by five local banks, they purchased the Brignull building next door.
Over the last two years, the board has authorized work to repair sections of slate roof, repaint brickwork and attend to drainage problems revealed by the challenges of more severe rainfall. That work was begun with early contributions to a capital fund drive. The first phase allowed us to retire the mortgage in 2018. You will soon witness the work of Phase 2, with the Brignull building torn down later this summer, and the remainder of the exterior preservation work and drainage systems upgraded by the end of this year.
Some have asked why an expansion to our historic building is needed. We are literally bursting at the seams. Recently the Jesup was recognized for the number of adult program participants in Maine, one of the highest in the state. A glance at the local newspaper on any given week reveals an extraordinary array of programs: book launches and talks by authors, a science series in collaboration with our local world-class laboratories, public forums when the town hall is a little too formal for good conversation, an annual program connecting philosophy to everyday life.
The Jesup works with a wide array of community partners who appreciate a ready venue where people of all walks of life and all income levels feel welcome. Acadia National Park, the Jackson Lab, the MDI Biological Lab, the MDI YWCA and the YMCA, College of the Atlantic and the Mount Desert Island Historical Society all value the role that the Jesup plays, helping them reach new audiences.
Our main floor and circulation desk are accessible, but our single restroom is down a narrow flight of stairs. To gain access to a half of our collection, one must maneuver either that same set of stairs down, or flight of stairs up to the balcony. While young ones and their parents can cram onto the tiny floor space of the children’s room, there is no place for teens to hang out, read and study.
To make room for our more popular programs or concerts, attracting the 150 people allowed by the fire marshal, we dolly the main display tables into an alcove and bring chairs to set up from all over the library.
Philanthropists like Dorr and Mr. and Mrs. Jesup worked through the Village Improvement Association and business and community leaders of yesterday to build non-profit assets that have made life here better for year-round and summer residents alike. For over a century, institutions like the Library, MDI Hospital, the YMCA and YWCA have served our community extremely well even as their work has evolved to meet emerging needs and opportunities. And with community investment, they are serving their second century, anticipating the future with new or expanded facilities and programs.
The Jesup board and campaign leaders have raised $2.8 million toward the $7.3 million needed to complete preservation work and construct a new addition that will serve our community into the future. Phase 2 calls for raising $1 million by the end of this summer — $450,000 of that sum is still needed. Founders George Dorr and Maria DeWitt Jesup managed to design, fund and construct this remarkable library in just 12 months; we have three months to do what is required of our generation to protect it.
Our supporters are already making significant commitments to see us through. Upon seeing our new web page describing the campaign, an anonymous donor came to the library on May 1 and pledged $100,000 for naming the periodicals room in honor of the scientist Rachel Carson, author of “Silent Spring.”
We are on our way. As you learn more about the need and our plans, we hope you will be similarly inspired to step up to assure our future as one of Mount Desert Island’s premier libraries, welcoming and accessible to all, serving into our second century and beyond.
Ron Beard is the chair of the Jesup Memorial Library’s Board of Directors. He lives in Bar Harbor.