SIES history part 2
After having graduated from college in 1970 young Wesley Staples returned to the Island with two thousand books in tow. In a subsequent “book talk” with a childhood friend, Ed Wheaton, the idea for starting a library was hatched. This was an idea whose time had come. Ed suggested that the Methodist Women’s Society had an empty building at the foot of Lindsay’s Hill, and the “Sonny Sprague is on his wharf right now, and he’ll know if we can use it? Let’s go!” So off they went to get Sonny’s blessing for the library’s first home. For the months of June and July Wesley and Ed organized a crew of students and interested adults, including several librarians. They scoured the Island for used books, crawled into people’s attics and emptied their books shelves. They discovered avid readers who wanted to pall their books along. Swan’s Islanders were very generous with books, encouragement, and support. Mrs. Wiseman donated an oak card catalog case, and she and librarians Judy Monroe and Selene Meeks oversaw organization of the books according to the Dewey Decimal System.
At that time, the State Library System operated a visiting “Book Mobile.” If a community actually had a library this service would stop. So, it was decided that the organization be called “The Swan’s Island Educational Society,” and the building housing the library would be called “The Annex,” meaning an annex to the Society. By the beginning of July 1070 the new building had been transformed into a library with shelves made of stacked brinks and boards, a card catalog, a reading table, and storage facilities. Mr. Wiseman painted a sign to be hung over the front door, a rubber stamp made, stationery printed, and with that, and the addition of nearly a thousand more books, the library was ready to open. On opening day, July16, 1970, 129 people stopped by and dropped nearly $400 into the donation jar.
Volunteers manned the facility from that time on. Margaret Kent was hired to be the librarian. She kept the Library open one afternoon a week and was paid $300 a year, money that the town raised at town meetings. The Town also raised funds to pay for some expenses, but most were raise through donations.
In 1972 The Swan’s Island Educational Society was formally incorporated as a 501 (c) 3, nonprofit corporation. The Certificate of Organization states:
“The purposed of said corporation are literary, scientific and educational, and in the furtherance of said purposed: to establish a free-lending library, a museum and other educational and cultural projects for the benefit of Swan’s Island, Maine.”
Libraries had been a tradition on the island. Small collections had been maintained at various time in building around the Island. Since the Society was stable and growing, it began to look elsewhere for a permanent home. In March of 1973, the former “Captain Henry Lee” residence in Atlantic, owned by the Department of Transportation for the use of the ferry captain, was leased to the Society for $1 a year. Many Island people worked to renovate this new building, and raise funds through private donations to pay for the work. The driving force behind these changes were Pet and Helena Bailey, who took an active interesting the organization, were generous with time, talents and money, and oversaw this time of change and growth. Pete built functional and movable shelving and Helena oversaw the activities on a daily basis.
In 1984, the Maine D.O.T. conveyed the ownership of the “Captain Henry Lee” house to the Town of Swan’s Island, but retained the land beneath the building. The D.O. T. also provided funds for further repairs to the building.
At the outset, a museum was maintained in the Library. In 1896, the Bicentennial of Swan’s Island, a separate Museum was more formally established at the Seaside Hall in Atlantic and the library expanded its book collections into the rooms vacated by the move, while still maintaining an antique bedroom upstairs in the Lee House.
In the early years, Helena Bailey recorded many of the Island’s old people on tape and these are considered an important resource and reference source for genealogical studies. The Library also has the work of Grace Bischof who worked extensively on the genealogy of the Island people. All of this et the stage for today’s continuing attention to recording the history of the Island and its people, work expanded by the presence of several summer interns generously provided in the early 21st century by the Island Institute’s Fellows Program.In the fall of 1989 Wesley Staples spent a memorable afternoon with Minna Besser Geddes in her home, the old Atlantic Schoolhouse. Minna had serves as private secretary to the dancer Isadora Duncan, had written the only authorized biography of the dancer, and ran a Brookfield, Connecticut art colony. Her husband, Virgil, had recently passed away. Virgil Geddes was a playwright. The Provincetown Playhouse had produced his drama “The Earth Between” in 1929 with a cast that included Bette Davis. Virgil is credited with halving discovered Ms. Davis. In the 1930’s he founded a playhouse in Brookfield, Connecticut and he directed the Federal Theater Projects experimental section, which produced his play “Native Ground” in New York City in 1937. He wrote about his later experiences in Brookfield in this book “Country Postmaster: published in 1952.
At the time of Wesley’s visit Minna had turned 94, was concerned about the eventual disposition of her property, and aware that the building she lived in, The Old Atlantic Schoolhouse, held an important place historically and emotionally in the hearts and minds of Swan’s Islanders. Staples suggested to her that based on the literary accomplishments of both she and Virgil that the building would make a great place for a library and that she might consider trusting its care to SIES.
Evidently this struck a chord, since when Minna passed in 1990 she had bequeathed her home to the Swan’s Island Educational Society. Starting 1990, major renovation to the old building took place, creating a beautiful, functional space to house the island’s library. This building was then transformed through the volunteer activities of many people, outstandingly Gwen May, Maili Bailey, and Roberta Joyce, into a wonderful and meaning-filled library, with book talks, film programs, activities for children, meetings lectures, demonstrations, yoga classes, painting classes, and a great variety of other educational opportunities for the community. Further growth came quickly, forced by fate. It was a shock to the entire community when in the early morning hours of July 2008, the library building was completely destroyed by a fire that started during an electrical storm. Firefighters worked for hours but the only thing left was a bell that had crashed to the ground from the tower, piles of burned pages from books, and a collection of blue mugs. But, as is always the case wiht the people of Swan’s Island, they rallied their support and persevered through countless meetings, and with the direction of Candi Joyce and the SIES Board of Trustees, started to rebuild. Added land was pruchased from Minna Geddes niece, an architect was hired, financial and physical plans made, and money raised through a variety of activities including………………………
On August ……, Senator Susan Collins broke ground for the new facility. On July 7, 2011 community members, mainland friends, and state dignitaries gathered to celebrate the opening of the new Swan’s Island Educational Society facility, the Library as it is known. The celebration included many speakers including the Maine State Librarian and representatives of the State Senators and Representatives, a magician, a blues band, and lots of wonderful food. ………….
The bell from the tower has restored and mounted by the driveway as a reminder of things past. Today, the Library has in excess of 12,000 volumes that includes movies, music, jigsay puzzles, telescopes and oral history recordings and transcripts. Both the library historical catalogs can be accessed online. Internet access is available 24 hours a day with the screened in internet porch providing relief from mosquitos and black-flies. There are extensive adult, children, and young adult areas, a kitchen, a reading room, historical and art display areas, and an archives room for storing historical material. Since we have opened, the new building has been open at least three hours, six days each week. Year-round programming is expanding and keeps staff and volunteers busy. The building is used for community gatherings and organizational meetings and exhibits. Because of a very part-time staff, SIES depends on volunteers to keep the building open, process and catalog library and historical material, and help with programs and other services. As SIES is a not for profit corporation, we are dependent on donations to pay for all of our expenses. …………….