Historic Maine Library Destroyed by Lightning

Historic Maine Library Destroyed by Lightning

The Swan’s Island (Maine) Library burned to the ground July 24 after it was hit by lightning during an early morning thunderstorm. Librarian Candis Joyce said in the July 25 Bangor Daily News that in addition to more than 10,000 volumes, the library held irreplaceable local-history materials, including genealogical records, historic photographs, archives from local quarries, weather data, and ferry logs. “It just goes on and on,” Joyce said. “We really need to get this back. It had become a community center.”

The collection had been housed for the past 10 years in the Atlantic Schoolhouse, a century-old two-story structure that served as a village school from 1903 to 1954 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996. The building had gone through an extensive renovation in 2004 that added a large reading room, computer lab, exhibit space, and an archives and genealogy room.

Neighbors noticed the blaze around 3:40 a.m. and immediately called the town’s emergency response team. Flames were already erupting from the structure by the time volunteers arrived. Local resident Siobhan Ryan, a school librarian at the Conners-Emerson School in nearby Bar Harbor who had been a volunteer at the Swan’s Island Library, said in the July 24 Mount Desert Islander that no one was hurt and no other structures were damaged. “It is a complete loss,” Ryan said. “You should see all the charred, wet books. It’s really devastating.”

Joyce told American Libraries that firefighters recovered only a few items from the building, “mostly iron tools, some organizational files, a couple of quilts in pieces. A few of us sifted through the rubble later and found more metal tools and, believe it or not, a tobacco tin whose paint hadn’t blistered, and a corn-cob pipe that looked like it was just purchased at a store.”

Although the building was insured, a relief fund has been set up to help raise money for a new library. Donations, payable to the Swan’s Island Education Fund, can be sent to First National Bank of Bar Harbor, 102 Main Street, Bar Harbor, ME 04609.

Posted on July 25, 2008; revised July 28, 2008. Discuss.