In 19th-Century Sorrento, This Was Party Central

In 19th-Century Sorrento, This Was Party Central

This being . . . the public library?

Sorrento Public Library


From our Spring 2023 issue

The Bar Harbor Record proclaimed it “more popular than ever” in 1905. Fourteen years later, the Bar Harbor Times heralded it “one of the chief attractions of Sorrento.” It being — the public library? Designed in the Colonial Revival style by Boston architect William H. Dabney Jr., the 1893 Sorrento Public Library boasted not only “the most modern books” and “leading magazines,” but also “ample accommodations” for dances, costume and whist parties, casino nights, and concerts. It was a keystone of a new summer colony, devised in the late 1880s by investors inspired by the popularity of resort towns like Bar Harbor. Rusticators arriving on steamships filled the 111-room Hotel Sorrento, built in 1889, and erected cottages on Waukeag Neck. Martha Jones, wife of New Hampshire ale producer and Sorrento colony investor Frank Jones, funded the library’s construction. A one-and-a-half-story shingled building dominated by graceful arches on a wraparound arcade, windows, and a central porte cochere, the library was a social magnet — so much so, that interior posts were removed in the 1930s to expand the dance space. The dream of a grand Sorrento summer colony never fully materialized: the hotel burned in 1906 and development slowed significantly by the turn of the 20th century. But the library remains a fixture — you might even catch a dance or casino night there this summer.