Early papers hustled to explain Bangor’s ‘big building boom’

By Wayne E. Reilly, Special to the BDN
Posted June 07, 2009, at 5:56 p.m.

EVIDENCE OF PROSPERITY IN BIG BUILDING BOOM, announced a large headline in the Bangor Daily Commercial on June 10, 1909, a century ago this week. Real estate was changing hands. The construction industry was booming. Fifty new houses were being built in Bangor.

This was not the first time such a headline had run in the newspapers in recent years. Several impressive commercial blocks had been built along with such famous buildings as Union Station, the Tarratine Club and the Eastern Steamship Co, terminal. What was going on? On the one hand, the lumber industry was declining along with Bangor’s harbor, both sources of great wealth to the area. On the other hand, buildings were going up as if there was no tomorrow.

The Commercial story explained succinctly, “There has been a great change wrought in the city in the past 15 or 20 years. Years ago it was one of the great lumber markets of the world. It has now become the center of supplies of northern and eastern Maine.” The rise of wholesale and retail firms, the building of the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad, the increasing trade from Aroostook County — all these were gradually creating a new Bangor.

A few weeks later, the Bangor Daily News offered its own analysis of the situation. BANGOR’S BUILDING BOOM IS SOMETHING TO WONDER AT, the newspaper reported on July 1. “Half a Million or More to Be Spent This Year in New Construction, Scores of New Dwellings”

Various causes were assigned for the prosperity. They included new industries springing up and the steady increase in the importance of Bangor as a railroad center. Scores of families were moving to Bangor attracted by its public school system, its cultural attractions and “its hustle, hospitality and diversified business interests.” The numerous dwellings that were rising were being occupied as soon as they were completed. Rents were “scarce and high,” and real estate was expensive.

The newspaper offered a lengthy list of building projects then in progress. The new construction was offering plenty of employment for workers, including many immigrants, as well as architects such as W.E. Mansur, the most popular building designer of the day in the Queen City.

The opening of Union Station in 1907 had triggered a need for more space at the nearby Penobscot Exchange, Bangor’s second-best hotel after the Bangor House. New rooms complete with “baths and every convenience that can be given in the way of lighting, telephone system and ventilation” were planned along with an elaborate new lobby and entrance. Sixty rooms would be added in all to the hotel located at Exchange and Hancock streets. One day the building would become a dormitory for Husson College students before being torn down for urban renewal.

Entertainment was also benefiting. The Gem Theater, which showed movies on Exchange Street, was being renovated and enlarged. “When completed it will be one of the finest theaters in New England,” said the newspaper. Its name would be the Bijou, although developers had not yet announced that fact.

H.L. Day, Son & Co. was building a five-story spring bed factory on Front Street near Railroad Street. It would be larger than the factory at its previous location on Grant Street. “This building will be unique in that it will be built entirely of stone, most of which has been obtained from blasting away the ledge on the site.”

Bangor’s two major hospitals, Eastern Maine Insane Hospital and Eastern Maine General Hospital were both putting up major additions. The former, designed by the famous Portland architect John Calvin Stevens, was a wing for men similar to the wing for women that had been built in 1907.

Eastern Maine General Hospital was building a four-story children’s ward, which also would have space for “the segregation of surgical and medical patients,” including people with contagious diseases. On the roof would be a children’s playground, a solarium and quarters for tubercular patients “in which they will be kept from early spring to late in the fall.”

John Cassidy and J.P. Bass were erecting large business buildings on Columbia Street and Exchange Street, respectively. The Adams Dry Goods Co. was putting up a building on Columbia Street for its offices and for the White Star Laundry. The buildings on Hammond Street occupied by Chandler & Co. were getting major renovations.

The housing shortage was being addressed. Buildings containing apartments were being raised by Gallagher Bros. on State Street, Robert J. Reilly on Sanford Street, Edward F. Kelley on Cedar Street and others. The largest was known as the Colonial Apartments “running through from High to Union streets.” It was “designed to be the largest and finest apartment building east of Boston.”

Among other projects in the planning stages were a new hose house on Main Street and a new beef house at Front and Union streets, where the Armour Co. had cleared a site of five wooden buildings and a spur track had been built.

“Prosperity Shines on This Metropolis and It Grows and Grows,” proclaimed the Bangor Daily News. As the years and decades passed, much of the new construction would burn or be torn down indiscriminately, but the city’s spirit would continue.

A collection of Wayne E. Reilly’s columns titled “Remembering Bangor: The Queen City Before the Great Fire” is available at bookstores. Comments about this column can be sent to him at wer@bangordailynews.net.

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/06/07/living/early-papers-hustled-to-explain-bangorrsquos-lsquobig-building-boomrsquo/ printed on July 24, 2014