Fairmount helped serve an expanding city of Bangor

Posted Aug. 08, 2009, at 12:47 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:26 a.m.

Bangor was expanding “like some active octopus in every direction” a century ago, said the Bangor Daily News. New neighborhoods were popping up thanks to energetic real estate developers and an opportunistic trolley system. What made it all possible was the city’s rapidly growing middle class. These individuals with extra money were seeking to move their homes away from downtown pollution, disease, poverty and crime.

One real estate agency in particular, Louis Kirstein & Sons, was in the forefront of the movement to create new neighborhoods. Kirstein’s first, named “Little City in Itself,” is located on Bangor’s east side. “Little City was the first successful middle-class neighborhood in Bangor,” according to architectural historian Sara K. Martin. Her University of Maine master’s thesis “‘The Little City in Itself’: Middle-class Aspirations in Bangor, Maine, 1880-1920” offers an analysis of the Little City area and mentions a second successful effort called Fairmount, which this column is about.

A century ago, thousands of people flocked to the dedication of Fairmount. Located on the west side off “upper Hammond Street” on the former Hadlock Farm, it included Royal, Norway and Silver roads south of Hammond Street and part of Webster Avenue. It included the new Fairmount Park, where the dedication was held.

The “opening” of Fairmount on Aug. 6, 1909, was a big event indicative of its novelty and importance to the city. A dozen or so houses had been built already and a dozen more would go up in the next year. City officials from both Bangor and Brewer gave speeches. The Bangor Railway & Electric Co. was well represented, having expanded its trolley service out Hammond Street to Fairmount “thanks to the interest and liberality of President John R. Graham.” Russell’s Band played for two hours.

The backers provided free round-trip trolley tickets to dignitaries and the merely curious. Spectators rode trolley after trolley from West Market Square over the Hammond Street line “jammed to the running boards,” said the Bangor Daily News the next morning. “Alighting, the spectators spread out like a black blanket over the lawns and streets; and there was a steady stream of vehicles from eighteenth century carryalls to twentieth century touring cars.”

This “semi-suburb” was “near enough to be within easy reach of the business district, yet far enough to offer no little suggestion of the freedom and fresh air and pure water of the country.” The congestion from traffic and small businesses that exists along Hammond Street today didn’t exist then.

Besides the widest streets in the city and a park where children could play, Fairmount would have an artesian well so residents would not have to drink from the city’s controversial public water supply taken from the polluted Penobscot River.

“Already a number of very charming houses have been erected or are in the process of erection,” said the Bangor Daily Commercial. The home owners, according to the newspaper, were Frank Lane, Guy DeMerritt, John Parker, George Haskell, George Barker, Leroy Jones, E.J. Travis, Wade Clifton, Barnet Landon, Normand Smith, John Webster, William Burbank, Walter Cram, George Gould, Frank Brackett, Dayton Tibbetts, Wilbur Frank and J. Herbert Boyd.

The dignitaries began speaking late in the afternoon. Oliver L. Hall, president of the city’s common council, noted that Bangor was growing even though the city had no important manufacturing industries, its shoe plant had just shut down, and its famed lumber trade was declining. The reason: Bangor was “a clean, comfortable commercial center — a city of homes, where there is one of the best school systems in the world.”

Also speaking was trolley magnate Graham, a man known to make things happen. His business alliance with the Kirsteins had been an important ingredient in creating Fairmount. “Bangor seems to be built sort of in the form of a bowl,” said Graham. “All the new enterprises, most of the new buildings, are in, or very near the center of the town. It is time for us to spread out.” This must have been one of the first calls for urban sprawl in Queen City history.

Graham predicted Fairmount would be in the center of things as the city expanded toward Northern Maine Junction in Hermon, where the Bangor & Aroostook and the Maine Central railroads crossed paths and the B&A had its main yards. Graham said he was willing to expand his trolley line the two miles it would take to get there, if it would lead to more Fairmounts.

He agreed that Bangor was growing. It was reflected in trolley receipts. He predicted it also would be reflected in the next U.S. Census. Sure enough, the city’s population rose 14 percent, from 21,850 to 24,803, when the numbers were released in 1910. Ironically, one of the reasons the middle class was fleeing from the downtown to enclaves like Fairmount was the new immigrant population.

After the festivities, many of the dignitaries boarded a special trolley for Riverside, the amusement park near the end of the line in Hampden. They rode on the merry-go-round, “peppered the tin pigeons in the shooting gallery” and ate a catered supper. The Bangor Daily News reporter found it “cheerful and soul-stirring to watch the guardians of Bangor’s municipal destiny” cavorting in such an extraordinary manner.

In the early 1920s, the Fairmount Realty Association, an organization of stockholders created by Kirstein to finance Fairmount, created an addition on the southerly side of Webster Avenue, including extensions of Silver and Norway roads, Mountain View Avenue and extensions of West Broadway and Seventh Street. Businesses had sprung up along Hammond Street. The Fairmount School had been built nearby a few years earlier.

Fairmount and Little City were the best residential sections in Bangor, the reporter for the Bangor Daily Commercial commented on Aug. 3, 1925. Today these areas are still known as distinct neighborhoods, while most other efforts of the era to create permanent neighborhoods, with names like Hyde Park and Homeland, have been forgotten. Take a stroll around Fairmount Park today and you can see many of the original homes almost as they existed a century ago.

An illustrated 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 may be sent to him at wer@bangordailynews.net

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