Bangor was known as a lumber port, not a fishing port. So when a Grand Banks fisherman began unloading cod fish a century ago it attracted a good deal of attention along the Queen City’s waterfront. Bangor’s harbor was slowly declining along with its lumber trade. Any new business activity became an instant subject of speculation.
“The first Grand Banks fisherman that has ever made the port of Bangor on a direct run from the fishing grounds is now unloading part of her cargo of salt cod at the City Point docks, preparing to move into the [Kenduskeag] stream to discharge the rest of it,” announced the Bangor Daily Commercial on the afternoon of Nov. 9, 1909.
The schooner Lizzie Griffin hailed from Bucksport, where “grand Bankers are a common sight,” reported the newspaper, “but in the memory of sea-faring men in this city, and they usually have good memories in matters of this kind, the Griffin is the first ‘banker’ that has ever chucked her nose around High Head. Wholesale fish concerns in Bangor have usually got their stock by rail or from Boston and have never dealt heretofore with Grand Banks fishermen for the unloading of their fares in this city.”
Receiving the catch was Alfred Jones’ Sons, fish and oyster dealers, which had a warehouse on the Kenduskeag at 140-142 Broad St. After being partially unloaded at City Point, the Lizzie Griffin would displace less water and be able to go through the railroad drawbridge and up into the shallower Kenduskeag to deliver the rest of her load at the company’s warehouse. When the reporter arrived at City Point, near Union Station, some of the schooner’s 17 crewmembers were moving fish out of the hold with pitchforks to smaller boats.
Capt. William Anderson, an Orland resident who had reportedly gone to sea as a cabin boy in the China trade at age 11, was a genial man who liked to tell visitors about his craft and cargo. Bangor was still a seafaring port back then, and its residents were interested in all things nautical.
“We left Vinalhaven July 4 after taking on a load of salt, and arrived on the Banks six days later. From the 10th of July until Oct. 22 we were on the fishing grounds after cod and in that time we succeeded in getting a good fare,” said Capt. Anderson. “We didn’t get a sight of land from July 4 until Oct. 24 when we put into Liverpool, N.S. for water and provisions. We … arrived at Orland, Nov. 3.”
He recounted how conditions got too rough for dory fishing, and how French trawlers were “raising havoc” by skimming close to the bottom with their nets, catching about everything. “As soon as we get this fare unloaded, we shall make for the Bay of Islands [Newfoundland] after herring. It is too rough on the Banks now for dory fishermen and most of the fishing that will be done now will be by men fishing from the decks of the schooner.” he said.
The next morning, the Bangor Daily News ran an even longer account of the near miraculous appearance of a Grand Banker in the former Lumber Capital of the World. The schooner was owned one half each by A.R. Soper of Orland and Alfred Jones’ Sons. Plans were now under way to buy a second schooner. “While Bangor will probably never be a second Gloucester, it is probable that in the future cod will come here direct from the Grand Banks,” wrote the optimistic reporter.
The load of fish had been caught with hand lines from 15 dories put out from the Griffin, “all hands fishing except the skipper and the cook, and dressing down the catch every night practically the same as described by Rudyard Kipling in the story ‘Captains Courageous.’”
Alfred Jones’ Sons, which employed 25 men usually, had hired extra hands. The fish would be “washed out, that is the surplus salt used in packing in the vessel’s hold is removed. The curing process will be completed by the usual exposure to sun and air, but the ‘flakes’ [frames] of the Jones concern have been built upon the roof of the warehouse high out of the dust, believed to be a superior method to the usual fish yards where the flakes are but two or three feet from the ground.”
Hence the smell of drying cod as well as fresh sawed lumber would be wafting through the air of Bangor. Jones’ cured fish products were marketed all through the eastern states and as far west as Chicago “in various forms from the familiar entire flat fish of the country groceries to the fancy bricks, ‘boneless,’ ‘shredded,’ and other forms unknown to the old days.”
Capt. Anderson had “chewed fog’ on the Banks for the past 20 years, wrote the Bangor Daily News reporter. He explained that Grand Bankers were built differently from coasters. They were fitted for big crews and cargoes with overhanging bows and sterns and a very deep draught. But in later life they were often converted to coasters. Several of the lumber fleet sailing out of Bangor were former fishermen.
There was little chance of Bangor becoming “a second Gloucester.” Maine had long been edged out of the off-shore fishery by Massachusetts and the Maritime Provinces. The Queen City would have to find economic solace elsewhere. In 1916, the Bangor newspapers recorded Alfred Jones’ Sons had purchased a gasoline-powered sloop to run down the river to Penobscot Bay to buy or catch fresh fish and lobsters. The captain of this sloop, named the Finnan Haddie after one of Jones’ specialties, was identified as William Anderson.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.