Deaths of Engel, Cassidy heralded lumber era’s decline

Posted Dec. 20, 2009, at 7:03 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:26 a.m.

Bangor’s lumber trade and its accompanying harbor traffic had been declining for decades. When iconic figures from those nostalgic days died, they got lengthy write-ups in the city’s two daily newspapers. The obituaries of two such men appeared on Dec. 20, 1909. William Engel and Terence Francis Cassidy came from two different worlds, but their careers were in some ways remarkably similar after they reached the Queen City of the East back when logs jammed the Penobscot River and lumber vessels packed the harbor.

Both men were immigrants. Cassidy was an Irish Catholic who came to Bangor as a boy probably around 1850. Engel was a German Jew who arrived in Bangor when he was 16, just after the Civil War. With native intelligence and hard work, they overcame poverty and prejudice to succeed in the largely Protestant-dominated Bangor.

Both men started out in lowly jobs. Engel was a peddler selling “dry goods and notions.” He worked his way up to the position of traveling salesman for prominent merchants. While traveling along the back roads of northern Maine he saw the opportunity to buy timberlands inexpensively. All the money he saved was used to accumulate parcels in many locations. He formed a company with two partners.

“In those days before the railroad system had expanded and the millions of acres [became more] easily accessible, and before the pulp industry had created the present immense demands for spruce

logs, timberlands could be bought for a small fraction of what they are worth today,” the Bangor Daily News said in Engel’s obituary. Another short biography in Louis C. Hatch’s “Maine: A History” said Engel “was possessed of a remarkably intuitive business insight and his judgment in what would prove good and safe investments appears to have been well-nigh infallible.”

Engel left his job as a salesman in 1887 to manage his lumber operations full time. He emerged as one of the major Bangor lumber barons of the late 19th century through a variety of business transactions with other partners and stockholders. By the end of his life, he owned timberlands in Maine and Canada as well as mills in Old Town, Hampden, Great Works and Webster. These mills and logging operations employed about 1,200 workers.

Cassidy was employed in a carriage shop before starting his own blacksmithing business on Front Street. He remained at the same location for 42 years. Cassidy ran a ships chandlery, which tended to the needs of the vessels that carried William Engel’s lumber to market. He may have been helped out in business by his younger brother, John Cassidy, a store owner who died nine years later after accumulating a fortune in timberlands, mills and other real estate.

Terence Cassidy was the “last of the old-time ship-chandlers,” said the headline over his obituary in the Bangor Daily News. He also manufactured equipment for mariners, loggers, ice cutters and other trades.

He was “a remarkable example of what may be accomplished by brains, energy, industry, fair dealings and close attention to business,” said George F. Bacon in a promotional book on Bangor and Brewer published in 1891. “He started as a blacksmith and is now a manufacturer of Cassidy’s patent cant dog, tackle blocks and marine hardware, builder’s and bridge iron work, and dealer in anchors, chains and pumps, cordage and chandlery, paints and oils, ship stores and family groceries. … He also carries on a grist mill, manufactures ice tools of all kinds.” The list of other products and occupations went on and on. One of Cassidy’s proudest achievements was having done all the iron work at St. Mary’s Church, where he was one of the oldest parishioners.

Both Engel and Cassidy were well-liked, and this was reflected by their success in local politics. Cassidy was “known to all who had to do with the trade and commerce of Bangor,” said the Bangor Daily News. “He was a man of great energy and executive ability, upright and sincere and enjoyed the respect of all who knew him.” A Democrat, he served twice on the City Council and was twice nominated for the Legislature.

He had once been president of the Hibernian Mutual Society, but “since the society ceased to exist he has never been affiliated with any other fraternal organization,” commented the Bangor Daily Commercial. Cassidy had also been a foreman of Tiger Six fire company and an officer in the Grattan Guards, back in the days when firefighting and military leadership were often a sign of popularity as well as ability.

Engel, who joined the Unitarian Church and the Tarratine Club, was known for his loyalty to friends and for his strict business integrity. His political achievements were more extensive than Cassidy’s, probably because he was a Republican in a Republican era. He was known as “a safe man,” said the Bangor Daily News. He served on the City Council, including one term as mayor, and in the Legislature, both in the House and the Senate, and as chairman of the Penobscot County delegation. He was mentioned as a possible candidate for Congress, and he traveled to Michigan to campaign for William McKinley for president at the invitation of the Republican National Committee.

When he died he left $1 million to his wife, Rosalie Waterman Engel, and his daughter, Sylvia Engel Ross. “They were best known for their charitable work. They gave support to the Bangor Theological Society and Eastern Maine General Hospital as well as many charities that helped the aged, the blind and animals,” according to an Internet posting by the Fogler Library Friends marking family business papers donated to the Fogler Library Special Collections at the University of Maine.

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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