June 18, 2018
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Atlantic City, Cuba held allure for winter-weary Bangoreans

By Wayne E. Reilly, Special to the BDN

Long before Disney World and cheap airline flights, southern climes beckoned people from eastern Maine in the winter. A century ago, the city’s growing middle class had the leisure time and extra cash to seek out resorts in Florida, Bermuda and Southern California for two or three weeks, just as growing hordes from southern New England and the mid-Atlantic states were coming to Maine for summer vacations.

Bangor newspaper advertisements in the winter of 1910 told much of the story. Raymond & Whitcomb Co. was offering tours of the “Glorious Southland,” including the chief attractions of Florida — St. Augustine, Ormond, Palm Beach and Miami — with a side trip to Cuba. The Twin Screw Line, meanwhile, was offering a journey lasting “forty hours from frost to flowers” to Bermuda on the SS Oceania or the SS Bermudian, both equipped with wireless telegraphy and bilge keels for safety and comfort.

Luxury trains from New York City operated by the Seaboard Air Line Railway promised the fastest time to Florida. The Seaboard Florida Limited claimed the “only electric lighted all Pullman train with Club Car, Observation Car, Dining Car, Standard Drawing Room and Compartment Sleeping Cars to Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Palm Beach, Miami, Knight’s Key.”

One could head southwest as well, taking the California Limited, with a side trip from Williams, Ariz., to the Grand Canyon and a stopover at the El Tovras Hotel near the canyon edge — only three days from New York City.

Even Atlantic City, only three hours from New York City by train, held charms for some. “There is no snow at Atlantic City,” promised an advertisement paid for by the city’s most prominent hotels.

The excursion that received the most publicity in the Bangor newspapers that year and of which we have actual evidence that Bangoreans were in attendance was the voyage of the “palatial steamer” Orotava to Bermuda, “ the Mecca for those who are seeking escape from the execrable March weather” of New England. This two-week escape sounds like a steal today, but, of course, readers need to multiply a dollar by about 20 to get its actual value back then.

For $69.55, passengers were promised rail passage on March 15, 1910, from Bangor’s Union Station on the Maine Central to Portland, then to Boston on the Boston & Maine and on to Grand Central Station on the Shore Line of the New York, New Haven and Hartford. They would then board the Orotava at Peir 50 in the North River for a 44-hour ocean voyage to Hamilton, Bermuda, where they would check into a first-class hotel for eight days and return the same way.

In Bermuda they would see coral reefs and sea gardens from glass-bottom boats and review “endless fields” of roses, orchids and lilies along many “delightful drives, ranging in length from four to 28 miles.”

Upon their return, Mr. and Mrs. G.W.E. Barrows of Bangor were interviewed by the Bangor Daily Commercial. Mr. Barrows was one of the principals with Blake, Barrows & Brown banking and insurance, one of the companies that helped organize the trip. So it is not unexpected that he gave a glowing account.

Aside from the two balls that were held for the group at the St. George’s Hotel at St. George, the trip sounded remarkably similar to one today, replete with excursions, warm weather and sunny skies. Trips to the beach or to play golf, however, were not mentioned by the Barrowses. He was more impressed by the island’s “elegantly kept roads,” undoubtedly a big improvement over the muddy, rutted trails found in Maine in the spring.

Barrows was as interested in the lives of the natives as in the entertainment offered by the hotels. “Bermuda is a wonderful little country, but I don’t know what would happen to the place if it was suddenly shut off from communications with this country,” he said. The natives lived largely on fish and the few vegetables grown. They produced some potatoes, onions, bananas and arrow-root, but no hay or fodder. “What meat and other luxuries that are eaten by them and the tourists are secured in the United States,” he said. Yet the island appeared to be “enjoying a boom,” and, of course, the Barrowses and their money were part of it.

Other Bangoreans who made the trip with the Barrowses that March included Thomas White, a grocer and the proprietor of the Bangor Coffee and Spice Mill; Mrs. Harry Burr, whose husband ran an employment agency; Mrs. Ida Marr, a dressmaker; and John A. Weatherbee, a timberlands investor.

The eastern and northern Maine contingent included people from LaGrange, Foxcroft, Bar Harbor, Van Buren, Millinocket and Princeton. Also staying in a hotel on the island at the same time as the tour group, it was noted, were Mellen C. Peirce, the wealthy Bangor lumber baron; Miss Ada Peirce, his daughter; and son Waldo, a recent Harvard graduate and artist-in-the-making.

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 can be sent to him at wer@bangordailynews.net.

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