BANGOR, Maine — David Slagger of Kenduskeag was visiting his bank last month when a framed sketch depicting an early 19th century streetscape in downtown Bangor caught his eye.
In the background of the print, which was yellowed with age, he could see a portion of the Bangor House, once one of Bangor’s premier hotels.
The imposing brick structure located at the corner of Union and Main streets was built in the 1830s and housed travelers through the late 1970s. At that time, it was converted to an apartment complex for the elderly and people with handicaps.
In the foreground of the print was the former Mercantile National Bank building, which later became the home of the Penobscot Savings Bank. That structure was razed during the urban renewal movement of the 1960s.
The artwork, as Slagger would discover after he took it home and removed it from the frame, was part of a much larger document -— one with many other connections to Bangor’s early history.
The sketch was among several that the TD Banknorth branch on Union Street was selling as part of a two-week silent auction to raise funds for the Special Olympics, branch manager Michelle Cobb said Monday.
Cobb said workers had taken down several pieces of art during recent renovations at some of the company’s older branches.
“We decided to dust them off and put them in the auction as a way to raise money for the Special Olympics,” she said.
Slagger said he wanted to buy the sketch as a present for his wife, Priscilla Slagger, who is the resident services coordinator at the Bangor House.
The high bid at the time he placed his bid was $20, he said, adding, “People looked at it, probably, and said, ‘Who would want a nasty old thing like that?’ But when I saw it, I said. ‘This is so cool.’”
So he placed a $40 bid.
“He was the lucky winner,” Cobb said.
When Slagger took the sketch home and opened the back of the frame in search of some information about the drawing, an “Antiques Roadshow” kind of moment began to unfold for him.
What he had thought was a small sketch of the hotel and bank turned out to be part of a larger document — a relatively rare 1835 copy of a piano composition called “Bangor March,” “composed and arranged for pianoforte” by Oliver J. Shaw, a blind composer of hymn tunes and ballads.
Slagger took the documents and frame around the city in search of more information.
Shaw, who was born in 1779 and died in 1848, was one of this nation’s first composers and lived and worked in Boston and Providence, R.I., according to several scholarly sources, including the International Music Score Library Project and the archives of the University of Maryland.
“Bangor March,” a classical piece, was dedicated to his friend Samuel P. Dutton, who was a member of one of the Queen City’s early families and an incorporator of Mount Hope Cemetery.
Also tucked inside the frame was an April 28, 1964, letter from Alden Head, owner of Alden Fairfield Head Travel, to George Prince of Penobscot Savings Bank.
A local man “told me that the old Mercantile National Bank Building was once the home of the Penobscot Savings Bank and you would be interested in having a picture of it,” Head wrote.
“The Bangor House Annex was built in 1833, shown in the background. This sketch appeared on the cover of a piece of music published in 1835. This will give you a slant on the age of the building,” he wrote.
After a few more paragraphs about changes to the building over the decades, Head noted that the former bank building last had been owned by the Brown & White Paper Co. and he explained how the sketch had been found there in the mid-1940s.
“Facing the building to the left of the front door, the wall has a distinct curve, and in this curve was a straight radiator. In 1945, when the interior was painted, the radiator was removed and this picture was discovered behind it. It must have been there for 20-odd years.”
Though not extremely rare, the sheet music Slagger found is proving to be of interest locally.
The Bangor Museum and History Museum has only one intact copy though it does have a few partial copies, said curator Dana Lippitt.
“We have [the equivalent of] 2½ copies,” Lippitt said.
“I think they’re fairly rare because paper gets deteriorated or torn,” she said, noting that the document predates the Civil War and that the music was published about the time Bangor was growing large enough to be incorporated as a city.
While the old score may not be worth a lot in dollar value, Lippitt said that it is an interesting find and that she shares Slagger’s excitement.
“It’s kind of exciting,” she said. “It’s fun because he didn’t know what he had until after he brought it home.”
Slagger agreed: “From a local perspective, I think it’s priceless because this is a part of Bangor’s history.”
Jennifer Ryan of Bangor Frameworks said last week that after Slagger brought the document and frame to the downtown shop, she remounted, rematted and reframed the cover sheet in acid-free archival-quality museum paper and put it back in the frame it arrived in.
“It’s old,” Ryan said of the frame. “It’s over 100 years old.” She said, however, that it does not appear to have been manufactured in the 1830s, when styles were much more ornate.
Though there were no marks or wording to help determine when the copy of “Bangor March” was framed, she noted it is common to find old documents in antique frames. Head’s letter, however, led her to suspect the composition was framed in the 1960s.
Regardless of its exact age, Slagger is pleased with his find.
“This old frame adds so much character. It’s so old and cool-looking,” said Slagger, 48, who works for the U.S. Census Bureau office in Bangor. “Being born in Bangor, Maine, I have an interest in this area.”
Slagger said the Bangor Public Library, which doesn’t have a copy of “Bangor March,” asked if he would donate it, but he decided not to after consulting Priscilla.
“My wife and I are going to keep it,” he said.