On Monday, May 1, Bangor residents woke up to a city transformed. In an eight-hour window, fire had claimed 100 businesses, 267 dwellings, six churches, a synagogue, the high school, post office and customs house, the library, historical society, and Norumbega Hall. And that was just the beginning of the losses reported in newspapers over the coming weeks.
“It burnt across the city/ And the flames spread in the air,/ And it burnt upon to Central Park/ And it burnt across the park there,” wrote John F. Young in a 10-cent poem titled “The Great Bangor Fire.” In carefully measured verse, he listed lost landmarks such as the seven-story Morse-Oliver block at State and Exchange streets, the Graham block on Central Street, and the Sterns block on Exchange Street.
Also destroyed were smaller treasures such as Rice and Tyler music store, East Side Pharmacy, H.L. Mayo’s stable, and Benoit Clothing store. Friendships were forged in those businesses and now they had been reduced to ashes, their futures uncertain.
Three banks were lost, including Bangor Savings Bank opposite State Street bridge. Also destroyed in rooms upstairs were the collections of the city library and historical society. There were stories of librarians tossing books out into the stream, and a photo of an armed U.S. marshal protecting an exposed vault speaks volumes.
Perhaps the greatest loss was the seven houses of worship. People who had attended services in those buildings on Sunday morning were horrified to see them burn by midnight. The 8 p.m. burning of the First Parish spire at State Street and Broadway was visible for many miles, as was the glow from Third Congregational, First Universalist, First Baptist, Advent Christian, St. John’s Episcopal, and Jewish synagogue.
Charities offered assistance to those burned out of mansions and working-class quarters on French Street, Broadway, and neighboring streets. In desperation, some had hauled their possessions into the middle of Broadway and up to Broadway Park in hopes of sparing them from the flames.
“Beds, chairs, tables … people had brought them there to save them,” recalled 91-year-old eyewitness Harold F. Moon in 1976. “It seemed like a safe place. It was some sight.”