June 23, 2018
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Rebirth and rebuilding

By Dick Shaw, Special to the BDN

While the downtown fire district smoldered, there were hopeful signs that Bangor would weather the worst disaster in its 142-year history. Buoyed by a hopeful nation and the words of Mayor Charles Mullen, who forecast a swift rebuilding, the Queen City set out to put the Great Fire behind it and began planning for a 20th century renaissance.

After an official figure of around $3,168,080 was decided on, with 60 percent of the lost property covered by insurance, civic planners and landscape architects set out to help redesign downtown. But first, more than 60 acres of debris had to be carted away, the remains of businesses, civic landmarks and private dwellings. About 200 teams of horses were put to work, and the mayor announced that every man in Bangor willing and able to work would be hired.

Soon, portable buildings housing displaced businesses and city workers lined Harlow Street. Meetings were held at City Hall, untouched by the fire, where local architects C. Parker Crowell and Wilfred Mansur submitted plans for new office buildings. Warren H. Manning, a Boston landscape architect, announced his plans, which included modernizing the street system and opening blocks of green space that also would serve as fire breaks should another fire occur.

By 1914, most of downtown had risen from the ashes. Six-story office buildings such as the Eastern Trust block, Graham building, and Exchange block were complete, along with a new public library and high school. A post office was built on Harlow Street, while private residences such as the Arthur Chapin house at 58 Broadway replaced burned property.

The most remarkable post-fire rebirth may have been with the houses of worship. Of the six churches and one synagogue lost on April 30, a half-dozen were rebuilt. Third Congregational and First Parish merged and became All Souls Church; First Baptist rebuilt at the top of Center Street hill; First Universalist reconstructed its brick edifice; St. John’s Episcopal rebuilt a brick church on French Street; Advent Christian rebuilt on Center Street; and the Jewish synagogue rebuilt on York Street.

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