One hundred years ago this week, Bangor residents and business owners were in the absolute beginning stages of cleaning up, and preparing for recovery and rebuilding, from the Great Bangor Fire of 1911, which had occurred the previous Sunday, April 30.
One of the major public institutions that fell victim to the fire was the Bangor Public Library.
At the time of the fire, according to “A Brief History of the Library” offered by the Bangor Mechanic Association of which I am a member and which shares responsibility for conducting library business with the city of Bangor, “the library was housed in rented quarters in the business district.”
In fact, the library and historical society occupied upstairs rooms in Bangor Savings Bank on State Street.
“The library had 70,000 volumes, making it the largest public library in the state,” according to the history, but “the disastrous fire of April 1911 swept it all away.”
In May 1911, “with 29 books saved from the burning building, 1,330 returned by borrowers and 46, which had been at the bindery, the library reopened in two small rooms in the basement of the Court House. There the library remained for two and a half years.”
The cornerstone for the new library was laid June 18,1912, and the building as we now know it (excluding the newer addition) was opened to the public on Dec. 20, 1913.
The history of the library hit me squarely in the face last week from two sources.
First was the preparation and release of a special Bangor Daily News report on the fire overseen by BDN Graphics Editor Eric Zelz with contributions from Bangor historian and former fellow employee Dick Shaw and members of the Bangor Fire Committee.
The second was a phone call from Ginger Graham, who is president of the Friends of Bangor Public Library.
Ginger called to ask for your donations and assistance with the BPL Friends Book Sale, which is 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, May 7, at the library on Harlow Street.
What struck me about Ginger’s call was how exhausted she sounded, and that brought to mind just how Bangor residents of 1911 must have sounded after losing their homes and businesses 100 years ago.
While it wasn’t a fire that has kept Ginger so busy that it came through in her voice, it was all about books, and the Bangor Public Library.
Not only is Ginger working with others on the BPL Friends sale, the 12-year employee of Bill Lippincott of Lippincott Books on Central Street in Bangor has been helping him remove the more than 30,000 books from his business, which recently closed after a 35-year history in the city.
Lippincott’s, which will be greatly missed, featured used, rare and out-of-print books as well as a large collection of everything from Maine history to vintage paperbacks, according to its website, www.lippincottbooks.net.
I am pleased to report, however, after talking with Ginger a few days later, she had really perked up (as did Bangorites 100 years ago) and now is hoping you will focus, with her, not on the closing of one Bangor institution but the continuity of another.
If you are in the midst of spring cleaning “and need to recycle some good reading material,” she reports, “the library is happy to take the donations for the Friends.”
“As always, the Friends do NOT need textbooks, Readers’ Digest Condensed books, old encyclopedias, old magazines or anything that has mold or mildew.The Friends will take fiction or non-fiction on any subject.”
She also suggests if there is a book you particularly enjoyed, you are welcome to “slip a short review in the book for someone to discover.”
You can donate books from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. now through Thursday, at the library and, if you have questions, need help getting there there or want to arrange to have them picked up, call the library at 947-8336.
Joni Averill, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402; firstname.lastname@example.org; 990-8288.