Beautification was the buzzword in Bangor in the spring of 1913. After the great fire of 1911, a massive effort had begun to rebuild the city. Now efforts were underway, in keeping with the progressive tenor of the times, to make the Queen City of the East as neat and clean as possible.
City officials were studying ways to consolidate “the forest of poles and the maze of wires” that delivered electricity and phone service to the public. TO RID BANGOR OF MUCH UGLINESS, proclaimed a headline in the Bangor Daily News announcing the effort. The jungle of utility wires and poles was disfiguring the business section of the city and “spoiling the effect of Bangor’s handsome buildings.”
Open sewers like the one at the foot of Buck Street, which emptied into the Penobscot River, and another between Harlow and upper Curve streets were targeted by the city as well.
So was the Kenduskeag Stream, which emitted a strong odor of sewage when the water got low and the temperatures high. Mayor Flavius O. Beal was proposing a small dam to back up water in the dry season to flood the sewage that was finding its way into the stream.
Women’s clubs made city beautification a top priority. The Bangor Federation of Women’s Clubs’ 400 members had plenty of clout, even if they didn’t have the vote.
The Daughters of the American Revolution, for example, called for cleaning up what amounted to a public dump along the westerly shore of the Kenduskeag above Franklin Street.
DAR members also urged that the city stop sweeping downtown streets during business hours because the clouds of dust ruined women’s dresses and damaged goods — including uncovered food products in stores. Left unstated was the belief that the dust contained germs that caused TB and other diseases, something most readers would have understood at the time.
Like all cities, Bangor had a problem with heaps of rubbish, ashes and other waste dumped in streets and alleys, creating an unsightly health menace. The Federation of Women’s Clubs worked out a deal with the city establishing “public welfare days” when city workers would haul away peoples’ ashes and rubbish to public dumps.
The federation also called for ordinances mandating the covering of “open piles of dressing” or manure, as well as garbage, being hauled through city streets.
Meanwhile, the federation relaunched its anti-fly campaign from the year before in the city’s schools in an effort to enlist the help of children in eradicating the loathsome insects believed to spread diseases from barns and outhouses to the kitchen table.
Storekeepers and street vendors who didn’t protect their goods from flies and dust risked being targeted. The clubwomen announced a plan to publish a “white list” of food dealers who took action to protect the public. Vendors who left merchandise exposed would be censored by being left off the list.
The women also issued a list of “don’ts” for shoppers that was published in the Bangor Daily News on June 18. Most of it sounds like common sense today. Don’t buy food displayed out on the street, don’t buy food in “dirty shops” exposed to dust and flies and don’t buy food sold by “dirty persons.” They also targeted vendors who kept dogs and cats around their products or maintained “dirty toilet rooms.”
Pickering Square, site of Bangor’s big open air farmers market, appears to have been singled out for special attention under the state’s Pure Food Law. Charles D. Woods, who was responsible for enforcing the law’s “sanitary clause,” wrote a piece about improvements since the law took effect, published in the Bangor Daily News on Jan. 10, 1913. Woods said that conditions in “a certain square in one of our cities” where meat was sold from farmers’ wagons had improved since vendors erected enclosed areas with screens and glass partitions to protect their products.
In the past, “meats were dispensed to the public without any protection … from dust which is constantly whirling and the flies which congregated in large numbers and which literally swarmed upon the meats,” Woods wrote. I suspect this is a reference to Pickering Square, which was famous, especially at Thanksgiving, for its large congregation of wagons selling farm products. Several bakeries “which were actually filthy” had been cleaned up as well, said Woods.
We take many of these and other reforms for granted today. Next time you visit a modern supermarket, look around and think about what it must have been like to shop in Pickering Square among the flies and horses a century ago. You have progressive groups like the Bangor Federation of Women’s Clubs to thank.
Wayne E. Reilly’s column on Bangor a century ago appears in the newspaper every other Monday. An illustrated collection, “Remembering Bangor: The Queen City Before the Great Fire,” is available where books are sold. Comments can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.