November 22, 2017
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A look back at the millionaire ‘lumber kings’ of Bangor

By Wayne E. Reilly, Special to the BDN
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Wayne E. Reilly

John Cassidy, Thomas Coe, Joseph Bass and Frederick Hill had two things in common in 1920. They had all been multi-millionaire Bangor lumbermen — also known as lumber barons or lumber kings. They had all died within the last three years, spreading their tremendous wealth over Bangor for generations to come.

In December 1920, after the last of them had died, the Associated Press produced a short report that appeared in newspapers across the country. The huge estates of these four men “calls renewed attention to this little city of 25,000 population as the home of Maine lumber kings,” the report noted.

The adventurous entrepreneurs who had built Bangor in the 19th century with reckless land speculation, legendary logging exploits, and a multitude of sawmills and other investments were now either dead or old men with big bank accounts.

The Queen City was no longer “the lumber capital of the world.” By 1913, the amount of “long lumber” shipped from the Port of Bangor was little more than a third of what it had been at its peak in 1872.

When they died, these lumber barons received lengthy obituaries in the city’s two daily newspapers. Besides their many accomplishments during the age of unbridled capitalism, the contents of their wills were reported in great detail so readers could learn who would benefit and, even more exciting, whether a sensational court fight might erupt among the heirs.

Because of the generous largesse of many of these men, Bangor boasted a richer cultural life than one would expect in a city of only 25,000. At the same time, its needy folks could expect to be cared for, at least minimally, by the city’s many charitable organizations in this era before the state and federal governments took over the job.

Rank ordering them by wealth, the Associated Press started with John Cassidy, perhaps the least likely member of the group, “who came from Ireland with a pack on his back.” It was estimated Cassidy had left $8 million, “believed to be the largest fortune ever accumulated in Maine.” (A dollar then would be worth a great deal more today.)

When Cassidy died in 1918 at age 75, he was described as one of the largest individual timberland owners in eastern Maine and one of its leading bankers by the Bangor newspapers.

A store clerk who had attended Bangor schools, Cassidy began acquiring woodlands at age 27. The store, located on Broad Street, specialized in supplies for woods operations. Cassidy not only learned the value of groceries, but of remote properties as well.

Before his career was over he had started his own store, acquired 235,429 acres of timberland, sailing ship interests, an iron mine at Katahdin Iron Works, a sawmill in Stillwater, and the presidency of the Eastern Trust and Banking Co., an institution he helped found.

A large owner of city real estate, Cassidy even owned the six-story Eastern Trust bank building built after the Great Fire of 1911 at Kenduskeag Bridge on State Street. Cassidy, along with Coe and Bass, was one of the top 10 property taxpayers in the city, according to the Bangor Daily News on Oct. 11, 1912.

When he died, Cassidy left his huge estate to his family. “There are no public bequests,” the Bangor Daily Commercial said April 3, 1918.

No two people could have had more divergent backgrounds than Cassidy, a self-made man, and Dr. Thomas Upham Coe, the scion of a privileged family. Coe was second on the Associated Press’ list of recently deceased Bangor lumber barons in terms of the value of his estate.

Educated at Bowdoin College in Brunswick and at medical schools in Philadelphia and Paris, Coe returned to Bangor to practice for 15 years. Then he retired to manage the thousands of acres of timberlands he had inherited from his father, Ebenezer, among the area’s earliest lumbermen.

At the death of his brother, also named Ebenezer, Thomas inherited even more wild lands along with interest in dams, farms, a sawmill and other related properties, according to an analysis of family papers on file at the University of Maine in Orono. His holdings included land in the Allagash region as well as along the route of the failed European and North American Railroad of which Coe had been a director.

Coe was the city’s top property taxpayer in 1912. In recent years he had financed the construction and renovation of several major business buildings on Main, Columbia and other Bangor streets. He had been active on the boards of many businesses such as the Merrill Trust Co. and public institutions such as the Bangor Public Library.

When the Bangor Opera House burned in 1914, the newspapers speculated that it would be rapidly rebuilt with all the latest theater improvements because wealthy Coe was its principal owner. Such was not the case, however.

When he died in 1920 at his summer house at Kineo, Coe’s estate was said in the Bangor newspapers to be worth between $6 million and $8 million.

Proving him to be a philanthropist, it included public bequests amounting to $359,000 including $150,000 to Bowdoin College and $100,000 to the University of Maine as well as smaller amounts to various Bangor charitable institutions such as the Eastern Maine General Hospital, the Bangor homes for aged men and women and the Bangor Fuel Society, according to the Bangor Daily News on Aug. 6, 1920.

The third man on the Associated Press list was Joseph P. Bass, who is best remembered today as the publisher of the Bangor Daily Commercial, his soapbox for Democratic Party ideals as well as his personal business interests.

Starting out as a clerk and later proprietor of dry goods stores in Massachusetts and Bangor, Bass “engaged quite extensively in buying and selling timber lands and city real estate” beginning in 1870, according to a biographical essay in fellow Bangorean Louis C. Hatch’s five-volume “Maine: A History.”

A scathing profile of Bass written by William R. Pattangall, another Maine journalist and politician, portrays him as a money-obsessed social climber who “married so profitably [Mary March, the daughter of a prominent Bangor family], that he was able to give up the dry goods store and go into the real estate business. In the course of this latter business, he became the owner of sufficient timberland as to make him rich.” Since Bass is not here to defend himself, I will delve no further into Pattangall’s entertaining excoriation.

Bass was involved in politics, serving as Bangor’s mayor and a state legislator. As a publisher, he was a feisty, dogged proponent of such causes as the repeal of prohibition and lower taxes.

He owned a summer cottage at Bar Harbor, his newspaper devoting a good deal of space to news of that town, in his unsuccessful efforts to rise up to the starry realm of the “Sunday paper aristocracy” who summered there, Pattangall wrote.

Bass left an estate of $3 million, according to the Associated Press. At his death in 1919 at age 83, he made a number of public bequests including $25,000 to Eastern Maine General Hospital and “a liberal annuity” to the Bangor Children’s Home. He gave Maplewood Park to Bangor, to be named Bass Park. Today, it is the site of a huge fiberglass statue of Paul Bunyan, a fitting tribute to Bass and his colleagues.

While Bass was loud and flamboyant, the fourth man on the Associate Press list of dead lumber kings, Frederick Willard Hill, lived a quiet existence in hotel rooms instead of the standard baron’s mansion. Hill was “remarkably retiring,” a colleague said.

“Few people really knew him,” one business associate said after his death. “He had but a limited number of close friends.”

Like Coe, Hill was the son of a privileged family. Educated in Bangor schools and Westbrook Seminary, he gave up the study of law for a business career, going into business in New Brunswick. In 1872, he traveled to Michigan where his father, Roderick, had extensive timberlands “and for the next 15 years he made many and extended Western trips.”

In 1907, he became president of the Tracadie Lumber Co. in New Brunswick with large timberland holdings in the region. He also had interests at Katahdin Iron Works, where he and an associate produced “superior quality charcoal iron admirably adapted for car wheels,” according to Edward M. Blanding, his biographer.

Hill also was prominent in Bangor financial circles, where he was chairman of the board of Eastern Trust and Banking Company. He was also president of the Kenduskeag National Bank and vice chairman of the Kenduskeag Trust Company.

When in Bangor, Hill lived in the Penobscot Exchange between 1875 and 1878 and then in the Bangor House until his death in 1920. In 1909, he married Marianne Egery Hersey, who had connections with several other wealthy Bangor families. The Hills also had summer cottages in Owls Head and Camden.

Hill left an estate that exceeded $2.5 million. His most noteworthy bequest was $525,000 to the University of Maine, the largest gift ever received by the university at the time. Remarkably, Hill had no connection to the university. The only restriction was that the money could not be used for the construction of buildings. Many other institutions also benefited, other large gifts going to Eastern Maine General Hospital and the Bangor Public Library.

The Hills’ most notable presence today in Bangor (besides the plates in many books at the library) is a large, cylindrical mausoleum in Mount Hope Cemetery made of Vermont granite and marble with large windows by Tiffany’s Studio in New York City. Eight-foot bronze doors protect the entrance.

Wayne E. Reilly’s column on Bangor a century ago appears in the newspaper every other Monday. His latest book, Hidden History of Bangor: From Lumbering Days to the Progressive Era, is available where books are sold. Comments can be sent to him at wreilly.bdn@gmail.com

 


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