The Great Bangor Fire of April 30, 1911, turned a pleasant Sunday afternoon into Dante’s Inferno for the Queen City’s 25,000 residents. Possibly ignited by smokers at J. Frank Green’s hay shed on lower Broad Street, flames jumped the Kenduskeag Stream onto Exchange Street and raged for eight hours before burning out around midnight.
“Bangor Swept by Furious Fire” reported the Bangor Daily News, which blamed Maine’s worst 20th century urban disaster on drought and wind. Lost landmarks included six churches and a synagogue, the post office and customs house, the library and historical society collections, Norumbega Hall, the high school and private dwellings.
A figure of $3,168,080 eventually was decided on, with 60 percent of the loss covered by insurance. But no amount of money could restore the lost heirlooms, public documents and landmarks.
Two men died in the fire, which burned so brightly that one could read the finest newsprint by its light after gas and electric lights failed. “There was a continual crashing of walls, chimneys and roofs,” stated the Bangor Daily Commercial. “Exchange and State Streets were roaring furnaces filled with seething flames and clouds of dense smoke.”
Onlookers streamed into downtown to survey the damage. Brick and wooden ruins bordered Pickering Square, with other losses on Exchange, State, Park, Harlow, and Central streets. Broadway’s mall and sweeping park helped halt the inferno. So did an insurance wall on Franklin Street that was credited with saving City Hall and all of Main Street.
Silver linings in the storm clouds included the fact that the fire struck on a Sunday, minimizing mass evacuations, and in springtime, allowing planners to use the year’s warmest months. By 1912, public buildings, along with homes, had risen phoenix-like, proof that the former lumbering capital had beaten the odds.
Mayor Charles W. Mullen’s prediction had come true. “Bangor is undaunted,” he told a local newspaper. “Bangor will come back.”