June 24, 2018
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Fire that destroyed historic Court Street home Thursday started in chimney, officials say

By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — The blaze that gutted a nearly 180-year-old home at 150 Court St. early Thursday morning started in the chimney, according to fire officials.

“It is my opinion that it is a total loss,” Bangor Assistant Fire Chief Darrell Cyr said Friday afternoon.

Gregory L. Barrows, 67, was inside the home when the fire broke out. He managed to escape the flames by jumping out a first-floor window, according to Sgt. Tim York of the State Fire Marshal’s Office. Barrows did not exit from a second-floor window, as was initially reported, but it was a 6- to 10-foot drop to the yard, according to York.

Firefighters arrived at the home to find Barrows, who owns the home, waiting in his driveway. He was transported by ambulance to Eastern Maine Medical Center, where he was treated for smoke inhalation.

York said there were no smoke detectors inside the home, and that Barrows, who was in bed, woke up to the smell of smoke and managed to escape.

“He’s a very fortunate man,” York said.

The home, built in 1835, has a rich and somewhat elusive history that includes ties to some influential Bangor figures, according to city records.

At one time, the home was owned by Thomas Upham Coe, a powerful entrepreneur, property owner and member of a well-to-do Bangor family. Coe Park, which is next door to the home, and downtown’s Coe Building are named for him.

Sometime after 1875, the house was moved. It’s unclear where the house was located at first, according to Deborah Thompson, the author of “Bangor, Maine 1769-1914, An Architectural History.” The home likely was picked up, placed on rollers and pulled to its 150 Court St. location by horse sometime before the turn of the 20th century.

Coe “must have been responsible for the moving of this house, which was then used as the house for the keeper of the Coe property,” according to a survey of old buildings the city conducted in 1987. Coe lived at 107 Court St., which also is known as the Blake House, at the time, and likely wanted a place close to his property for his custodian to stay. Coe died in 1920.

People had a “waste-not-want-not” attitude at the time, Thompson said during an interview Friday. If a property owner had a building in one location but wanted one in another, they often chose to roll the building to the site, rather than constructing a new building and abandoning the old one.

Hal Wheeler, a former Bangor City Councilor, lived in the home for about six years when his family moved back to Bangor from southern Maine right after World War II. Wheeler was 8 or 9 years old at the time, he said during an interview Friday. The home was heated by a coal-fired furnace.

At the time, the building was owned by Patrick J. Byrnes, according to city records. Wheeler called Byrnes a “feisty old Irishman” who never looked to see if traffic was approaching before backing out of the driveway.

Wheeler said he has been told that Jesuit priest the Rev. John Bapst may have lived in the house at one point, though he hasn’t been able to confirm that. Bapst is best known for being tarred and feathered in 1854, in response to his efforts to build a Catholic school in Ellsworth. He gained notoriety for fighting widespread anti-Catholic sentiment in the region. John Bapst Memorial High School was named for him.

The house was purchased by Justina Ann Barrows in 1956. After Justina Barrows died in 2006, the home became part of her estate, and was passed down to Gregory Barrows, one of her three children, according to an obituary published in the Bangor Daily News.

“It was a happy, beautiful house,” Wheeler said.

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