As some of the Greater Bangor area’s most enterprising businesspeople, Abe and Heather Furth are always on the lookout for their next project, be it a restaurant, a brewery or a new real estate venture.
When they bought 26 State St. in downtown Bangor in September 2015, they had their eyes on both the small commercial space on the street level and, most especially, on the three upper floors, which they intend to make into comfortable, mid-priced loft apartments. What they didn’t know is that they would stumble across a time capsule of life in early 20th century Bangor.
“Those three floors had been completely untouched since 1961,” said Abe Furth, who with Heather owns or co-owns Woodman’s Bar & Grill in Orono, Orono Brewing Company and Verve Burritos in both Bangor and Orono. “It had literally been unchanged for over 50 years.”
The Furths and Joseph Quinn, demo contractor on the renovation of the building, turned up all sorts of unique old things while gutting the space. A little digging with the help of Paul Cook, owner of Maine Real Estate Management and a Bangor history buff, turned up the source of all that stuff: 26 State St. used to be the home of Bangor Cigar Manufacturing Co., one of the city’s eight different cigar-making companies in the late 19th century and early 20th centuries.
“Apparently Bangor was the cigar making capital of Maine back then. Bangor was hand-rolling four million cigars a year. You could buy them all over the country,” said Abe Furth. “It was a huge business that employed tons of people. I had no idea until Paul told me more about it.”
Once the business closed in 1961, a lot of things were simply left behind, including hundreds of the red and gold paper bands that were put on the ends of the cigars made in house, old paperwork from as far back as the 1930s, special occasion cigar boxes that read “Merry Christmas” or “Happy New Year” on the lids, little scraps of tobacco, and enormous cigar humidors, built from Douglas fir, that were too large to move out of the building.
“It was amazing. It was like walking into the past,” said Abe Furth.
According to a 1996 Bangor Daily News article, Bangor Cigar Manufacturing Co. was the first cigar manufacturer in the city, founded by Albert Lewis in the late 1870s and originally located on Harlow Street. After the Bangor Fire of 1911, the business moved to 26 State St. The business passed in 1908 to Lewis’ son-in-law, G. Rockwell Youngs, Maine’s first boxing commissioner, and then, eventually, to his son Albert Lewis Youngs, well-known in Bangor as a professional magician as well as a cigar maker. When Youngs died in 1961 — and when cigar-rolling machines made hand-rolled cigars obsolete — the business died with him.
Despite the building’s historical charm, the space needed a lot of work. So far, Quinn has stripped the walls down to the original brick, has removed several dumpsters full of debris, and has removed the original back staircase, to be replaced with a brand-new staircase accessible by a newly-constructed side entrance and hallway, which will lead to the apartments. The front facade will be replaced, and will have its own entrance to the commercial space.
“One of the things that we love most about these old buildings is that each one is different, and each one has its own challenges in terms of the demo,” said Heather Furth. “There are some things that will always look great, like hardwood floors and exposed brick and tin ceilings. And then there are things you’ve got to change in order to bring these buildings up to code. There are tons of places like that in Bangor.”
Some of the traces of the old cigar factory will remain, however, in the apartments, which the Furths estimate will be read to rent in Spring 2016. The huge skylight on the fourth floor is staying put, and the Furths intend to turn those old humidors into one-of-a-kind kitchen islands for each new apartment.