Before the Bangor region’s bus system was founded, Bangor and the surrounding towns had a public transit system that at one time was the envy of the entire state — remnants of which can still be seen today.
The Bangor Street Railway, later known as the Bangor Railway and Electric Co., was the first electric railway system in Maine. It opened in 1889, just one year after the world’s first widely successful electric trolley system debuted in Richmond, Virginia.
“It really showed the clout of the city, that we had this system in town before anyone else did,” said Dick Shaw, a Bangor historian.
Initially, the trolley had a route around downtown Bangor. By the 1890s, the line had continued down Main Street and up State Street, and by the early 1900s went out past the Bangor town line and into Hampden, eventually extending along Route 1A, just past Kennebec Road. Other routes were built into Orono and Old Town, and one route extended more than 20 miles out what is now Route 15, through Glenburn, Kenduskeag and Corinth and ending in Charleston.
Though Bangor’s trolley was, in some ways, ahead of its time, it was not without its share of troubles. By 1910, downtown Bangor was, by all accounts, a total mess of cars, horses, pedestrians and trolleys, all moving in different directions. Bangor did not adopt an ordinance mandating which side of the street to drive on until 1913.
“There were several fatalities over the years, especially around State Street, because people just didn’t know how to navigate between horses and trolleys,” Shaw said.
As development continued in what is now the Fairmount and Little City neighborhoods, trolley routes were built in those areas, and in 1914, a long-awaited bridge was built across the Penobscot River to connect Brewer’s trolley route to Bangor’s. By 1920, Bangor’s trolley system connected most parts of the Bangor region, and today, some parts don’t look all that different from the present-day Community Connector routes.
You can look at a map of the trolley lines in Bangor and see where the major residential and commercial centers in the region lay in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As Little City and Fairmount grew, so did their public transportation options. The farms and homesteads heading out Route 15 were thriving, so the trolley came to meet them and bring them and their goods into the city. And as the University of Maine grew, so did the need to connect it with Bangor.
Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.
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