The first recorded history of Bangor dates back to 1525, when a Portuguese mariner who had sailed as a captain in Magellan’s round-the-world fleet, sailed the Spanish caravel La Anunciada up the Penobscot River to the future site of Bangor, under a commission from King Charles V of Spain, to find the legendary northwest passage to the Orient.
The first record of European exploration was found in the journals of French explorer Samuel de Champlain, who in 1604, established a short-lived colony on an island off the coast of Maine, and explored the Penobscot River to the head of tide at Bangor.
Bangor was settled in the late 1760’s. Fishing and fur trading drew early settlers to the coast of Maine. European interest encouraged settlements.
In 1791, Bangor incorporated, and was named for an Irish hymn of the same name by a pastor named Seth Noble.
Maine became an independent state in 1820. During the 19th century, Maine’s vast forests, offering huge supplies of lumber, brought unprecedented wealth to the region. By 1850, Bangor was considered the lumber capital of the world. One of the busiest ports on the East Coast, the “Queen City” was heavily engaged in shipbuilding and commerce. However by the twentieth century, with the advent of the steam and steel age, Bangor’s sawmills and shipyards gave way to the forest industry of pulp and paper.
Bangor’s downtown district, having one of the nation’s first trolley systems, was once the bustling hub of Eastern Maine, and home of many businesses, theaters, stores, hotels, and marketplaces. Freese’s seven-story department store, known as “Fifth Avenue in Maine”, opened in 1892, and closed it’s doors in 1985.
Downtown Bangor was the scene in 1937 of the capture and gunning down in the street, by federal agents, of America’s Public Enemy #1. A sporting-goods storeowner became suspicious of Al Brady and members of the famed Brady Gang, while they purchased guns from his store, and notified authorities.
It was a sad day for Bangor when the “Park”, the “Olympia”, and the “Bijou” theaters were all demolished in the name of progress. The “Bijou” opened in 1912 as a vaudeville theater, but later showed motion pictures as well.
Morse’s (lumber) Mill, founded in 1850, and nearby covered bridge, it’s namesake, and only covered bridge within city limits in the nation, sadly became numbered among Bangor’s lost treasures.
Bangor’s most profound loss, however, was that of it’s most beloved landmark, Union Station, demolished in 1961, fifty-four years after completion, in the name of modernization. Railway service to Bangor, which began in 1855, had come to a close in 1954.
In spite of the Great Bangor Fire of 1911, which destroyed much of the downtown area, and several disastrous floods, Bangor remains the cultural center for Central and Eastern Maine. Tourists enjoy visiting it’s many surviving historical sites, such as the early 19th century homes of lumber barons of the past, the Isaac Farrar Mansion/Symphony House, the Bangor House, (once known as Bangor’s finest hotel) where crowds were addressed by such Presidents as Teddy Roosevelt and William Taft, the Mt. Hope Cemetery, the nation’s first garden cemetery, and the Hannibal Hamlin House. Hannibal Hamlin was Abraham Lincoln’s first Vice President. Bangor is also home to famous writer Stephen King’s Victorian mansion.
Centrally located, with many fine hotels, dining, and shopping opportunities, Bangor provides a great home base from which to explore the many attractions in the “downeast” region.
Bangor's History Revisited
The following is a list of the historical sites that you can view on
your next visit to Bangor.
- Broadway Historic District: Bound by Park, Center, Garland,
Essex and State Streets in Bangor. Early middle-19th century homes of
Bangor's famous lumber barons are fine examples of Colonial, Federal, Greek
Revival and second Empire Italian architecture.
- Hannibal Hamlin House: Corner of Fifth and Hammond Streets. Currently the residence of the president of the Bangor Theological
Seminary, this Second Empire dwelling was the home of Hannibal Hamlin, Vice
President during Lincoln's first administration. It is also sited on the
National Historic Places list.
- Isaac Farrar Mansion/Symphony House: Corner of Union and
Second Streets. Built of imported English brick, mahogany from Santo
Domingo and slate from Bangor, Wales. This modified English Regency structure
has housed noted playwrights, a law school, the Northern Conservatory of Music,
and currently a museum. It, too, is listed with national Historic Places.
- Mt. Hope Cemetery: State Street. Nation's first garden
cemetery. Hannibal Hamlin's resting place complete with Civil War monument.
- Pierce Memorial: Next to the Bangor Public Library. Memorializes Maine's colorful river log drivers in a bronze statue executed by
Charles Tefft. A gift to the city from the late Luther H. Pierce.
- Remember the Maine Memorial: Davenport Park. Main
and Cedar Streets. Erected in 1922, the original shield and scroll
recovered from the battleship Maine. The battleship was blown up in
Havana Harbor in 1898. The memorial is dedicated in memory of soldiers and
sailors of the Spanish-American War.
- St. John's Catholic Church: 207 York Street. Built in
1855 by Irish immigrants, its stained glass windows, imported from Austria in
1876, are among the most beautiful anywhere. The church was completely
refurbished in 1991. Listed with National Historic Places.
- Thomas Hill Standpipe: Summit Park. This structure,
built in 1897 to cover a large water tower, is known as the diamonds in the
crown of the Queen City when lighted at night. On the National Historic Places