April 07, 2020

Lumber, cigar makers put old-time Bangor on map

A century ago, Bangor manufactured more cigars than any other town in Maine. Six producers – Benjamin F. Adams, W.S. Allen, Central Cigar Co., Albert Lewis, Madine Cigar Co. and James J. O’Leary – kept up a steady flow of stogies to the city’s 24 cigar and tobacco dealers. This was back in the days when a man lit up a good cigar after dinner or while reading his newspaper.

Bangor’s cigar supremacy was only one of the many reasons Bangoreans believed their city was deserving of its nickname, the Queen City. Edward M. Blanding, secretary of the Board of Trade, editor of the Industrial Journal and consummate Bangor booster, compiled a bragging list with this and other items on it. On the morning of Oct. 24, 1906, it was published in the Bangor Daily News, doubtlessly warming the hearts of more than a few residents who were not looking forward to another long, cold winter in this small, isolated lumbering metropolis situated increasingly far from the mainstream of American commerce. Blanding’s list, which took up most of a newspaper page, tells us as much about the aspirations of local folks as it does about what Bangor was like. This column contains only a sample of its contents.

Bangor was a manufacturing town back then. It had banks and hospitals and social agencies, and it benefited from the state’s growing hunting and tourism trade, but it was first and foremost a place where raw materials were processed for the wider world. “[Bangor] has manufacturing establishments numbering about 300, embracing many and diverse industries and employing several thousand hands,” wrote Blanding. Besides cigars, those manufactured goods included lumber, picture frames, clothing, boxes, bedsprings, bricks, ships, canoes, trunks, moccasins, boots, shoes, saws, axes, cant dogs, sawmill machinery, stoves, furnaces and crackers. Of some items, Bangor was the largest producer in Maine or New England or even the entire country, according to Blanding.

Essential to this manufacturing, Bangor was an important transportation hub starting with its “fine harbor, easily accessible and entirely safe for vessels of large size, there being several miles of deep-water frontage and the docks at High Head afford excellent facilities for the larger craft, either steam or sail, engaged in foreign commerce and the ocean carrying trade,” wrote Blanding. Eighty-seven vessels were “registered or enrolled” at the port of Bangor, including 78 sailing vessels, seven steamers, and two steam yachts.

Vessels arriving in the port in the past year had numbered 1,545. More than 187 million feet of lumber had passed through the port, a quantity not exceeded since 1872. Exports also included nearly 7 million feet of white birch spool bars headed for mills in England and Scotland, and 1.5 million feet of box shooks bound for ports in Italy. Imports included 361,689 tons of coal to fuel local enterprises as well as the growing number of paper mills that dotted the river from Brewer to Millinocket.

Of course, even then the railroads and other ports along the coast were replacing Bangor’s harbor as a center for shipping. The Maine Central Railroad and the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad connected Bangor with the rest of the world via the Canadian Pacific and other lines. “There are 84 regular trains in and out of Bangor daily, 62 of these passenger trains and 22 freight, besides numerous special trains,” wrote Blanding. The B&A had just opened its own port at Searsport and Stockton, threatening to eclipse Bangor’s harbor.

The Bangor electric street railway was another important part of the transportation web. In the past year, more than 4 million people had traveled along the system’s 60 miles of track operated by the Bangor Railway & Electric Co., which had just built the first “concrete car stable” in Maine. Residents had traveled nearly a million miles on the trolleys from Old Town to Hampden and from Bangor to Charleston.

Other impressive examples of Bangor’s modern infrastructure included a new steamship terminal and a big auditorium where famous opera singers performed. A new railway station was under construction. An opera house, a fine YMCA building and the Bangor House, the biggest hotel in Maine (open year-round) were also worth noting.

New technology, however, excited Bangor’s premier booster the most. For example, The New England Telephone and Telegraph Co. reported 2,800 subscribers in the city proper and another 3,300 in outlying towns. Bangor’s record of one telephone for every 10 people was equaled by few cities in the country, claimed Blanding.

It was electricity that caused Blanding to wax most enthusiastically. Bangor was “universally conceded to be one of the best lighted cities on the entire globe,” he said. The Bangor Railway & Electric Co. operated 37,900 electric lights in Bangor and vicinity. That amounted to a national record of 11/2 lights for each person who lived in the area, according to Blanding’s calculations. These lights were not to be confused with Bangor’s electric streetlights, which were powered by the city-owned Water Works, or with the lighting provided by the Bangor Gas Light Co., which burned coal and shipped the gas for lighting and cooking around the city through 35 miles of gas mains. Use of the latter had increased 60 percent in the last decade.

“Cheap electric power at tidewater means much for Bangor, and this is destined to be an important factor in the development of the city along industrial lines,” said Blanding in that age long ago before commercial trucking and air travel or the high-speed Internet.

Wayne E. Reilly can be reached at wreilly@bangordailynews.net.

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