The Bangor Historical Society a few weeks ago shared the above map, downloaded from the Bangor Public Library’s Digital Commons, which shows a Bangor that looks very similar — and yet, in some ways, quite different — from the city we know today.
The biggest noticeable difference is that the City in the 1870s was divided into wards. Back then, the City was ruled by a Board of Aldermen, a form of municipal government that has its roots in 18th century English law. Each ward in a city was represented by an elected alderman, all of whom together represented the City Council. Bangor had seven wards in total.
The alderman form of government was removed in the early 1930s and replaced with Bangor’s current form of government — a city manager and nine-member elected city council not tied to any ward, with the entire ward system done away with altogether. According to Bangor historian Dick Shaw, this was part of a nationwide trend.
“It was a national movement to do away with that kind of government. Mayors were getting too powerful, especially in cities like Chicago, and the city manager style was considered more efficient,” said Shaw, who also works at Bangor City Hall. “You’d be amazed at how many folks call City Hall and think that councilors represent different neighborhoods, when it hasn’t been that way for 80 years… we do still have wards for state representatives, of course, but not for local.”
Another big difference is the amount of land along the Penobscot River that was reclaimed in the 20th century — if you look closely, you can see that the part of the river immediately after Railroad Street is much, much closer to Main Street than it is today. That’s because the land on which the Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion and much of the Waterfront Park sits today was reclaimed in the early 1900s.
“Back then, that area was known as Dennett’s Cove,” said Shaw. “People used to skate up to Main Street in the winter. If you’re at a concert, you’re technically standing on where the river used to be… it was reclaimed in the early 1900s because that land is more valuable than having boats coming up to Main Street.
Elsewhere on the map, there are lots of things that aren’t there anymore, or are not even present at all. The City Farm, located where the Cross Insurance Center and Bass Park is now, was the City’s farming property that provided food for the poor. The map doesn’t even show Stillwater Avenue past Pearl Street, or where Acadia Hospital stands today, or State Street past where Eastern Maine Medical Center now stands. The area where the Bangor Mall and surrounding development is now was then farmlands — as it was for more than 80 years after this map was printed.
Aside from that, it’s actually striking how many things haven’t changed. There are an awful lot of streets that look almost exactly the same, from the streets on the lower West Side, to much of what constitutes the Broadway Park neighborhood. Then again, there are some streets there that aren’t around anymore, or are renamed — Lime Street on the East Side looks like it’s today’s Forest Avenue, South Park Street now extends past Center Street and connects with Market Street, and of course, there was only one bridge to Brewer, located just a few feet down river from where the current State Street bridge now stands.
Do you see any other big differences on this map, compared to today? Do these ‘wards’ still reflect some neighborhood divisions in Bangor? Comment below!