Located just off Main Street in Bangor, the Penobscot County Jail building sits far off the street but stands out for its architectural design. The county jail building was designed in 1869 when the previous prison, built in the 1830s, proved inadequate. Designed by Boston architect Gridley J.F. Bryant, (who designed Charlestown’s prison that same year) the jail has somewhat of a dual personality architecturally speaking. The gracious street-facing section is constructed in the Italianate style, and housed the jail keeper and allowed the building to blend into the stylish and handsome neighborhood of downtown Bangor. The building is constructed of warm red brick with stone embellishments. Behind the jail-keeper’s house, the more severely modeled prison is constructed of granite and is more fortress-like, even though it’s much more appealing than modern prisons. The chronically overcrowded jail will likely be repurposed for a new building, but here is to hoping the county preserves this historic building for other uses!
One of the nicest homes in Bangor, Maine, is the 1836 Thomas Hill House, a stunning Greek Revival home constructed of brick just outside downtown. The home was built for Thomas A. Hill (1783-1864), a lawyer and banker in town. He clearly made substantial money in his time in Bangor, because he hired architect Richard Upjohn, who was in town at the time overseeing designs for his first church St. John’s Episcopal Church (burned in 1911) and the Farrar Mansion. Thomas Hill suffered financial losses during the Panic of 1837 and the bank foreclosed on his properties. The bank allowed him to stay in the house and pay the insurance, heat and taxes until the home was sold by the bank to Samuel and Matilda Dale, who purchased the home in 1846. Mr. Dale came to Bangor in 1833 as a sail-maker. Eventually he would own grocery and ship chandlery businesses downtown before serving as Mayor of Bangor from 1863-1866 and again in 1871. The Sons of Union Veterans bought the house in 1942 and named it the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial. During 1952 the Bangor Historical Society was allowed to use the house, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. In 1974 the house was deeded to the Bangor Historical Society, who occupy the home to this day.
One of the largest homes I found in Bangor, Maine, was this Queen Anne stunner on High Street, just outside Downtown. After doing some research, I learned that the house was built in 1847 for Oliver Frost, a businessman involved in the lumber business. The home was likely Greek Revival in style based on the time period of the home and nearby houses. Frost is probably best known for his 1869 quote “The time may soon arrive when the three great cities of North America — Bangor, New York, and San Francisco — shall be representatives of the wealth, population, intelligence, and enterprise of the eastern, central and western divisions of our country.” He believed that the lucrative timber industry which led Bangor to become known as the “lumber capital of the world.” The city was home to numerous “lumber barons” and the river was often “jam packed with timber and lumber”. Even the nickname “Queen City of the East” evoked the era’s prosperity. Henry David Thoreau remarked, in 1846, that Bangor was “overflowing with the luxuries and refinement of Europe.” After his quote, the city began a period of decline, when the timber industry moved westward to the Great Lakes region and later, the Pacific Northwest. Frost’s home was later purchased by Egerton R Burpee, an engineer who worked in railroads. He hired Boston architect Arthur H. Vinal, to upgrade and enlarge the house in the then fashionable Queen Anne style we see today. The home has since been converted to commercial use with apartments inside.
In the first couple decades of the 1800s, Bangor, Maine, became the capital of the timberlands of the state, as thousands of acres of untouched forests were sold for lumber harvesting and shipping to other developing parts of the region. The massive cedar trees were shipped by rail and boat to cities like Boston, which lacked such large lumber. At the time, a group of wealthy lumbermen in Bangor wanted a hotel which would impress investors and visitors to the frontier town. Inspired by The Tremont House in Boston, an 1829 hotel that was then regarded as one of the pinnacles of luxury accommodation. The investors hired architect Isaiah Rogers, the same architect who designed the Tremont House years earlier, to design the Bangor House. The two hotels are strikingly similar in design. The hotel expanded numerous times over the decades, until the 20th century, when the town’s prosperity began to falter. Many of the additions have since been torn down as part of the building’s conversion to apartments, replaced by modern residential wings which are much lesser quality of design and construction. Thankfully, the historic core of Bangor House remains very well preserved and as it did nearly 200 years ago!
The Zebulon Smith House in Bangor is one of the earliest temple-front Greek Revival homes built in the state of Maine. The house was constructed in 1832 for Zebulon Smith, a businessman who moved to the Maine frontier in the early 19th century, likely to get involved with a lumberyard as this section of the state shipped timber all over the region. The substantial home was built just south of downtown Bangor, and has survived fire and urban renewal. It sits alone in a sea of parking lots and industrial buildings in what was once likely a lovely neighborhood.
Main Street USA! I just love historic Main Streets and Downtowns in New England, so many are full of old buildings and were designed for pedestrians, not cars (though some towns and villages have definitely caved to the automobile). Erected in 1871, the Adams-Pickering Block building was one of several grand, mansard roofed commercial structures which local architect George W. Orff designed for Bangor’s business district in the 1870’s. With its first-story cast iron front and its granite facade, from stone quarried nearby in Hallowell, Maine, the Adams-Pickering Block and its similar contemporaries were the most sophisticated Victorian commercial buildings in Eastern Maine. The Bangor Fire of 1911 and subsequent urban change, especially urban renewal in 1968, destroyed most of the city’s nineteenth century business district. The Adams-Pickering Block is a rare survivor and shows us how old buildings at a human scale can create vibrant, people-centric places.
The Isaac Farrar Mansion in Bangor, Maine not only looks gorgeous, it is significant as the one of the first known works of architect, Richard Upjohn. It is important because it shows that English-born Upjohn, who is best-known for launching the popularity of the Gothic Revival style in the United States, began his career by building in the Greek Revival style, the traditional style of the time. This mansion was designed for Isaac Farrar, a lumberman and merchant, and later, President of the Maritime Bank of Bangor. Charles B. Sanford, who lived in the house from 1865-1878, was proprietor of the Sanford Steamship Lines. The home had a few more subsequent owners until 1911, when it was acquired by the University of Maine Law School, which used it as a residency until 1929. It was soon after purchased the Bangor Symphony Orchestra, who renamed it “Symphony House”, and operated the Northern Conservatory of Music on the premises, also hosting the music branch of the Bangor Public Library. In 1972 the school closed, and the symphony sold the building the following year to the local YMCA, which now uses it as an exhibit and reception space. While some aspects of the house look to be from the early 20th century, it retains much of the Greek Revival design by Upjohn. Talk about a full history!