It began on the afternoon of Sunday, April 30, 1911. From Broad Street, the fire spread by high winds to a shed on Exchange Street and then onto Center Street. It was said that the glow from the fire could be seen as far away as Belfast. Even dynamiting buildings in the fire’s path failed to slow it. By the next day it was out. Gone were the Post Office, the Custom House, and Norumbega Hall, Bangor High School and the Bangor Public Library with its collection of 70,000 volumes and much of the Bangor Historical Society’s collection. In total, 285 residences, 100 businesses, and 6 churches were destroyed, doing $3.2 million damage (roughly 78 million in 2015 dollars) and leaving hundreds homeless. Only two people died, however: one Brewer man who was caught in electrical wiring while crossing a bridge, and one firefighter.
While fire destroyed portions of many towns and cities in the 19th and early 20th centuries, very few were captured on film. We can now take out our cell phones to make a photo or video without even breaking a stride. Most people might pass on the photograph when it required setting up a tripod and focusing on a ground glass.
Why Bangor Fire?
A fire photo is naturally dramatic and stirs our primal fears, yet we can’t look away. The billboards in this photo tell much about the times and offer the eye places to study. Despite its size and industrial dominance, the Queen City was not immune to the fate of many small towns in Maine. There is a certain irony that this photo is a historical record of an event in which so much history in the Bangor Library and historical society was lost.