April 30, 1911: The Great Fire of 1911 begins in a hay shed on Broad Street in downtown Bangor.

Over two days, the fire ravages the city’s core on both sides of Kenduskeag Stream, destroying 285 homes, 100 businesses, the public high school, two fire stations, six churches and a synagogue. The city library burns after barely having escaped destruction in two previous fires, the most recent in 1910.

It is Maine’s worst downtown fire of the 20th century.

Old Town and Brewer firefighters arrive as fast as possible to help fight the flames, but it is not enough. Because the telephone exchange is one of the first buildings to burn, Mayor Charles W. Mullen races in his car to a train junction to send word to other cities around the state that Bangor needs help. He later places the city under martial law.

The aftermath of the Great Fire of 1911 in Bangor. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

One man escapes being injured by a falling building only to be killed when another collapses. A falling chimney kills a Brewer firefighter on Penobscot Street.

“The downtown area resembled a bombed city after the conflagration, with steam and smoke rising from the ruins,” author Trudy Irene Scee writes in her 2010 history of the city. Hundreds of people are left homeless.

Joseph Owen is a retired copy desk chief of the Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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