Bangor Harbor is the seat of Penobscot County in the State of Maine. Bangor Harbor is about 48 kilometers (30 miles) upriver from Penobscot Bay. Located about 115 nautical miles (170 kilometers or 106 miles by air) northeast of Portland, Maine, it is a United States port of entry. Bangor Harbor is also about 200 nautical miles (330 kilometers or 20 miles by air) northeast of Boston, Massachusetts.
In the 19th Century, Bangor Harbor was a major lumber port with many ship-building yards. Today, it is a commercial and manufacturing center where forest products, paper, electronics, and footwear are produced. In 2010, a little over 33 thousand people lived in the City of Bangor, and almost 154 thousand lived in the Bangor Harbor metropolitan area.
The Penobscot are indigenous sovereign people living in Maritime Canada and the northeast United States. Their ancestors may have inhabited the area that would become the State of Maine for as long as 11 thousand years. Just before Europeans arrived, the Penobscot lived off plentiful resources that included moose, caribou, beaver, otters, bears, fish, and seafood. They moved from season to season to find the richest food sources.
Fur trade brought frequent contact between the Penobscots and the Europeans as the indigenous people were prepared to trade furs for cookware, metal axes, and guns. Unfortunately, the Europeans quickly depleted the natural resources of the area. They gave alcohol to the Penobscots and then took advantage of those who became alcoholics. European diseases also decimated the existing population, and priests told the Penobscots that they had died because they were not Christians.
By the early 1600s, some Europeans lived in the area. By the 1670s, settlers from England and France lived in the Penobscots' territory. The people fought for the French during the 18th Century French and Indian War when the British would not accept their neutrality and put a bounty on Penobscot scalps.
Even though they fought with the Patriots during the American Revolution, their position with the colonists did not improve. The Penobscots tried to hold onto some of their lands through treaties, but they could not enforce them. Nor could they stop the onslaught of settlers. Between 1974 and 1833, most of their lands had been ceded to Massachusetts (of which Maine was a part until 1820). By the early 19th Century, the Penobscots lived on reservations and were considered wards of the State of Maine, and the government abused their position.
Bangor Harbor was a British-American settlement founded by Jacob Buswell in 1769. By the early 1770s, twelve families lived there, and the town had a store, a school, and a sawmill. In 1779, during the American Revolution, the American Penobscot Expedition was routed by the British. Surviving ships fled upriver to Bangor where they were captured or burned. Among the American survivors who escaped into the woods was Paul Revere.
The British sacked Bangor Harbor during the War of 1812. When the selectmen surrendered the town, the British spent 30 hours raiding homes and shops. To save the town from being burned, the selectmen promised to deliver unfinished ships to the British later that year. The British took the existing finished ships to Bangor Harbor where they burned or appropriated them. The ships they took carried cattle and horses to their downriver post at Castine. They continued to occupy the area until 1815.
During the 1800s, Bangor Harbor became known as "the lumber capital of the world," and it was an important lumber port. From 300-400 sawmills were located along the Penobscot River. Bangor Harbor controlled the port facilities, capital, and supplies. Bangor businessmen owned most of the surrounding forests. With markets for their lumber in Boston and New York, Bangor Harbor became very prosperous.
With many loggers and sailors in town, Bangor Harbor earned a reputation for being a rough city. When Irish immigrants began to enter Bangor Harbor in the early 1830s, threatening locals' jobs, riots broke out and continued for days. The militia was required to control the trouble, and the town realized that it needed a police force. In 1834, Bangor Harbor incorporated as the City of Bangor.
During the Aroostock War, a dispute with the British over boundaries, local leaders convinced the United States government to build Fort Knox downriver from Bangor Harbor. Occupied from 1844 until 1864, Fort Knox remains as a well-known landmark which is thought by many to be haunted.
Bangor Harbor was an early center opposing slavery before the American Civil War. In 1837, it had an American Anti-Slavery Society chapter with a parallel Female Anti-Slavery Society. In the same year, Susan B. Anthony spoke at the State's first women's rights meeting in Bangor Harbor.
When the Civil War came, Bangor Harbor contributed the first volunteer infantry company, the 2nd Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment, that marched into war in 1861. The Bangor Regiment was noted for its actions in the First Battle of Bull Run. Later in the war, Bangor Harbor's 1st Maine Heavy Artillery Regiment lost more men than any other regiment in the Union, particularly in the 1864 Second Battle of Petersburg.
The prohibition movement in the United States had been active since the 1840s. Maine was the first state to prohibit the sale of alcohol in 1851, but Bangor Harbor continued to be "wet." In 1890, there were over 140 saloons in Bangor Harbor, and bribes ensured that the police tolerated them. In the early 20th Century, three Bangor Harbor sheriffs were forced to leave office because they refused to enforce Maine's prohibition law. In 1902, Carrie Nation was forced out of the Bangor House hotel when she caused a commotion.
In 1900, Bangor Harbor was still a busy lumber port visited by about two thousand vessels each year. But the economic environment was changing. Paper companies started buying the forests, and big pulp and paper mills were built along the Penobscot River. While the town continued to prosper with the new paper industry, the lumber port languished.
The Great Fire of 1911 destroyed many buildings downtown. Today, much of the downtown area is included in the Great Fire of 1911 Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. The part of downtown that survived is the West Market Square Historic District.
In the 1960s, Bangor Harbor suffered from an over-enthusiastic urban renewal program that destroyed many downtown landmarks and started an era of decline in the city center. It was 30 years before Bangor Harbor's downtown started to recover as new galleries, bookstores, restaurants, and museums replaced vacant storefronts. The recent re-development of Bangor Harbor's waterfront has also helped bring life back to the historic city center.