The center span of the Bangor-Brewer covered bridge was destroyed during the 1902 Flood - photo credit: Bangor Public Library
"On Thursday, March 30th, 1902, the Penobscot River began to show the effects of the storm which had prevailed for several days, and a freshet was apparent. The water backed up by the ice jams below the city to a great height, and about 9 o'clock in the evening, soon after the turn of the tide, the ice about the bridges started with the current, and collecting a mass of ice, logs, and other drift under the irone bridge of the Maine Central Railroad, caused a temporary jam which lifted two spans of that bridge from the piers and floated one of them down against the wooden Toll Bridge, carrying away one span of that structure, one granited pier of the Maine Central Bridge was also swept away."
- quote from report submitted by Phillip H. Coombs, Engineer of the City of Bangor
Like other cities in New England, Bangor played a pivotal role in the Second Industrial Revolution in the United States after the War of 1812. However, Bangor was not involved with manufacturing as much as it was a hub of lumber harvesting, milling and shipping to other cities around the country. Trees were cut in northern Maine and dropped into the Penobscot River and its tributaries. They floated downstream to water-powered mills and cut into lumber which was then either used to build ships in Bangor or distributed via the port of Bangor to other cities along the east coast and eventually westward. By 1860, there were 150 sawmills operating along the Penobscot River, according to the City of Bangor historical society. In 1902, the population of Bangor was about 22 thousand people.
Downtown Bangor during the 1902 Flood - photo credit: Bangor Public Library
The Penobscot River is the longest in Maine, at 264 miles, arising in the north, it passes by at Bangor before emptying into the Penobscot Bay. The river has a has history of freezing over during the winter which has led to several notable spring freshets, most notably in 1807, 1846 and 1887, but the Flood of 1902 stands out among them.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps (1900) of Bangor - credit: US Library of Congress
Formed in 1856, the Maine Central Railroad is a sprawling network of track and stations forming the largest in New England by the turn of the 20th Century. Bangor served as a primary intersection of no less than five lines facilitating transport of lumber and other freight as well as passengers around the region. The March 21, 1902 edition of the Bangor Daily News reported that tracks on the Exchange Street wharf were lifted by the flood water.
The rail yard and tracks at the Union Station in Bangor during the 1902 Flood - photo credit: Bangor Public Library
Built in 1847 by the American Bridge Company, the Bangor-Brewer Covered Toll Bridge was a Howe truss structure which spanned 792 feet over the Penobscot River. The center span only was taken out when the upriver Maine Central Railroad bridge was away by the water, ice chunks and lumber passing through, according to the March 21, 1902 Bangor Daily News. This section was repaired by a steel superstructure and the bridge stood until 1911 when it was removed and replaced by a new bridge, possibly as part of the major rebuild of the city following the massive Great Fire of 1911 in Bangor. The Bangor-Brewer Covered Toll Bridge was built to replace another bridge that was built in 1832 and lost during an 1846 flood.
A different view of the repaired middle span of the Bangor-Brewster covered bridge - photo credit: Bangor Public Library
Front page headlines of the Bangor Daily News, March 21, 1902
Bangor was subjected to major flooding again in February, 1976 but conditions were different. High winds, a backup of logs and unusually high tides led to a flashflood of the downtown shopping district. Damage was estimated at over $2 million.
Front page headlines from the February 3, 1976 Bangor Daily News
Today, the City of Bangor is still at risk for future flooding and other impacts related to climate change. A recent report prepared by the Union of Concerned Scientists predicts that Maine will continue to experience rising temperatures and an increase of 20-30% of winter precipitation in the form of rain, not snow, which could have an impact on flooding. Climate Central predicts that under current projects, left unchecked, more approximately 1000 people and more than $5 million worth of property is vulnerable to future flooding from the Penobscot and its tributaries.