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BANGOR COURTHOUSE HISTORY

Penobscot County Superior Court

 

District Court Bangor

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The following excerpt is reprinted by permission from The Courthouses of Maine, Robert K. Sloane, Senior Editor.

The County Courthouse

Three courthouses have been constructed in Bangor to serve Penobscot County.  The rapid growth of the county and its logging industries required construction of two substantial courthouses in the nineteenth century and one in the twentieth. The last to be constructed still stands proudly on the site of one of its predecessors.

The First Courthouse

The first courthouse in Penobscot County was built on speculation. Several years before the county was incorporated and the probability that a courthouse would soon be needed.  According to a 100-year-old account in the Maine Historical Magazine, the first Penobscot County courthouse was built “as a house of Public Worship .nd for a courthouse when wanted.”  The builders were  “an association of public spirited gentlemen," who formed the Bangor Courthouse Corporation.  The group included Capt. Charles Hammond who arrived in Bangor in 1805 and became a leading citizen, storeowner and real estate developer, from who the group purchased a half-acre lot, bounded by Columbia, Hammond and Main Streets.

The new building was built to face Market Square near the corner of Main and Hammond Streets.  A crew began construction in 1812 and work was completed in 1813.  It was put to immediate use for town meeting and the religious worship services of the First Congregational Society.

Before the building was put to use as the courthouse for Penobscot County, it was “occupied” in a very different sense by the British in the War of 1812.  British troops arrived in the defenseless town on September 2, 1814, intending to occupy all of Maine from the Penobscot River to the North.  They commandeered the courthouse building as a barracks for the soldiers.  The British didn't stay long in Bangor--two days during which Bangor was forced to give bond to assure the delivery of certain vessels, then under construction, to the British at Castine.  Because of this town’s bond, the courthouse and most of the twon emerged intact.
 

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court held its first term in Bangor in this building in October 1821.  All of the newly appointed members of the Court—Chief Justice Prentiss Mellen and Associate Justices William Pitt Preble and Nathan Weston, Jr.—were present for the session.  The court at that time performed both its trial and appellate functions when sitting in the courthouse in Bangor.

The Second Courthouse

By the 1830s, Bangor was in the midst of a lumber boom, growing at such a rapid rate that the population tripled in four years.  The boom brought country loggers and deep-water sailors and boat builders to Bangor, with the accompanying taverns, grog shops, lodging houses and brothels.  The dozen lawyers available in 1825 quickly grew to forty.  The townsfolk agitated for more law enforcement—a more up-to-date and fireproof courthouse as well as separate building for twon law enforcement officials, town records and offices.  In February 1831, the county appointed a committee to receive proposals for a brick courthouse.  A site for the building was found on Hammond Street.  Anticipating the successful conclusion of the work of the committee, the Court of Sessions authorized the sale of the old courthouse to the town of Bangor for use as a town hall.  The sale price was $3,260.00.  The terms of the deed reserved the use of the building for court purposes until the new building was ready for use.
 

Construction of the building began in 1832 and it was completed and occupied in 1833.  The new courthouse was constructed just in time for the land speculation boom, which reached its height in Maine between 1834 and 1836.  Bangor’s fame in handling timber reached its peak in 1850, when it was probably the leading lumber port in the world.
 

After 1850, the population and growth of Penobscot county led to a discussion of a new building to replace the aging and inadequate 1833 structure, but resulted only in a modest wing being added to the building.   The courthouse was used for sessions of the Supreme Judicial Court serving Penobscot County until 1851, when a court reorganization act divided the state into three districts for appellate or “law” court sessions.  The Eastern District was focused on Bangor, and the courthouse became the place for holding terms in June and July of each year.

The 1903 Penobscot County Courthouse

The 1831 courthouse with its 1859 additions continued in use to the end of the century, when the county commissioners authorized the construction of a new building.  The new structure to be designed by architect Wilfred E. Mansur was to be on the site of the old courthouse.  Mansur’s design called for a three-story classical style structure. 

Construction of this building, the third Penobscot County Courthouse began in 1901 with the demolition of the old building.  The Penobscot County Courthouse was completed in 1903.  With virtually no alteration to its exterior, it remains in service to county residents and officials.  The interior has been modernized over the years to keep up with county needs.  A major and dramatic visual change is the magnificent mural depicting the history of Penobscot County, which rises through the building on the grand interior staircase.