The Bangor Maine Masons
By Guy F. Chapman
The Valley of Bangor was originally chartered on September 24, 1884. On September 24, 2019 we will be celebrating our 125th anniversary of the Lodge of Perfection.
On January 15th, 2004 the Masonic Temple in Bangor, ME was destroyed by fire. A building that had served the Masons in Bangor so well since the 1800s was a total loss. Thus, it was the end of an era and the beginning of a new time.
For the next five and one-half years the members met at various Masonic Lodge Halls and the Anah Shrine Center and would attempt to resolve this dilemma. We formed the Bangor Masonic Foundation, a 501(c) (3) tax-free entity. We purchased a three-acre parcel of land in an industrial park on the Perry Road and had plans drawn of a proposed building. The economy changed and the cost of building and maintaining the property became prohibitive. A second plan was then developed of a smaller building and when fuel prices went out-of-site, this plan was also abandoned. A third attempt was made to purchase a warehouse on the Perry Road, gutting it and reconstructing the interior.
During the negotiations to purchase the property on April 17, 2009, the former Bangor Theological Seminary came onto the market. Illustrious Brother Richard Trott negotiated a price of $550,000 subject to the approval of the board of directors of the Bangor Masonic Foundation. On Monday, April 20th a few members of the board inspected the property and asked that a special meeting of the Foundation be called to discuss the purchase of the property. The board met on April 21st and authorized the purchase. The next day April 22nd three members of the board met with the owner, Mr. Paul Cook, and signed the purchase and sale agreement. The sale was completed on June 29, 2009.
In 1810 all of Maine was considered a vast spiritually poverty-stricken territory. The population of the three largest communities in Penobscot County was Brewer with 1,341 inhabitants, Hampden with 1,270 inhabitants, and Bangor with 850 inhabitants. Maine was admitted to the Union as a sovereign State on March 15, 1820, Bangor was still in third place but showed signs of overtaking the others. In 1822 Penobscot County was geographically larger than in 1970 and contained 27 incorporated towns and 13 organized plantations. The whole region had but one Congregational minister.1
The actual origin of the Bangor Theological Seminary is somewhat obscure. Its birth involves the efforts of the Reverend John Sawyer, who was one of Maine’s first journeying evangelists.2 Rev. Sawyer lived to be 103 years old and his grave is located in a cemetery west of the town of Garland, ME. The Seminary was chartered on February 25, 1814. The first meeting of the Board of Trustees was held in the Town of Montville on May 5, 1814 and was named The Maine Charity School. The first location of the school was in Hampden in 1816, where the trustees of Hampden Academy made an agreement with the seminary’s trustees to share the same building for a term of three years.3
On July 8, 1819 the board decided to move the school to Bangor as its permanent location. Mr. Isaac Davenport, Esq., an old fashioned Orthodox Unitarian, donated seven acres of land to the school. It was a hayfield, located at the end of Union Street where it intersected Hammond Street. (Union Street only extended to the end of Columbia Street at the time.) There were no trees or buildings that would inhibit the view of the Penobscot River or the village of 1,200 inhabitants below the site because of its elevation.
The deed granted to the trustees of the school by Mr. Davenport was reversionary and not fee simple. If the school failed to keep any of the conditions in the deed, the Davenport heirs had the right to take the property back. The Trustees paying $6,000 to the heirs for the surrender of their rights obtained two release deeds. One was executed by fourteen heirs of Mr. Davenport on May 14, 1902, entered in Boston on July 2, 1902 and received in Bangor on August 6, 1902. The other was executed by William R. Miller of Montreal, Canada, as guardian of John Frothingham Moat and Mary Moat on August 1, 1902 and received in Bangor on August 6, 1902.4 As a result of these two deeds the land is now held by the Trustees in fee simple.5
The removal of the school to Bangor took place in the late summer or early fall of 1819, since the academic year did not close until August 25th. Between that date and the erection of the Seminary’s own buildings the professors lived in their own rented quarters and the students boarded with private families. Their classes were held in several of the buildings in Bangor that included the old Court House. Later, rooms were rented for use of the Seminary in a brick building on the corner of Water and Main Streets, owned by Mr. Alexander Savage. This site, later, became the site of the Masonic Temple in Bangor that was destroyed by fire on January 15, 2004.
The first Chapel was constructed in 1824 in the yard of the Hamlin house. It was built almost entirely by the members of the seminary at a total cost of $1,200. This building was destroyed by fire on March 29, 1829. The building was insured for $700. The Chapel was used for recitations, lectures and other public exercises of both Seminary and Classical School.6
The second building constructed was the Commons House, which housed 26 students. It was started in 1827 but not completed until 1828. It was remodeled in 1839 to a residence for two faculty members.
The Dormitory or Maine Hall so-called was started in 1833 and finished in 1834. The building was brick, 106 feet long and 38 feet wide and 4 stories high. The cost was $13,000. It contained 32 suites of rooms, each having a study room and two adjacent bedrooms for a total capacity to house 64 students. The lower level was used for recitation, reading rooms, a library and a schoolroom, which was also used as a chapel. The old Commons House had the boarding facilities for the students, besides providing rooms for 20 to 30 students.7
The new Commons House was erected in 1836 at a cost of $6,000. This building was to serve the students as a boarding facility and an infirmary. It took the place of the old Commons House, which was turned over to the Classical School. Around 1827-28 the Seminary was described as having two schools, the Theological School and the Classical School. The Classical School was designed along the lines of a liberal education rather than one based on theology.
The present Chapel was completed in 1859, with the cornerstone being laid on June 10, 1858 and the building dedicated on July 27, 1859. The present Gym was built in 1895. The two buildings were connected in 1986 by the Ruth Rice Hutchins Center.
The Corban Society in Bangor was a benevolent society of women. The function of this group, in the 1970’s was to provide fellowship for campus women. Wives of faculty members and student wives gathered once a month for meetings held usually in Maine Hall’s social room to broaden and deepen acquaintances and to provide helpful programs of instruction and inspiration. It was this group that responded to the appeals for financial help in the mid 1850s and in 1857 these ladies announced they had raised $5,000 towards the construction of a new chapel. The total estimated cost would be a total of $12,000. On June 10, 1858, with one-half of the total raised, the cornerstone was laid and on July 27, 1859 at the time of graduation, the building was dedicated.8
The new chapel is fifty feet by 74 feet with a tower 16 feet square and eighty feet tall and the front faces east. The Seminary bell that was mounted in a crude wood frame, nearby, was at last mounted in the tower.9 Besides the chapel being housed in the building there was a library and classrooms.
The earliest mention of a Gymnasium was in 1884 when the Trustees voted to authorize the Treasurer, with the advice of the Faculty to provide a temporary Gymnasium. The funds were eventually raised and in 1895 a building was erected. It was brick with a slate roof and measured 80 feet by 42 feet. The basement had a handball court, a dressing room, a bathroom, various baths and the furnace room. On the first floor there was the large exercise room and a two-lane bowling alley. A flight of stairs led to the gallery, which contained a running track. The cost of the building and its equipment was about $12,500. It was opened in the fall of 1895. After the first year the seminary made arrangements with the Bangor YMCA to provide instruction. The students were required to attend four exercise classes per week. This arrangement continued until the Gym was converted to a dining facility and the commercial kitchen was added.
The Hutchins Center
This building was designed to connect the Chapel with the Gymnasium. It was constructed in 1986. This building added a foyer with an elevator shaft containing four stops and a kitchen on the first floor. Although there are only two floors and a basement in the building the additional elevator stop provided a ground level handicap entrance halfway between the basement and the first floor. The top or second floor added two handicap accessible bathrooms, a large classroom, a small kitchenette and a janitor’s closet. It also provided access to the indoor track on the upper level of the gymnasium. Upon completion of this building the gymnasium became a large dining room with access directly from the kitchen and the foyer of the new addition. There is a full basement under the structure and the exterior of the building copied the 1895 architecture around the doors and windows of the gymnasium. The decoration around the doors and windows has the edge of the extended bricks chipped alternately in one of the columns. The access to the chapel from the foyer is also copied with the same style.
This addition is a wood frame structure with a brick veneer on the north side and wood siding on the exterior of the southern protrusion. The building measures thirty feet by thirty-four feet between the chapel and the commons and thirty-five feet by thirty feet on the rear of the connector, for a total of 2,070 square feet on each floor and the basement.
The chapel will become the lodge hall. The dining room and kitchen continue to function in the same fashion and be available for the use of non-profit groups and the Masonic Fraternity. The large classroom over the kitchen and the adjacent office will become a second lodge hall and DeMolay room.
The basement classroom where the childcare is located will continue in its same capacity. The classrooms above the church that the Penobscot Theater Company no longer rents will become the Learning Center. One of the two rooms off the lodge hall will be a Masonic library and museum.
The other will be a preparation room and storage for the two Blue Lodges. The rest of the building will be used to store the other Masonic bodies’ equipment and regalia. There is some cosmetic work to be done and a few repairs to the exterior of the building to make it perfect.
The biggest job will be the chapel’s renovation to a lodge hall and the installation of the 32° Learning Center. We also have to install a new electrical entrance. While owned by the Seminary, the buildings received excellent care, which will make our endeavors a lot easier.
The land area consists of three acres and has 94 existing parking spaces, with a possibility of increasing it to 144 spaces. We hope to see them used frequently by various Masonic and related bodies. For more information, visit www.scottishritenmj.org.
The Foundation is a 501 © (3) tax-free corporation. Needless to say, we have a fundraising campaign. Anyone who wishes may donate to the Bangor Masonic Foundation at 294 Union St. Suite 1, Bangor, ME 04401.
- Bangor Theological Seminary by Walter Cook, 1971
- See Cook p. 1
- See Cook p. 2
- See Vol 716, Pages 214 & 216, Penobscot Registry of Deeds
- History of Bangor Theological Seminary Calvin M. Clark p 62,
- See Clark p. 66
- See Clark p. 134-5
- See Cook P. 30-31
- See Cook P. 31