In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Life on a Tidal River

Ebb and Flow of Bangor History

Bass Park: A History of Fillies, Fame, and Fun

Text by The 7th Grade Maine Studies Students of the William S. Cohen School.
Images are from Bangor Public Library.

Introduction

Bass Park has been with us since the 1800's. During this long reign, Bass Park has seen it all: horse and car racing on its half-mile track, polo, baseball, circuses, soccer, carnivals, tractor pulls, rodeos, demolition derbies, horse shows, and even a trans-Atlantic balloon race. Three auditorium buildings have stood upon this land functioning as huge centers of community activity. This is a truly historic place that has had a huge impact on the lives of the people of Bangor and people from all around Bangor and Maine.

Beginnings

Harness racing at the Bass Park, Bangor, ca. 1915
Harness racing at the Bass Park, Bangor, ca. 1915Item Contributed by
Bangor Public Library

Bass Park is a historic park in Maine. At first it was named Maplewood Park and was privately-owned. It was called Maplewood Park because of the Maplewood Hotel and its maple trees which were located on the site. Prominent local businessman and politician Joseph Parker Bass and Ezra L. Stearns helped incorporate Maplewood Park, and its original architecture was designed by Olmstead Frederick. Bass purchased a great deal of adjacent farmland, and, upon his death in 1919, bequeathed a large amount of the land to the park with the agreement that it would be taken-over by the city to become a semi-public park. This eventually occurred, and the park was re-named Bass Park. The grandstand was built in 1883. In 1897 the grandstand caught fire, but it was re-built the next year and made to seat 5,000 people. The current grandstand is in the location of the original grandstand.

Functions

Auto race at Bass Park, Bangor, ca. 1915
Auto race at Bass Park, Bangor, ca. 1915Item Contributed by
Bangor Public Library

This wonderful outdoor recreational park has attracted people from all over to the huge variety of events and attractions that have been held at the park over its long history. They include the Bangor State Fair, a recreational and agricultural fair, beginning in 1883, where large animal owners show off their stock. Harness racing has been held since Bass Park was created. Even today horses race on the original track as they did well over a hundred years ago. In 1910 a baseball diamond was added to the park allowing baseball to be played. Bass Park was also built with a special entrance with enlarged midways and where automobiles could enter. In 1909 the first airplane ever in Bangor had been assembled, took off, and landed all on the track’s infield. Auto racing was popular at Bass Park in the early 1900's. On September 15, 1992 the first-ever trans-Atlantic balloon race took place with teams from Belgium, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and United States starting at Bass Park. (This was successful, and the Belgium team came in first followed by Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and last but not least, the United States.) Bass Park also became the site of the Bangor Auditorium and now, the Cross Center. Many other events and activities have also taken place at Bass Park throughout it's decades of operation.

Paul Bunyan

The Paul Bunyan statue at Bass Park is 31 feet tall and weighs 3,700 pounds, not including his axe and peavey. Paul Bunyan is made out of fiberglass and reinforced steel making it able to withstand 110 mph winds. He was added in 1959 as part of Bangor’s 125 anniversary celebration. Norman Martin, a Bangor commercial artist, designed the 31-foot-high statue of the mythical lumberjack On the 250th anniversary of Bangor, people will open up the base of Paul Bunyan, which is a time capsule. Legend says that Paul Bunyan was born in 1834, the same year that Bangor became a city.

Important Moments

Racing cars at Bass Park track, Bangor, ca. 1915
Racing cars at Bass Park track, Bangor, ca. 1915Item Contributed by
Bangor Public Library

Bass Park has hosted some important moments in Bangor's history. President Theodore Roosevelt once spoke at Bass Park. In 1978 Jimmy Carter attended a presidential town meeting at the auditorium. Bass Park has seen a number of top-notch musical arts such as Gene Autry, the famous singer of Here Comes Santa Claus, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and many others, largely country songs, appeared at the audtiorium. Country music superstar Garth Brooks who has sold over 100 million albums, has appeared. Other famous performers have been Bill Haley and the Comets, Ameltia Galli Curci was, a very famous soprano, and Percy Grainger, a very famous composer. Back in 1890, Bass Park brought Nelson, a world-class stallion, to the racetrack. During this time, Nelson raced one mile on the half-mile track in 2:15.5, a world record for a half-mile track at the time.

The First Two Auditoriums

Bangor Auditorium under construction, 1955
Bangor Auditorium under construction, 1955Item Contributed by
Bangor Public Library

The first auditorium at Bass Park was built in 1897. It was a huge wooden structure that could hold up to 5,000 people. This first auditorium in Bangor came about because of a conversation that William Rogers Chapman, a famous choral conductor who founded and directed Maine Music Festivals (1897-1926), had with famous opera singer Lillian Nordica. A large facility was needed for major musical events. The Maine Music Festivals were held in the auditorium. This building remained in use until it was torn-down in 1965, about ten years after the 1955 auditorium was built.

Bangor Auditorium, 1976
Bangor Auditorium, 1976Item Contributed by
Bangor Public Library

The second Bangor Auditorium first opened on October 1, 1955. In its time it was the 2nd largest venue of its kind in New England, the Boston Garden being the first. On December, 30, 1955 the Syracuse Nationals played the Boston Celtics as their first NBA regular season game. The Celtics won 110-103. Over its lifetime, the 1955 Bangor Auditorium saw NBA, minor league, college and high school basketball, high school and college graduations, fairs fair events circuses, concerts, ice shows, theatrical performances, political conventions, trade shows, and many other events.

The Bangor State Fair

Race horses with keepers at Bass Park, Bangor, ca. 1915
Race horses with keepers at Bass Park, Bangor, ca. 1915Item Contributed by
Bangor Public Library

One of the most popular attractions in Bass Park is the annual state fair, which happens to be one of the largest agricultural fairs in Maine. Joseph P. Bass, a founder of the park, helped organize both the Bangor State Fair (then called the Eastern Maine Fair). The Bangor State Fair is one of the oldest fairs not just in Maine, but also in U.S., next to the Skowhegan State Fair, which is the oldest State Fair in the U.S.

The Cross Center

In 2013, the 1955 auditorium was officially replaced with the modern 65-million-dollar Cross Insurance Center that is now home to all of the kinds of events that have always been a part of Bass Park. The Cross Center has seating there for about 7,300 people including floor seating. The people of Bangor and the entire state may look forward to many more years of great events at Bass Park and the Cross Center.


Resources:

Clendenning, Douglas. "Bass Park Taken from People of Bangor." Bangor Daily News: 1. Jul 05 1999. ProQuest. Web. 09 June 2016.

"Cross Insurance Center." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Feb. 2016. Web. 01 June 2016.

Fitzpatrick, David. "History of the Bangor Auditorium." Bangor Daily News RSS. Bangor Daily News, 12 Feb. 2013. Web. 01 June 2016.

Quirk, Tricia. "Maplewood Park." Bangorism. 25 Jan. 2016. Tricia Quirk Real Estate and the Bangor Historical Society. Web. 09 June 2016.

Reilly, Wayne. Remembering Bangor. Charleston: The History Press, 2009. Print.

Robbins, Ryan. “Bangor In Focus: Bass Park.” Bangor, Maine. n.p. 2012. Web. 10 Feb. 2016.

Robbins, Ryan. “Bangor In Focus: The Transatlantic Challenge.” Bangor, Maine. n.p. 2012. Web. 25 May 2016.

Thompson, Deborah. Bangor, Maine 1769-1914: An Architectural History. Orono, ME: University of Maine Press, 1988. Print

Tuttle, Jeff, and NEWS S. Of the. "Bass Park Project a Challenge Five Options Weighed in Redevelopment of Bangor Landmark." Bangor Daily News: 1. Dec 10 2001. ProQuest. Web. 2 Mar. 2016.

Zelz, Abigail, and Marilyn Zoidis. Woodsmen and Whigs : Historic Images of Bangor, Maine. Virginia Beach, VA: The Donning Company, 1991. Print.

Postcard of 1897 Auditorium
Postcard of 1897 Auditorium With Horsedrawn Carriages
Photo of Handbill for 1906 Music Festival Showing the Inside of the 1897 Auditorium
Postcard of 1897 Auditorium
1955 Auditorium Soon After Completion from Paul Bunyan Park
1955 Auditorium Soon After Completion
Aerial Photo of Race Track and 1955 Auditorium at Bass Park
1955 Auditorium Soon After Completion from Buck Street