The Tarratine Club was a private men’s social club in Bangor. It was founded in 1884 and served Bangor’s wealthy and elite for over a century until it closed in 1991. It was once said that if you were a prominent Bangor businessman, you probably were a member of the Tarratine. After it was sold, it changed hands a few times and is currently a restaurant and wedding venue that retains much of its old charm.
The Founding of the Club
In 1884, 31 of Bangor’s movers and shakers banded together to create the Tarratine Club. One of the co-founders, who immediately became the first President of the club, was Hannibal Hamlin. Hannibal was Vice President under Abraham Lincoln and a was perhaps the most prominent feature of Bangor society and politics for many years. You can read all about Hannibal and his fellow politicians from Paris Hill over here. He’s also mentioned in this piece about the Hamlin Memorial Library.
When the club was founded, the members met in a few rooms they rented in a building in the former Hatch Block. They chose the name “Tarratine” and it is assumed that it was the old Colonial term used by the British to refer to the Mi’kmaq tribe of Native Americans inhabiting northern New England, particularly coastal Maine. Another similarly named but unrelated club, the Tarratine Yacht Club, was formed on Islesboro in 1896.
Death by Pedro
On July 4th, 1891, club members were at the Tarratine celebrating Independence Day. Hannibal Hamlin, who was 82 and quite frail, was playing cards with friends (likely whist or pedro) as he did every afternoon. He suddenly dropped his cards and his head fell to the table, his face purple and his hands clenched. One of the members who was a physician “administered a dose of brandy and ammonia” which temporarily revived him, but then he quickly fell unconscious. He was moved to his house but died later that evening, lying on his favorite couch – which has rather oddly been on display at the Bangor Public Library for some time.
Move to Park Street
Not content with rented space, the members commissioned the design and construction of a new building by the firm Parker and Thomas of Boston. The new building was a 3 story “Harvard brick” building built on a lot at 81 Park Street that afforded lovely views of downtown Bangor. The outside of the building looks much like it did then, with ornate features and wrought iron railings with gold “TC” prominently. The second floor contained the locker room for the club members, the cribbage room, library and the grand ballroom. The third floor featured the game room including the snooker table.
Surviving the Great Fire of 1911
On April 30, 1911, a fire broke out in Bangor and high winds quickly spread it across downtown. It was a devastating fire with a glow that could be seen for miles away. Fire crews were called in by telegram from Lewiston, Portland and even Boston and firemen immediately hopped on trains to lend aid. Luckily, a light rain began that evening that helped suppress the fire or it likely would have been worse. By the time the fire was finally put it out the next day, it had destroyed most of downtown Bangor. Over 100 businesses, 285 homes, and many prominent buildings were destroyed including the Post Office, the Custom House, Bangor High School, the Bangor Public Library and its 70,000 volumes and the Bangor Historical Society. The fire spread so fast that the city dynamited some buildings in an attempt to slow the fire. Somehow, the Tarratine Club was spared even though it was in the middle of the burn zone.
In 1846, Maine became the first state to pass temperance laws banning the sale and consumption of alcohol other than for medical purposes. Portland Mayor Neil Dow, the “Father of Prohibition,” helped start the national temperance movement that culminated in the well-known Federal Prohibition that lasted from 1920-1933. Much of Bangor, however, did not exactly agree with Mr. Dow and his fiery friends and openly defied Maine’s laws. Saloons and brothels popped up all over Bangor and actually thrived by paying twice-annual fines known as the “Bangor Plan.” Private clubs like the Tarratine found different ways of getting by. The Tarratine installed and rented wood lockers ($2/year) to its members where they happened to keep their personal supply of alcohol. This likely top shelf booze was liberally shared and consumed on the premises by its upstanding members while they played pool and cards and discussed the news of the day.
The USO Takes Over
During World War II, Bangor’s Dow Airfield became the home of a U.S. Army base. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had previously called for the creation of the United Service Organization (USO) in 1941 “to aid in the war and defense program of the United States and its allies by serving the religious, spiritual welfare and educational needs of the men and women in the armed forces and defense industries, and in general to contribute to the maintenance of morale in American communities.” The Bangor branch of the USO determined that their West Broadway location wasn’t big enough so in 1943, they completely took over the Tarratine Club. The new USO was open 24 hours a day and for the duration of the war, entertained soldiers on Park Street. They served food, hosted dances, jitterbug contests, put on musicals, and even had fashion shows featuring WAACs from the base modeling clothes from local merchants. After the war ended, the USO shut down and the club reverted to its members.
Decline and Sale
Like many private clubs, the Tarratine slowly faded away. The lumber barons and Bangor businessmen died out and Bangor’s status declined. Into the 1980s, the club was still active and employed cooks and hosted regular classical music concerts. Eventually, declining membership forced the club to close for good in 1991. The building was bought by Kork Systems, a Bangor-based software company. That company changed hands twice more, and eventually the building was put up for sale in 2003.
It’s a Nice Place for a White Wedding
The building was purchased by Bob and Patricia Quirk (of Quirk Auto Group) who intended to use it as a residence. Instead, they restored many of the original features and opened it as The Tarratine which serves as a restaurant and space for weddings and events. The roof deck is perfect for enjoying a sunset cocktail while gazing over the Bangor skyline.