A growing battle for control of the streets of Bangor pitted autos against trolleys and horses a century ago. In 1916, conditions downtown sometimes created chaotic scenes worthy of a Keystone Cops movie as hard-to-stop trolley cars, skittish horses hauling huge wagons and powerful automobiles driven by speed-obsessed young men competed for space on city streets.

Inexperienced drivers added another dimension. Only recently had the city passed a traffic ordinance mandating which side of the street to drive on. Outsiders reportedly were aghast that it had taken so long for a city the size of Bangor to start regulating the flow of traffic.

Experimental wood-block pavement, which became slippery when wet, was another factor in the chaos on Exchange Street. Horses lost their footing and fell down.

Meanwhile, paved portions of State and Hammond streets became race tracks. On State Street hill in particular, drivers liked to show off how powerful their engines were.

The police, if they were around at all, were often reduced to the status of onlookers amidst these vehicular jousts. The department had only one official motor car, and it doubled as a paddy wagon and an ambulance.

Exchange Street, which stretched from its intersection with busy State Street to Union Station, where trains loaded and unloaded all day and night, was a good place to view the growing congestion. A story on Nov. 20, 1915, in the Bangor Daily News captured some of the problems.

TAXI-CAB CRASHES INTO AUTOMOBILE: Smashes Up Motor Car and Knocks Over Passengers Alighting from Street Car, said the headline.

The taxi cab was coming down the wrong side of the street toward the train station at an estimated 15 to 25 mph, a speed the police deemed too fast for the wet conditions. It was the same side of the street on which a trolley car was unloading. Meanwhile, a “public car” was pulling out from its stand on the same side of the street in front of the Penobscot Exchange, headed in the opposite direction.

The collision occurred in front of the Bijou Theater. After disabling the public auto, the taxi driver skidded out of control on the wet wood-block pavement into the group of passengers getting off the trolley. One woman was knocked down and a few others were “knocked around,” but no one was seriously hurt.

Politicians tried to stay on top of the traffic mess with mounting frustration, while the police made increasingly threatening comments about stopping speeders.

Mayor John Woodman announced a few months after the Exchange Street accident that he was opposed to “public autos” lining both sides of Exchange Street waiting for fares.

“Between the double line of autos and the double tracks of the electric railway, with street cars constantly passing to and from, it is almost impossible for teams (horse-drawn wagons) to get through this congested street at certain times of the day,” he said in a piece in the Bangor Daily Commercial on April 26, 1916.

The mayor wanted these public autos, which were licensed by the city, parked on side streets or in East Market Square on the other side of State Street. (How a taxi cab differed from a public auto is never explained in these newspaper stories. My guess is the controversial jitneys of a few months ago, which followed the trolley routes around town, were now called taxis.)

City streets were already dangerous enough without the growing number of autos, trucks and motorcycles. Accidents involving just horses and trolleys were still common, too. Four were highlighted in the local press that spring in a two-week period — all in downtown Bangor.

On April 24, a young woman was nearly crushed by a horse pulling a wagon in front of Pol’s Corner toward Hammond Street across from West Market Square. The driver of the wagon was on the wrong side of the road, said a story in the Bangor Daily News.

The men in the wagon said the horse was frightened by a trolley car that pulled up behind them. The young woman, who was thought dead by the big crowd that gathered, escaped with bruises.

Two days later a Bangor jury awarded nearly $10,000 to a boy whose arm was severed below the elbow when he was struck by a trolley car the year before. John McKinnon, the son of Pope McKinnon, the well-known proprietor of the Globe Hotel, had run in front of a trolley car that had caught him on its fender and then skidded on a wet rail into a car in front of it.

The Bangor Railway & Electric Company argued that the boy was negligent in running into the street without looking, while his lawyer countered that the company could have prevented the accident if it had sanded the rail. The company appealed the case to the Maine Supreme Court.

The next day, another accident occurred when a trolley car heading for West Market Square late at night “tobogganed on a slippery rail” down Park Street, jumped the track, broke a telephone pole in two and crashed into the Kenduskeag Building. No one was seriously hurt.

Then, five days later, this headline appeared: RUNAWAY CRASHED INTO STREET CAR: Wild Scene at Pol’s Corner as Maddened Horse Struck Front of Hampden Car and Was Killed.

The horse, which was hauling a delivery wagon, “dashed down Hammond Street at a speed … described as little short of frightful,” reported the Bangor Daily News on May 2. The horse died after it slammed into the side of the trolley and the wagon’s two drivers were injured when they were hurled out of their seats.

The motorman, who was injured when he was struck by the horse, was declared a hero for stopping the trolley car and blocking the wagon from careening into a crowd of shoppers and automobiles in the intersection between Pol’s Corner and Central Street.

Meanwhile, a sure sign the battle between trolleys and horses would come to an end sooner than expected was going on amidst all the mayhem. It was the city’s ninth annual auto show, this year featuring 35 new models ranging from the Apperson Chummy 4-passenger roadster to the Oldsmobile 8 cylinder, five-passenger touring car.

They filled up a whole floor of the Morse Winter Garden, the big building recently erected on Harlow Street next to the Kenduskeag Stream, which also contained the Bowlodrome.

Bangor’s hotels were packed with people attending the auto show as well as a popular vaudeville offering playing at the Bijou.

“Some of the hotels were providing guests with accommodations by placing cots and utilizing the parlors, sample rooms, etc.,” noted the Bangor Daily News on April 26.

At the auto show, a ladies orchestral trio was providing music accompanying an opera singer from New York City who was reportedly “Sousa’s outdoor singer.”

Local car dealers were claiming big sales — “clutching big, thick bunches of contracts,” reported the Bangor Daily News on April 27.

Auto robes, “oils and greases,” and other appurtenances were selling as well alongside displays of Harley-Davidson motorcycles and Pierce bicycles. Many of the new cars were equipped with such modern features as gas gauges, electric starters and “scientifically constructed coil spring-work” in the seat upholstery.

Some dealers, such as L. P. Swett, at 106 Harlow St., were promising to sell gasoline for 20 cents per gallon for the next six months to anyone who bought one of their models. Another dealer predicted the price would fall to 20 cents for everyone by June 1.

Another sure sign that automobiles were in the ascendancy was summed up in a short item in the Bangor Daily News on May 8.

“The first automobile touring party of the season from other states arrived in Bangor on Saturday en route to Bar Harbor. Mrs. Lyman B. Kendall and Miss Evelyn Biddle of New York were in the car and with their chauffeur were guests at the Bangor House overnight,” it said. As the state’s road system improved, auto tourists would soon become a sight too common to bother writing about in the papers.

Wayne E. Reilly’s column on Bangor a century ago appears in the newspaper every other Monday. His latest book, “Hidden History of Bangor: From Lumbering Days to the Progressive Era,” is available where books are sold. Comments can be sent to him at wreilly.bdn@gmail.com.