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Lying on the Penobscot River, logs could be floated downstream from the Maine North Woods and processed at the city's water-powered sawmills, then shipped from Bangor's port to the Atlantic Ocean 30 miles downstream, and from there to any port in the world. Modern Bangor was established in the mid-1800s with the lumber and shipbuilding industries. The city proper has a population of 33,039, while the metropolitan Bangor metropolitan area has a population of 153,746.Evidence of this is still visible in the lumber barons' elaborate Greek Revival and Victorian mansions and the 31 foot high statue of Paul Bunyan.

The site was visited by Portuguese explorer Esteban Gómez in 1524 and by Samuel de Champlain in 1605.

The Jesuits established a mission on Penobscot Bay in 1609, which was then part of the French colony of Acadia, and the valley remained contested between France and Britain into the 1750s, making it one of the last regions to become part of New England.

In 1769 Jacob Buswell founded a settlement at the site.

By 1772, there were 12 families, along with a sawmill, store, and school, and in 1787 the population was 567.

In 1779, the rebel Penobscot Expedition fled up the Penobscot River and ten of its ships were scuttled by the British fleet at Bangor.

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