Bangor In Focus

Thomas Hill Standpipe
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Bangor Water District

Bangor's most recognizable landmark, the Thomas Hill Standpipe majestically overlooks the Queen City.
Built in 1897 to maintain water pressure in Bangor's higher elevations throughout the city, the Thomas Hill Standpipe is Bangor's most visible landmark. The national historic landmark is still in use today.

After Bangor's relatively new water works system on outer State Street experienced problems maintaining water pressure to the entire city, Bangor officials decided in 1893 that it would be wise to build a standpipe at a high elevation to provide sufficient water pressure and to store reserve water in case of a major fire.

A.B. Tower of Holyoke, Mass., designed the structure and in 1897 the New Jersey Steel and Iron Co. assembled the 50-foot high and 75-foot diameter steel tank atop Thomas Hill. The land had been owned previously by brothers James and Charles Thomas. James M. Davis of Bangor, who had recently built the original Bangor Auditorium in only 22 days, set up a portable sawmill at the standpipe's site and, using only 22 men, built the wooden shell in only six months.

The shell is 110 feet high and 85 feet in diameter, with a 38-foot high flag pole at the top. Davis used 42,000 feet of hard-pine trees and 220,000 cedar shingles to protect the 1.75-million gallon tank.

The lights atop the standpipe are often referred to as the jewels in the Queen City's crown at night. Visitors can tour the standpipe four times a year, once for each season.
The standpipe cost about $295,109.36 to build and was capable of releasing 3,286 gallons of water per minute for a city of 50,000.

"The standpipe will not only serve as a reservoir, but will make one of the best observatories in Maine," 1898 Bangor Mayor Flavius O. Beal said in his annual report.

Indeed, the view from the promenade deck is astounding on a clear day, with Mount Katahdin to the north, the Camden Hills to the southeast and even the White Mountains to the south.

"In addition to being a protector to the standpipe, [the shell] will be an ornament to the city and a great public attraction," the water board reported.

With benches on the 12-foot wide and 280-foot circumference promenade, the standpipe beckoned visitors year-round to climb its interior stairs to the deck to take in the beautiful view. But 12-year-old Howard Goodell fell 25 feet from the railing of the interior stairwell and between the tank in 1940 and died the next day from his injuries, the city closed the standpipe.

Seasonal tours of the standpipe enable visitors to see the tower's interior, including the 1.75 million-gallon tank.
When World War II broke out, the Army asked the city to camouflage the originally gray standpipe by painting it olive drab. The city obliged and also turned off the lights that had encircled the bannister atop the structure's roof since 1908, save for a red light atop the flag pole. The Army feared enemy aircraft would use the standpipe for guidance to what would later become Dow Air Force Base, only a few miles away. The base was the easternmost in the United States. At the end of the war, the city painted the standpipe white and turned the lights back on.

Although the standpipe is no longer open year-round, the Bangor Water District opens it once every season for people to climb the wooden staircase around the tank and take in the magnificent view from the promenade deck.

Open houses are in March, May, July, and October. For more information, call the Bangor Water District at (207) 947-4516.