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Stephen King

Thirty miles up the Penobscot River on the west bank, Bangor ("Ban-gore") is Maine's third-largest city, with 33,039 residents. It is the retail hub for central, eastern, and northern Maine, with two indoor shopping malls and numerous shopping centers.

In the late 1800s, Bangor was the "undisputed lumber capital of the world," and at one point the city's mills shipped more than 246 million feet of lumber in a year. Dozens of sawmills lined the Penobscot River and Kenduskeag Stream and sent processed lumber to nearby Winterport, Searsport, and Belfast to build ships.

The city was home to Hannibal Hamlin, who served as President Abraham Lincoln's first vice president, and is the home of best-selling author Stephen King. Movies based on King's works have been filmed in and around Bangor. Among them: "Pet Sematary," "The Longoliers," and "Creepshow II."

Although Bangor's lumber days have long since gone, the affluence of the city's heyday can still be seen in the large former mansions once owned by the lumber barons that can be found near the center of town. Most of the mansions are now apartment buildings or homes to businesses. A walk along the Broadway Historic District provides a glimpse into the city's past affluence in the lumber industry.

Bangor's location makes it an ideal place to stay while visiting central and eastern Maine. Bar Harbor is only 50 miles to the east, Camden only 50 miles to the south, and Baxter State Park only 70 miles to the north.

The University of Maine is only 12 miles north of the city, in Orono. UMaine offers the only NCAA Division I athletics program in the state. The NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) program plays at Alfond Stadium, a 10,000-seat stadium built in 1998 with artificial turf. The men's ice hockey team, winner of the 1993 and 1999 national championships, plays at the 5,200-seat Alfond Arena, which is also home to the men's and women's basketball teams.

UMaine also offers Fogler Library, the state's largest, and the Maine Center for the Arts and Hudson Museum, which specializes in American Indian artifacts. The Collins Center for the Arts, formerly the Maine Center for the Arts, attracts dozens of world-class acts in theater, music, and dance each year.

Although Bangor's history is of little national historical significance, a day in the Queen City of the East will provide the curious with opportunities to imagine the past. The 254-acre Mount Hope Cemetery is the nation's second-oldest garden cemetery, having opened in 1836. It is the final resting place for Hamlin and former Public Enemy No. 1 Al Brady, whom FBI agents gunned down in October 1937 in Central Street, the heart of the city's downtown. Mount Hope is also home to one of the oldest Civil War monuments in the country and home to the Maine Korean War Memorial.

The Bangor Water Works, which once supplied the city with drinking water and generated electricity with one of the most powerful pumps in New England, still stands on the west bank of the Penobscot. Today, it is home to apartments for low-income residents. Across State Street from the Water Works, Cascade Park is one of the finest city parks in the state, with a waterfall, fountain, gazebo, walking trails, and picnic tables. The Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center, also nearby, opened in 1901 as Maine's second state mental hospital. In the 1960s, the hospital treated more than 1,100 patients at a time.

Each summer, the Bangor Museum and Center for History offers its "Best of Bangor" tours for residents and visitors to learn the city's history while seeing the sites that once played prominent roles in a prospering lumber town. The tours are once a month during the summer. Admission is $5 for adults; children ride for free. The van leaves the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce parking lot at Paul Bunyan Park. For more information, call (207) 942-5766.

Across town, Bass Park offers harness racing from May through July at Bangor Raceway. Bass Park is also home to the Bangor Auditorium and Bangor Civic Center and the annual Bangor State Fair, which runs from the last week of July through the first week of August. One of the oldest agricultural fairs in the country, the fair celebrated its 162nd year in 2011. Children and adults can enjoy midway rides and games, petting zoos, agricultural exhibits, concerts, and other entertainment.

In the spring and summer, Mansfield Stadium, at Hayford Park on the city's west side, is home to more than 100 high school, Little League, and American Legion games. The stadium is also the home of Little League Baseball's Senior League (13- to 16-year-olds) World Series, held every August.

Theater buffs may be interested in attending a show at the Penobscot Theatre Company's home at the Bangor Opera House, on Main Street. The theater's season runs from Otober through May. For more information, visit the theater's Web site, at www.penobscottheatre.org, or call the Penobscot Theatre Company, at (207) 942-3333.

In late August 2005, the American Folk Festival debuted on the waterfront following a successful three-year run of the National Folk Festival. The festival will return in 2011.

Downtown Bangor, once the place to be in the first half of the 20th century, is slowly recovering from losing businesses to malls and shopping centers to find a new niche. Sears & Roebuck and Freese's have long since left downtown Bangor, but dozens of small shops and eateries have turned downtown Bangor into a laid back place to enjoy a sunny, slow afternoon in the summer. The Pickering Square parking garage offers the first two hours free, giving downtown visitors plenty of time to browse in a few shops and eat lunch.

In 1911, a fire destroyed much of the downtown business district, but the conflagration may have been the best thing to happen to Bangor, as it led to solid buildings of granite and brick. The Bangor Public Library, on Harlow Street, owes its grand building partly to the Great Fire of 1911, as its original volumes were stored in the old Bangor Savings Bank building, which burned in the fire. The library has one of the highest per capita circulation rates in New England. A recent expansion and renovation project has allowed patrons to browse the more than 500,000 volumes. Before the expansion, the stacks were closed.

A number of small parks dot the downtown area and are ripe for having lunch with a friend, reading a book, or relaxing. Norumbega Parkway and Kenduskeag Mall are in the heart of downtown Bangor. They provide trees, flowers, benches, and scupltures. The War Memorial in Norumbega Parkway -- between Franklin and Central streets -- honors all those who have died in war. Kenduskeag Mall -- between Central and State streets -- features a statue of Hamlin.

At the end of a long day, why not take a walk along the Kenduskeag Stream from the business district to the outskirts of the city limits? Rocky cliffs and a serene stream are only seconds from downtown. For variety, Bangor also offers walking and biking trails at Prentiss Woods (Grandview Avenue), Brown Woods (Ohio Street), City Forest (Kittredge Road and Tripp Drive), and Essex Woods (Essex Street). Also, UMaine offers walking and bicycle trails.

Bangor may not be big, but it is a worthwhile stop on your way to Maine's northern woods, Down East region, or Mount Desert Island. And it's not too far from Camden to sneak a peek for a day.