BANGOR — Who knew that Mount Katahdin can hide behind a communications tower?
Or that Passadumkeag Mountain resembles a pie plate turned upside side down above the Bangor Mall?
Of these and other topographical facts did 1,325 people learn while touring the Thomas Hill Standpipe during an Oct. 9 open house sponsored by the Bangor Water District.
On a day that blended Indian summer temperatures and less than stellar fall foliage, people of all ages climbed the 100 steps to the standpipe’s circular observation deck, which is open to the public only a few times each year. Referring to directional signs and arrows installed at various points around the deck, visitors checked out the local landmarks and the hills and mountains rimming the southeastern and northwestern horizons.
Constructed in 1897, the standpipe holds 1.75 million gallons of water and rises 110 feet from Thomas Hill, named after Bangor brothers Charles and James Hill; they owned the land upon which the standpipe stands.
The appropriately named architect Ashley B. Tower of Holyoke, Mass. designed the standpipe, which contains a steel water tower measuring 50 feet in height and 75 feet in diameter. The exterior diameter of the surrounding standpipe is 85 feet; atop the building stands a 38-foot flagpole.
Access to the interior lies through a door set in the stone foundation measuring 3½feet in thickness and 9 feet in height. Visitors turn right and climb the steps of a wooden staircase that winds around the standpipe’s north and northwest curves to reach the observation deck.
Views open immediately from the 12-foot-wide wooden deck, painted light gray. Although tall hardwoods block southerly views across the West Side, views are wide open around the rest of the compass rose.
On this sunny Wednesday, visitors wandered from Grecian column to Grecian column to gaze across the landscape and identify local buildings; the columns conceal the 24 main posts that rise from the stone foundation to support the standpipe’s exterior shell and its inner water tank.
The Bangor International Airport terminals and Bangor Air National Guard Base hangars stood out on the West Side, and the graceful roof curve of Husson University’s Gracie Theatre drew attention. Visitors picked out the Broadway Shopping Center; one older woman recalled how Broadway looked in the 1950s, before the shopping center coalesced near the new Interstate 95.
“Where’s Katahdin?” asked many visitors, apparently believing that at 5,269 feet, Maine’s highest peak should loom well above the northern horizon.
Katahdin does not. In fact, it barely rises above the mixed woods covering surrounding Broadway near Bangor High School.
The best way to find Katahdin from the Thomas Hill Standpipe is to locate the red-and-white-checked Bomarc Road water tower and then look beyond the communications tower farthest to the left. Find the blue shadow darker than the autumn sky; that’s Katahdin.
Farther to the left (or northwest) rise the mountains stretching across lower Piscataquis County. Several visitors quickly identified Barren Mountain.
To the southeast, the Dedham Hills rim the horizon. To the northeast, Passadumkeag Mountain rises like an inverted pie plate above the Bangor Mall; with binoculars, visitors could identify Lowe’s, Macy’s, and other Hogan Road landmarks.
The best local views run across Bangor’s downtown and East Side, from the sandstone walls of St. Joseph Hospital to the tall steeple of St. John’s Catholic Church to the rusty railroad bridge spanning the Penobscot River between Bangor and Brewer. Taller downtown buildings (including the Penobscot County Judicial Center and the bank tower on Exchange Street) are easily discernible.
The views also extend across the river to Brewer, particularly the Brewer Shopping Center on Wilson Street.
Named a National Historic Landmark in 1974, the Thomas Hill Standpipe is also an American Water Works Association landmark (1980) and an American Society of Civil Engineers state historic landmark (2008).
Its cedar shingles painted a dazzling white, the Thomas Hill Standpipe is a prominent landmark visible from several vantage points some miles from Bangor. These include:
• Bald Mountain in Dedham;
• Bull Hill in Charleston, especially from where Route 15 crests the hill beside the Mountainview Correctional Facility;
• Chick Hill in Clifton;
• Copeland Hill in Holden.
The Thomas Hill Standpipe will open to the public from 2-5 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 11. For more information about the standpipe, log onto bangorwater.org/whats new home/thsp.htm.