by Nick Kaye
Special to The Weekly
BANGOR — Mike Pullen is full of knowledge. As he leads the historic architecture tour for the Bangor Historical Society, he is able point out the finest details of each building he passes — small designs in the moulding, patterns in the placement of bricks, the tapering of columns. His encyclopedic knowledge is the result of a long-running interest in Bangor’s history and decades spent working firsthand as a local architect.
“Historic preservation is the work I’ve always been very passionate about,” Pullen said.
He has helped restore area structures including the Thomas Hill Standpipe, the former Penobscot Theatre Company building and Coburn Hall on the University of Maine campus.
Pullen also pays a visit to the Fruit Street School each year to teach third-graders about Bangor’s architectural history. He has a penchant for teaching and a reason to back it up.
“I believe that the future of preservation lies in educating the public so something like urban renewal doesn’t happen again,” he said.
His work as a tour guide for the Bangor Historical Society is a natural extension of this conviction.
On the historic architecture tour, Pullen takes participants back to the second half of the 19th century. He calls it “an age of prosperity” in Bangor — a time when the city was still known as the lumber capital of the world. The tour, which winds through the High Street district, the downtown district and the West Market Square district, examines lavish homes intended to showcase the wealth of their owners as well as large brick commercial buildings.
Pullen focuses on a succession of architectural styles in Bangor, including Colonial, Federal, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, Queen Anne and Shingle. Most were homages to the European trends of the time, with the Shingle style representing the first instance of an architectural style born in New England.
He also makes mention of a handful of notable architects who began their careers in Bangor. English-born architect Richard Upjohn, for example, got his start with a number of commissions in Bangor, including the Thomas A. Hill House, where the Bangor Historical Society is based. Upjohn went on to found the American Institute of Architects and create such renowned structures as the Trinity Church in lower Manhattan.
By the end of the tour, Pullen has equipped participants with all the tools necessary to strike out on their own and begin identifying architectural styles and their historical context.
Participants on the tour are able to provide something that even Pullen himself cannot, however: an array of personal stories. Everyone seems to have their own take on the homes and buildings they pass. Perhaps they knew the family who once lived in a certain home, or they worked in a certain building years ago. In any case, each anecdote adds a new layer of history.
The Bangor Historical Society offers several other walking tours as well — some led by Pullen, and some led by other area history buffs — including visits to the Mount Hope Cemetery, a look at the areas affected by the Great Fire of 1911 and an exploration of the “ghostly activity” in the city.
On the recent 150th anniversary of the Bangor Historical Society, the city proclaimed these walking tours to be the “Official Historical Tours” of Bangor and the society to be the “Official Historical Tour Provider.”
Lasting approximately 90 minutes, the tours cost $10, $5 to children under 12, free to society members and children under 5. A full schedule of walking tours with dates is available online at bangormuseum.org.
In addition, the Bangor Historical Society offers self-guided tours, a brown bag lunch series, exhibits at the Thomas A. Hill House, and an extensive archival and painting collection at the Bangor Public Library. More information on these features also is available online.