BANGOR, Maine — A work crew installing a new water main on Union Street has discovered two well-preserved pieces of wooden water line that may have been installed as early as the Civil War and predate the construction of Bangor’s first public water system.
The wooden pipes were discovered Tuesday under more than 7 feet of earth as a crew working to replace a cast-iron water main from the early 1900s dug at the intersection of Union and Hammond streets.
The two segments — portions of which are still covered in bark — are believed to be red pine, according to officials with the Bangor Water District. Measuring approximately 12 inches in diameter, one is more than 6 feet long, the other more than 8 feet long.
Still connected by an iron pipe fitting at the time of discovery, each log has a bore hole of approximately 3 inches running its length through which water once ran, probably to a private residence.
Kathy Moriarty, general manager of the water district, said the pipe likely was installed sometime between 1862 and 1875 based on the known history of public water service in Bangor and peculiar markings cut into one of the segments.
Bangor’s first public water system was not installed until 1875 and featured only cast-iron pipes, meaning the wooden pipes could not have been part of that system, Moriarty said. At the time, the public water system provided water to a city of about 17,000 residents and cost each user a flat fee of $5 a year.
Before that, any water system would have been privately owned, Moriarty said. Those systems mostly used wooden pipes and cisterns and typically only served the city’s wealthier residents, who could afford the engineering and construction required.
Perhaps more telling as to the age of the wooden pipe are log marks on one of the segments. Cut with an ax, log marks were characters, similar to a cattle brand, used to identify a log’s owner before it was floated down the river in a log drive.
Log scalers would use the marks after logs were removed from the river to determine how much was owed to each logger. The marks were filed with the registry of deeds and marks changed from year to year so that logs felled in different years could be differentiated.
After visiting the Penobscot County Registry of Deeds, Moriarty found a mark Wednesday that appears to be the same as the one on the wooden pipe recovered from Union Street.
It is dated Dec. 22, 1862, and appears to identify the owner as Nathaniel Murry — though Moriarty was not sure of the spelling due to the penmanship.
If accurate, the marking could indicate the tree was felled within a year of that date, during the Civil War.
Patrick Smith, an inspector with the water district who was present when workers with Eastwood Contractors of Brewer uncovered the segments, said they were buried between 7 and 8 feet deep.
Some of that depth could have been the result of fill dirt being placed on the road during construction projects over the years, he said.
Smith said he initially was unconvinced it was a wooden pipe because workers often encounter old logs when digging beneath streets, but when workers uncovered the iron fitting connecting the two segments, he was sure.
“I knew right then that it had to be an old wooden water main,” he said.
While workers could not tell where specifically the pipe was headed, Smith speculated that an angular cut on one of the logs may have been part of a bend that sent it up Hammond Street.
Water district officials have secured the pipe segments at their campus on State Street. Moriarty said they have not yet decided what to do with them but would like to display them somehow.
“We want to keep it and somehow preserve it,” she said.
Follow Evan Belanger on Twitter at @evanbelanger.