The Thomas Hill Standpipe was built in 1897 for water storage and to regulate the water pressure of downtown Bangor. The landmark is open four times a year to the public who are invited to ascend 100 stairs and look out from the observation deck. Credit: Bridget Brown

Though a pretty good case could be made for the Paul Bunyan Statue on Main Street, it’s most likely the Thomas Hill Standpipe, built in 1897, is the most iconic symbol of Bangor.

Standing 110 feet tall and containing a 1.75 million gallon water tank, the Standpipe, with its circular top ringed with little white lights, has been called the “crown” of the Queen City. The structure, lined with 220,000 cedar shingles, is on the National Register of Historic Places, and has also been named an American Water Landmark and an American Civil Engineering Landmark.

Four times a year, the general public is invited into the Standpipe to climb its winding staircase and take in the view from atop the building. The next free tour is set for 4-8 p.m. Wednesday, July 25.

But why is the Standpipe only open four times a year? You’d think the chance to take a closer look at such an integral part of the landscape of Bangor would be a major tourist attraction.

Kathy Moriarty, general manager of the Bangor Water District, which has owned and operated the Standpipe since 1957, said there are several reasons why the structure is off-limits for most of the year — much of which stems back to a tragic incident in 1940, when a 12-year-old boy was killed after falling from one of the beams beneath the staircase.

For more than 50 years after that accident, the Standpipe was completely closed to the public. In 1991, the water district’s board of trustees approved the quarterly tours — under the watchful eye of Bangor Water District employees, who are the only individuals cleared by the water district’s insurers to guide visitors up and down the staircase and on the promenade deck.

“We would not be able to have volunteers act as guides due to liability issues … Our staff acts as security both on the deck of the standpipe and below,” said Moriarty, who also noted that the Standpipe is still in active use as part of the water district’s infrastructure.

“This is an active standpipe holding 1.75 million gallons of treated drinking water,” she noted.

The water district has tracked visitors to the Standpipe tours since 2005 and has seen 32,027 visitors combined since then. The most popular tour ever was in October 2017, when more than 1,500 people attended.

For the foreseeable future, Bangor residents and visitors alike will have to be satisfied with an outside view of the Standpipe — or will have to mark their schedules for the next two tours after this week’s, which are set for 3-6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 10, and noon-3 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7.

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Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.