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The demise of the Bangor dam

12/09/2012
The Bangor dam was built in 1875. It held back the Penobscot River for less than 100 years

The Bangor dam was built in 1875. It held back the Penobscot River for less than 100 years

Bangor is located on the Penobscot River, about 60 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean. There used to be a dam on the Penobscot just north of downtown Bangor. This is where the coastal surge, or salt water from the ocean, would end its journey up the river.

Partly because of this coastal surge, Bangor – and the smaller town across the river, Brewer – became major ports of call and important ship building towns in the 19th Century.

The dam, built in 1875, helped create the largest water pumping system in New England.

One of my first tasks after moving into our duplex was to get connected to city water.

I rode my bike down to the Bangor Water District office. It’s located in a small  building  north of town on the highway running along the river. Across the road from the office, on the bank of the river, is a series of large, old brick buildings. Some looked empty and long abandon, others looked like they were still in use.

There were a few concrete structures in the river itself, and I assumed this were the dam used to stand.

I locked my bike near a door and stepped inside wearing my neon green jacket and bike helmet. Two women were behind the counter. They both looked up from their desk.  I was their only customer.

I told them I was new in town and needed to hook up to city water. After I signed the paper work, asked them a couple water department related questions:

First, I was curious about a neat old water tower on a hill near our house…or at least I thought it was a water tower. The white,  wooden structure looks like a super-sized barn silo, with a round turret-style roof. It’s very pretty, with night lights circling the gutter line and an apparent viewing deck underneath the roof.

“Do they over open the viewing deck on the old water tower? I asked.

The women looked at me like I asked them about auto insurance premiums.

“Water tower?”

“That big thing up on the hill. It’s really old. They light it up at night. It’s a water tower right?

“You mean the stand pipe?”

“Yeah….”

“The Thomas Hill Stand pipe. Yes, it’s open four times a year.”

Apparently, they call their water towers “standpipes” in Bangor. (More on this is a future post).

Next I asked about the dam. There’s a big push along the Penobscot River to remove a series of upstream dams. The dams are all obsolete. Officials decided if they removed the dams, salmon would return to the area  along with bigger ocean-going recreational boats and yachts. That means money.

“When did they take the dam out?”

“Take it out?” asked the lady at the counter.

“Yeah, there used to be a dam across the road right?”

“Oh yeah,” said the lady at her desk. “They didn’t take the dam out so much as it just fell apart.”

“Fell apart?”

“Yeah, they let it go… sometime in the 60s I suppose.”

So much for the largest water pumping system in New England.

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