Bangor, a Queen City that's home to a King
BANGOR - Maine's Queen City is best identified by a trio of kings, but its appeal extends to those on a pauper's budget. Home to king of horror Stephen King and a statue of that king of the woods Paul Bunyan, Bangor was singer Roger Miller's destination in "King of the Road."
With so many kingly claims, one would think Bangor's nickname would be the King City, but it has been promoted as the Queen City since the late 19th century. The reason has been lost to history, says Dana Lippitt, curator of the Bangor Museum and Center for History. "Some say it has to do with Bangor's magnificent homes and the city's importance in the late 1800s," she says. Another theory has to do with Cincinnati being crowned the Queen City of the West, which inspired Bangorites to claim the title in the East.
Be it queenly or not, Mainers have long regarded Bangor as the capital of the "other" Maine, the state's northern three-quarters. The city's grand Italianate, Second Empire, Queen Anne, and Greek Revival homes recall the glory days of the mid-19th century, when Bangor was the "lumber capital of the world," Lippitt says.
Some say it also was the culture capital of Maine. The Bangor Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1896, claims to be the oldest continually performing community orchestra in the country.
Bangor's Victorian-era fortunes were built on the millions of trees felled in the North Woods and driven down the Penobscot River, then milled and shipped from its busy port. One local tale paints super-logger Bunyan as a native son, which might explain the 31-foot-tall statue of him in Bass Park downtown.
While Bunyan's status as a local might be questionable, the tool his replica holds is genuine Maine made. After observing the difficulties river drivers were having shepherding logs down the Penobscot, local blacksmith Joseph Peavey invented the tool now known as a peavey.
A crafty local of a different type is perhaps better known. In summer the Greater Bangor Convention & Visitors Bureau (www.bangorcvb.org) offers monthly bus tours of Stephen King-related sites. The next tour is July 4. Anytime, visitors can satisfy their cravings for the horror maven at two bookstores specializing in his works. Betts (584 Hammond St., 207-947-7052; www.bettsbooks.com) and Bookmarcs (78 Harlow St., 207-942-3206, 866-942-3206; www.bookmarcs.com) sell signed editions and King collectibles; Betts especially is a source of information on all things King.
"We set up the original Bangor tour for a King fan club," says Stu Tinker, Betts' co-owner. "We've always maintained the map here, and we hand it out, no charge." The biggest site, of course, is King's Victorian home in the West Broadway Historic District. The turreted mansion looks like it came from the set of a horror movie. It's surrounded by a wrought-iron fence detailed with spider webs and bats. Frankly, it's enough to give any would-be trespasser shivers.
Far more welcoming are the nearby Mansfield Stadium, a Little League field financed by a $1.5 million contribution from the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation, and the Bangor Public Library, another beneficiary of the King Foundation.
One site that figures into King's books is in the author's neighborhood, Tinker says. The 50-foot-tall Thomas Hill Standpipe (207-947-4516; www.bangorwater.org), a 1.75 million-gallon, riveted steel water tower and observatory built in 1897, is a National Historic and American Water Landmark. Some say it's the Queen City's crown; seen from afar, it even resembles one. The standpipe is open four days each year for tours, usually once per season. Next opening is July 22 from 5-9 p.m.
Another King-related site is Mount Hope Cemetery, where two scenes were shot for "Pet Sematary." The 264-acre cemetery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and feels more like a parkland than a gravesite.
Although compact, Bangor's downtown offers diversions. The city scored a coup when it lured the University of Maine Museum of Art (40 Harlow St., 207-561-3350; www.umma.umaine.edu) away from the nearby Orono campus five years ago.
"Our primary strengths are photography and contemporary works on paper," says director George Kinghorn. "Our focus is on modern and contemporary art, primarily from 1920 to the present. We have very significant pieces by John Marin, Roy Lichtenstein, Willem de Kooning, and Alex Katz." The museum has one permanent and three changing exhibition galleries and a collection numbering more than 6,500 works. Admission is free.
If your party includes children, the Maine Discovery Museum is a must-see (74 Main St.; 207-262-7200; www.mainediscoverymuseum.org). Seven permanent interactive exhibits explore ecosystems, music, astronomy, the human body, and more.
Flowing through downtown is the Kenduskeag Stream. Pick up a copy of the stream trail map from the visitors bureau and follow it to 13 marked sites, including where Portuguese navigator Esteban Gómez landed in 1525 followed by French geographer Samuel de Champlain in 1604. Also on the trail is Lovers Leap, a 150-foot-tall cliff where a Native American couple plunged to their deaths after being denied permission to marry.
Clustered downtown are two foodie faves. The baked goods are divine at Friars' Bakehouse (21 Central St., 207-947-3770), where everything is made on the premises by Franciscan friars. Go for breakfast or lunch, but go early, since it sells out quickly. Hours change frequently, but if the light's on, it's open. Another longstanding local meeting place is Bagel Central (33 Central St., 207-947-1654).
On the eastern end of downtown is Bangor's newest attraction, Hollywood Slots (500 Main St, 877-779-7771, www.hollywoodslotsatbangor.com), a gaming facility with slot machines, video poker machines, and video roulette. While no sure bet, it's the one place where a pauper might strike it rich and leave the Queen City with a king's fortune.
Hilary Nangle can be reached at Hilary@HilaryNangle.com.