A half century has passed since former Gov. Percival Baxter completed a life-long dream of acquiring 200,000 wilderness acres for a park around Mount Katahdin.

This summer his gift will be celebrated with a day-long festival in Portland that will feature historic presentations, reenactments and a guided tour of the Portland Museum of Art’s summer exhibit of the works of famed American landscape painter Frederic Church, whose subjects included Katahdin.

The inaugural Gov. Baxter Day, organized by the Friends of Baxter State Park, will be held Aug. 22 at several venues around the city. The sites include the Baxter family monument in Evergreen Cemetery, the Portland Museum of Art, and the trails and museum at Mackworth Island, home of Governor Baxter School for the Deaf, which Baxter donated to the state before his death in 1969.

“What you learn about his philanthropy is that it extended beyond Baxter State Park. Here is a jewel of an area owned by the family, and later given to the state by him. And he wanted it kept a wilderness spot,” said Al Howlett of Yarmouth, a member of the friends group.

The celebration will be held on the 50th anniversary of the last land purchase that Baxter made for the 201,000-acre park.

Baxter, who established the park in 1933, ultimately purchased 28 parcels — the first in 1931 and the last in 1962 — to keep the land around Katahdin “forever wild.”

“To get over 200,000 was a milestone for him, a goal, which was unspoken, that he set for himself. He gave the last parcel in 1963, and only lived a few more years after that,” said Howard Whitcomb, a Baxter scholar in Georgetown who has written three books on the park’s creation.

The daylong tribute will be a first, as there has never been a public ceremony to mark Baxter’s unique gift, Whitcomb said. The Legislature did pass a resolution in 2006 commemorating the establishment of Baxter State Park, and a bust of Baxter was placed in the State House in 1965. But there has never been a special day, Whitcomb said, noting that Baxter did not protect the land around Katahdin to make a name for himself.

“My sense is the park was what really was important, and what needed to be acknowledged, not the benefactor. At one point, he said he did not want the park to be a memorial to him. And he wanted it to be advertised by word of mouth. Of course, that has changed,” Whitcomb said.

Baxter State Park now covers 209,644 acres. But it still is funded through the endowment left by Baxter and remains free for Maine residents to use.

“Portland is Baxter’s hometown. And the park is not funded from the general fund. That in itself is a nice reason to remind people: There is no charge to the park for Maine residents, because it is not part of the state park system,” said Barbara Bentley, the friends president.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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