BATH — Sean Paulhus came upon a book that would change his life about 15 years ago in the stacks of his college library in Ohio.

“Maine Becomes a State” introduced the then-college freshman from Bath to William King, the state’s first governor, who spent more than 50 years in the City of Ships.

Deeply impressed by King’s role in shaping Bath, and his crucial role in Maine becoming a state, Paulhus since then has spread awareness about King as much as possible. With Maine’s 2020 bicentennial approaching, Paulhus hopes King’s name could become a buzzword around the state – and particularly around Bath.

“He’s big on the state level, but there’s so much that William King did to help bring Bath to what it is today,” Paulhus, now vice chairman of the City Council, said Jan. 11.

King and his cohorts

As aide to the state auditor, Paulhus spends much of his time at the State House in Augusta, where two portraits of King hang. He pushed to bring about an annual day of observance for King, which is held March 16, the day after the anniversary of Maine’s statehood.

While still in college, Paulhus in 2006 donated a portrait of King, which hangs at Bath City Hall and was painted by family friend Paula Jackson-Roy.

King was born in 1768 in Scarborough, when Maine was part of Massachusetts. He later lived in Topsham and, from 1800 on, in Bath, representing first one town then the other in the Massachusetts Legislature, according to the Scarborough Historical Society.

King’s Front Street home overlooked the Kennebec River and stood about where the Customs House is now located. His merchant fleet was docked at the wharves there.

An ardent supporter of statehood, King presided over the District of Maine’s constitutional convention in 1819. Maine became the 23rd state the next year, but King’s stint as governor was short-lived, with President James Monroe tapping him in 1821 to be special minister to hammer out a territory claims treaty with Spain.

King’s contributions to Bath include starting the South Church and the Bath Bank, and serving as customs collector from 1829-1834. He died in 1852 in Bath, where a monument at Maple Grove cemetery marks his grave.

Several of King’s associates also played key roles in Maine’s birth. Mark Langdon Hill, a U.S. representative of Massachusetts right before Maine became a state and the first U.S. representative from Maine’s newly created third district from 1821-23, became Bath’s collector of customs in 1824.

Hill was involved with the Missouri Compromise, through which the Show Me State was admitted into the union in 1821, its slave state status meant to offset that of Maine as a free state. King was not in favor of the deal at first, but changed his mind when he saw it was the only way Maine would achieve statehood, Paulhus said.

Benjamin Ames, also from Bath, attended the 1819 convention as well. He became Maine’s first speaker of the House of Representatives and was the state’s third governor for just a month between 1821-22.

King’s older half-brother, Scarborough-born Rufus King, was a senator from New York and foe of slavery who argued against the Missouri Compromise.

Foresight is 2020

Paulhus and council Chairwoman Mari Eosco see Bath playing a major part in the ramp-up to the bicentennial, given the roles residents played as Maine seceded from Massachusetts and established its own government.

To that end, Eosco – interim director of Main Street Bath – said she hopes to see collaborations with fellow organizations such as Bath Historical Society, Sagadahoc Preservation, and Maine’s First Ship.

“While we haven’t formalized the (bicentennial) committee as of yet, in my mind this is certainly a celebration of 200 years in Maine, but it’s also a celebration of (Bath’s) history before and after that,” Eosco said. “I hope that Bath, like we had people who led the way in 1820, can lead the way in 2020 on some of the celebration pieces, and maybe spread some of our ideas into the other communities.”

“I’ve been trying to plant seeds into the minds of other organizations, that while we’re moving through 2019, how can they make their mark on this celebration,” Eosco added.

Formation of a committee to cultivate those ideas is one of the first necessary steps.

Eosco said she would like to see residents dress up as historic Bath figures during the city’s annual Heritage Days celebration, and wants also to involve the schools, in order to use Maine’s milestone as a learning tool for young and old alike.

Ribbons could be hung outside buildings that were standing in 1820 – most of them residences like Eosco’s 1795 house – as well as on tombstones of residents living at that time.

A wealth of information is available to facilitate walking tours of the city’s streets, which would point out where significant structures once stood, even if they are no longer standing, Eosco said.

“A lot of that research is done,” she said. “It’s just getting people together to have fun with it.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 780-9085 ext. 113 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Bath City Councilors Sean Paulhus and Mari Eosco are trying to drum up interest in celebrating their community’s role in Maine becoming a state nearly 200 years ago.