The Brunswick Town Commons, a 71-acre piece of conserved land, is celebrating its 300th anniversary this year. Organizers say the land was responsible for bringing both the U.S. Navy and Bowdoin College to Brunswick. (Hannah LaClaire/The Times Record)

BRUNSWICK — The Brunswick Town Commons, a “little corner” of town with a big impact on Brunswick’s history, is celebrating its 300th anniversary this year, marked by seven full weeks of activities and events.

The Commons, often confused with the Brunswick town mall, according to Fred Koerber, a member of the town commons committee, is a 71-acre chunk of what was once 1,000 acres given to the town in 1719 by the Pejepscot Company “to ly in general comonage.”

One of the earliest conserved open spaces in Maine, the land was also used to help draw both Bowdoin College and the United States Navy to town.

Bowdoin College was given 200 acres to start the college, and the Navy was given land to build the former Brunswick Naval Air Station, where they helped train British World War II pilots, Koerber said. When the Navy left decades later they were unable to give back the original land, he said, but instead gave the town the Kate Furbish Preserve.

Although the town fathers were reluctant to accept the space because of the potential loss of tax revenue on the land, “it had a significant role in shaping the community and the heritage of protecting open spaces,” Koerber said.

The original parcel ended up being more than the intended 1,000 acres, he said, so the town gave the remaining land to the Congregational church, which was the first worship house in Brunswick, Koerber said.

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Austin Cary, a Bowdoin graduate and late 19th, early 20th-century forester, often seen as the “father of American forestry,” according to Koerber, persuaded the town to set aside money for the planting and management of white pines and other trees in the protected land. There are also Pitch Pine Barrens, a state-listed rare natural community, according to a press release from the Brunswick Topsham Land Trust. The trails have oak-pine forests, Pitch Pine Barrens and a small pitch pine-heath bog. The remaining 71-acres are filled with trails and picnic spots “running through diverse and ecologically unique terrains,” the release said.

Pennie, Zev and Asher Schwartz, along with their dog, Falkor enjoy a walk on the Brunswick Town Commons trails on Wednesday. (Hannah LaClaire/The Times Record)

“It’s hard to say what the motives were 300 years ago, but I think the proprietors recognized the opportunity” of the land, Koerber said, calling the move to put it in conservation a “visionary perspective.”

The area is of “not only local, but also state and national significance. It is only of the first public lands established in Maine. It is an example of early urban planning in the state and remains a window to the past, a popular recreation destination and a living laboratory,” organizer Jym St. Pierre said in a statement.

To celebrate the last 300 years of community development, the Land Trust, the Town Commons Committee, the Pejepscot Historical Society and the Brunswick Parks and Recreation Department are hosting events including a 5K race, a commemorative postage stamp release, different botanical and bird walks, a special exhibit at the historical society and more throughout June.

The celebration kicked off April 23 with the screening of a documentary on the commons done by Brunswick High School students.

There is an official commemoration ceremony at 12:30 p.m. May 19, followed by the formal opening of a special exhibit at the Pejepscot Historical Society. The exhibit will feature seven or eight large banners, an 1891 map of the property, a copy of the original deed (the original is at the Maine Historical Society), framed portraits of some of the original people involved and a “very rare” 1741 map of the home lots in Brunswick, which includes the landowners names, according to Larissa Vigue Picard, executive director of the historical society. The exhibit will also feature what St. Pierre calls a “wood cookie” — a slice of one of the trees showing how old it is, Vigue Picard said.

The history involved makes the commons “inherently tied to the development of the town,” she said.

For a full list of the 300th-anniversary events, visit the town’s website.

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