Two hundred years ago this month, men of property and promise voted to separate from Massachusetts, paving the way for Maine to become a state in 1820.

On Tuesday, Gov. Janet Mills toured the state via helicopter, launching a 15-month celebration of Maine’s 200th anniversary at kickoff events in Presque Isle, Bangor, Portland and Augusta.

Mills noted that Maine’s bicentennial would be one of many celebrations in 2020, including the 100th anniversary of national women’s suffrage. And she offered hope that she might succeed in convincing the National Governors Association to host its annual summer meeting in Maine next year for the first time since 1983.

“Lotta parties going on,” Mills said as she began her address before a crowd gathered in Deering Oaks in sweltering heat Tuesday afternoon.

Organized by the Maine Bicentennial Commission, the kickoff events also promoted the availability of $375,000 in grants that cities and towns can apply for to support local programs and events commemorating the bicentennial.

Among a smattering of references to historical figures and allusions to Maine’s rugged natural beauty, Mills described the Maine 200 events as a celebration of the state’s past and future.

She mentioned Thomas Hyde, the Civil War general who founded Bath Iron Works, and Cornelia “Fly Rod” Crosby, who became the first female Maine Guide in 1897. And she noted the students who protested at the State House in favor of climate action.

Gov. Janet Mills and Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling finish the ceremonial planting of the Tricentennial Pine Grove during a kickoff of Maine’s bicentennial in Deering Oaks on Tyesday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“They are the leaders of tomorrow who, like generations of Mainers before them, rise above the doubts of others to find a new and better way,” Mills said.

She called on Mainers to trumpet their love for their home state.

“Tell them of the rocky coast and the rolling hills, the wide farms and clean rivers, the fresh foods and the coolest of lagers, and the jobs, the excitement and friendships we offer here in our state,” Mills said.

Other speakers included Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling, who pointed out that Portland was the first capital of Maine before it was moved north to Augusta in 1832. He noted the recent influx of asylum seekers from the southern U.S. border, saying that Maine became the state it is “because of immigrants who came from all over the world.”

Allan Monga, an asylum seeker from Zambia who was Maine’s Poetry Out Loud winner in 2018, read “My Lost Youth,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s tribute to his boyhood growing up in Portland.

State Sen. Bill Diamond of Windham, chairman of the bicentennial commission, announced a variety of programs and events planned for the celebration in 2020, including a statewide Statehood Weekend on March 14 and 15; the Maine Bicentennial Parade hosted by Lewiston-Auburn on May 16; and a statewide Grand Finale Weekend on Oct. 9-12.

Events encompass a wide range of subjects, including the contributions of the Wabanaki people who lived here for millennia before European settlers arrived.

Statehood Weekend will mark the 200th anniversary of Maine’s official recognition as a state, albeit as part of a hard-fought political compromise that enraged many abolitionists.

On July 26, 1819, voters in the District of Maine decided overwhelmingly to separate from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The vote was 17,091 to 7,132 opposed.

Maine officially became an independent state on March 15, 1820, with the passage of the Missouri Compromise, which admitted Maine as a free state along with Missouri as a slave state. It also divided the Louisiana Territory into free and slave areas and laid the dividing line for future free and slave states.

Mills, Diamond and Strimling helped to plant a small white pine, the state tree, in the Tricentennial Pine Grove, commemorating Maine’s first 200 years and its next 100 years.

Diamond also explained the Maine 200 grants, which can be used to sponsor lectures, storytelling workshops, parades, fairs, festivals, history projects, curriculum development, student projects, concerts, performances and arts projects, to name a few options. Any Maine community nonprofit, state, city or local government, or school can apply for grant money.

Projects that reflect themes such as what it means to be a Mainer, what it is like to do business and work in Maine, and Maine’s leadership role in national affairs are encouraged. There are three grant application deadlines, with the first set for Sept. 1.

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