This military parade in downtown Portland was part of the 1920 celebration of 100 years of Maine statehood and included the bands and crew from four naval vessels. Maine’s Bicentennial Parade will be May 16 in Lewiston-Auburn. Collections of Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

It was likely, even logical, that Maine would become a state in 1820.

A frontier region of Massachusetts since 1652, the District of Maine had come into its own since the Revolutionary War. The population was nearing 300,000 in established towns and fledgling villages scattered from York to Bangor to Eastport.

Fishing, shipbuilding, farming and lumbering were fueling the kind of economic, social and political development that made people think statehood was possible, even necessary. It took several ballots over four years, but finally, in July 1819, Mainers voted to separate.

Maine’s geography – the massive, easternmost outpost of the United States, jutting up into British-held Canada and clearly separated from Massachusetts by New Hampshire – helped to forge a state identity that’s been associated with independent thought and leadership ever since.

“We were maturing as a significant entity in our own right,” said Earle G. Shettleworth Jr., Maine state historian. “It was inevitable that Maine would become a state in the 19th century.”

Maine’s history, unique identity and pride of place will be celebrated in events planned throughout 2020 to mark the bicentennial of becoming a state on March 15, 1820.

Officially kicked off last July, the Maine 200 schedule includes several signature events: Statehood Day celebration in Augusta on March 15; Bicentennial Parade in Lewiston-Auburn on May 16; Tall Ships Festival with multiple ports of call from June 26 to July 19; and Maine Innovation Expo in Bangor on Oct. 10-12.

While Maine is usually a popular tourist destination, the bicentennial celebration prompted the Lonely Planet travel website to rank Maine No. 4 among its top 20 places in the world to visit in 2020.

The U.S. Postal Service will join Statehood Day festivities in 2020 when it releases a commemorative stamp in honor of Maine’s bicentennial, featuring Edward Hopper’s 1914 painting “Sea at Ogunquit.”

And for the first time since 1983, the National Governors Association will hold its 2020 Summer Meeting in Portland on Aug. 5-7, as a result of some prodding from Gov. Janet Mills.

One event that’s expected to attract crowds for weeks is the Bicentennial Tall Ships Festival. The largest event of its kind to be held in Maine, the nearly monthlong festival will bring tall ships from around the world to coastal communities from Portland to Castine.

“It’s going to be spectacular,” said Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, chairman of the Maine Bicentennial Commission.

The festival will begin in Boothbay on June 26 and continue in Rockland on July 2-4; Bangor and Brewer on July 8-10; Bucksport on July 10-12; Castine, Searsport and Belfast on July 12-14; and Portland on July 15-19.

Each host port will offer dockside access to ships and feature related activities on land. Portland will host a Parade of Sail on July 16, with vessels conducting sail-away excursions through July 19.

BICENTENNIAL PARADE AND BAND

In the planning stages for months, all of the scheduled bicentennial events will require continued preparation and increased public participation to be truly successful, Diamond said.

“We’ve been planning this for two years,” Diamond said. “We’re trying to discover all we can about Maine’s past, appreciate who we are today and influence who we will be in the future.”

The commission is encouraging statewide participation in all events, especially the State of Maine Bicentennial Parade, which will be similar to the centennial parade that was held in Portland in 1920.

Gov. Mills is expected to serve as grand marshal and all living former governors will be invited to join her at the head of the parade through Lewiston and Auburn, Diamond said.

The parade committee is accepting applications for floats, bands and other participants through a special parade website at maine200parade.com. Vendors and volunteers also can apply via the parade site.

The theme of the parade is broad – Celebrate Maine – giving participants great flexibility in how they choose to honor the various peoples and cultures of Maine’s past, present and future.

The parade will feature an intergenerational State of Maine Bicentennial Marching Band, to be filled with musicians from every county and led by John Neal, music director at the Snow Pond Arts Academy.

Organizers hope hundreds of Mainers sign up to participate in the statewide band, anticipating that it would be an awesome thing to see and hear.

“If you’ve played in a band and have an instrument – even if you haven’t played for years – we’re looking for you.” said Kristen Muszynski, a commission spokeswoman.

Members of the statewide band must be age 13 or older. Musicians must memorize two pieces of music to be selected by the parade committee, attend at least two rehearsals and march in the parade.

Regional and full-group practices will include both marching and music performance, Muszynski said. Practice dates, locations and other bicentennial band information will be announced in February.

Organizers also are trying to schedule a bicentennial concert featuring the Portland and Bangor symphony orchestras, to be held in central Maine in early fall 2020, Diamond said.

BICENTENNIAL PROJECT GRANTS

The commission also is accepting applications for grants to help community groups celebrate 200 years of statehood. Second and third rounds of grants will be awarded Feb. 1 and June 1.

The commission is seeking projects that reflect living and working in Maine through the centuries, as well as the concepts of Maine as the home of great leaders and of the stalwart Maine character.

“I think most Mainers are good and true to the core,” Diamond said. “When I’m traveling, I tell people I’m from Maine with tremendous pride, and I think we are known for being honest, decent people.”

It’s a reputation that goes back centuries, including when Mainers helped to found the Republican Party under President Abraham Lincoln that opposed slavery and held the nation together through the Civil War.

“We have excelled in many areas,” said Shettleworth, the state historian. “We have had outstanding leaders who embodied the state motto, Dirigo, which means ‘I lead,’ and brought that leadership to the national level.”

The tally of Maine leaders who went national includes Hannibal Hamlin, who became vice president under Lincoln; Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, a Republican who served more than three decades in Congress from 1940 to 1973; Edmund Muskie, a Democrat who was secretary of state under President Jimmy Carter; and former Sen. George Mitchell, another Democrat who served as Senate majority leader and helped to negotiate peace in Northern Ireland.

All projects that receive bicentennial grants must involve some aspect of public participation. Projects could range from developing a bicentennial-based school curriculum or holding a bicentennial community concert, to organizing a bicentennial-themed art exhibit or digitizing historical town records.

The commission set aside $375,000 to distribute as grants. All funds must be expended by March 30, 2021. All grant recipients must write a brief report summarizing how funds were used and provide a photo of their activity to be shared by the commission via social media and other bicentennial promotional materials.

THE NEXT 200 YEARS

In laying out goals for the bicentennial projects, the commission said they should reflect the diversity of Mainers who have contributed to the state through the years, encompassing various racial, tribal, gender, geographic and socioeconomic groups.

The commission also said bicentennial projects should spotlight community leaders, artwork and products from the past, while showcasing the emerging generation of artists, creators and innovators.

And they should help Mainers “better understand key sustainability issues for Maine’s future, including demographics, environment, energy and more.”

One future-oriented bicentennial event is the State of Maine Innovation Exposition in Bangor on Oct. 10-12, which is Indigenous Peoples’ Day weekend.

The expo will showcase “world-class ingenuity and expertise” among Maine’s businesses and academic institutions. Interactive displays will feature innovation from Maine’s industrial sectors, including shipbuilding, forest products, aquaculture, agriculture, military defense, research and technology.

Beyond celebrating the bicentennial, the expo is intended to show that Maine is well positioned for a prosperous future, and encourage young people to live and work here.

“You need to know where you’ve been to know where you are today and where you are going tomorrow,” said Shettleworth. “Hopefully, as we celebrate 200 years of statehood, we can inspire future generations.”

This story was updated at 10:35 a.m. on Dec. 29, 2019, to correct the date of the State of Maine Bicentennial Parade. 

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