Maine is celebrating the first part of a big birthday.
Two hundred years ago, Mainers voted overwhelmingly to separate from Massachusetts and proceed to seek statehood. The vote was held July 19, 1819, and the decision announced on July 26, with 17,091 people voting yes and about 7,100 voting no.
On Tuesday, Maine Gov. Janet Mills began a bicentennial kickoff tour in the northern city of Presque Isle.
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After remarks there, she went to Bangor, where she dedicated a bench and group of trees in honor of the anniversary at Broadway Park. She was also traveling to Portland and Augusta for flag raisings.
“Tell them of the rocky coast, the rolling hills, wide farms and clean rivers,” she instructed the crowd in Bangor, sharing a message for people beyond the state’s borders about the bicentennial.
In an interview afterwards, Mills said her goal is as much to celebrate Maine’s past as begin building Maine’s future.
“We’re looking to invite new people to Maine who will expand our workforce and regenerate our spirit,” she said.
Asked what her wish list for bicentennial events would include, Mills said, “inviting the Blue Angels. It includes tall ships and a parade in Lewiston.”
Some of those events — including a time capsule, smartphone app, concert series and grants available for community projects — are finalized on the Bicentennial Committee’s schedule, others are still being locked in.
Anne Marie Orr, a Bangor business owner, said she was looking forward to the bicentennial and the recognition of her city.
She also hopes people consider Maine as a place to live, not just to spend a hot summer week.
“I want them to know it’s a safe community with a number of entrepreneurs, it really does have a fabulous small business component to it,” she said.
Business officials will bank on that through the next year, with innovation fairs planned until festivities wrap next October. Maine officially became a state in March 1820, but its bicentennial events will continue through October 2020, concluding with a statewide grand finale weekend.
In the meantime, an online merchandise store featuring bicentennial gear is open, a special Maine bicentennial flag was unveiled and a special license plate has been released.