What a timely column by Douglas Rooks about the newly elected Mills administration and Legislature coming to Augusta (“The governor and Augusta,” Nov. 8). Rooks is correct to emphasize the need for the state to include Augusta in its plans for the coming term because of how dependent Augusta has become on the presence of state government ever since the departure of the mills from the city.

I really liked the fact that Rooks identified the lack of consideration given to the city when the state plans the locations of agencies, one example from the past being the failure to relocate the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to Augusta by not considering the positive economic impact such a move would have made in this community.

Augusta, as Rooks points out, is no longer a mill town. It is now a retail destination, but more importantly it is the capital of the state of Maine, a fact that brings both benefits and problems to the city. Along with the lobbyists and the state workers who come, the capital draws its share of visitors who do business with the state or testify at legislative hearings. There are also the many tourists who visit the Capitol dome and the Maine State Museum, some of whom may also stop in at Old Fort Western if they are aware of it.

Besides the normal business of creating new laws, this incoming 129th Legislature and administration will also have the unique responsibility of representing the state of Maine and the city of Augusta to the large group of visitors expected to come to the state in 2020 during Maine’s 200th anniversary of becoming a state.

The 128th Legislature passed a bill to establish the State of Maine Bicentennial Commission to explore Maine’s history, to celebrate Maine’s people, and to enhance Maine’s future prosperity. I am proud to have submitted several names of obscure but deserving Mainers for consideration for induction into the future Maine Hall of Fame — now being developed — for their outstanding personal achievements within and outside of Maine’s borders. Hopefully, the commission will concur with my submissions. But more importantly, and for the benefit of the city of Augusta, I would hope that the commission will recommend creating an actual Maine Hall of Fame museum within the city limits as the proper venue for highlighting outstanding Mainers, thereby giving the local economy a boost from hosting such a tourist attraction.

Toward that end, I respectfully recommend that the state reacquire the former Kennebec Arsenal, a facility listed on the National Register of Historic Places that is located directly across the Kennebec River from the Capitol, and which was built simultaneously with the Capitol between 1829 and 1832. Kennebec Arsenal should become the home of the future Maine Hall of Fame.

Augusta was named state capital in 1827, but it truly became the capital in 1832, when the Legislature convened for the first time in the new Capitol in January. The Arsenal’s proximity to the Capitol made Augusta the headquarters for the U.S. Army during the Aroostook War in 1838, which ended with the signing of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty in 1842, settling the boundary between Canada and the United States. The Arsenal’s location also made Capitol Park the site of the headquarters for Maine’s troops who were being readied to head off to fight in the Civil War in the 1860s. No site in Maine represents Maine’s military history better than the Kennebec Arsenal.

This historic site deserves better treatment than to be allowed to fall into disrepair, as it has been doing ever since the state sold it to a North Carolina developer in 2007. The facility deserves to be preserved for future generations, and there is no better way to do that than to turn it into the Maine Hall of Fame. Maine residents, and especially those from Augusta, need to urge their legislators to support such an investment in Maine history, as well as to help Augusta renew itself with a tourist-based economy.

For too long, Augusta has been looked down on by those from around the state who say that Augusta benefits unfairly from being the capital, when the opposite is true. It’s time for the state of Maine to contribute to Augusta’s economy instead of causing harm by not recognizing the impact the state has on the local economy.

Prosperity in Maine should begin at home. Maine should begin that effort by helping the locality that hosts the seat of government. It’s time for Maine to help Augusta.

Paul Lessard was born and raised in Augusta, and lived there for more than 50 years. He now lives in Belgrade.

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