AUGUSTA — With the dedication of the William Payson Viles Tricentennial Pine Grove on Tuesday, Maine’s capital city launched its bicentennial celebration of Maine’s separation from Massachusetts.

For the next nine months, until the 200th anniversary of its statehood in March 2020, events across Maine will celebrate its history and the achievements of its residents.

“On behalf of the city of Augusta, we are proud to be one of the sites across the state of Maine to kick this off,”  Mayor David Rollins said in his opening remarks near the pine grove in Mill Park at the end of Canal Street.

Rollins welcomed Gov. Janet Mills and members of the Maine Bicentennial Commission on the final stop of a trip that also took them to Presque Isle, Bangor and Portland.

“We are looking forward to celebrating our state’s history and our role in it,” Rollins said to a group of more than 100 people gathered there. “And we’re looking forward to what I know is an incredible future ahead. Augusta has a lot to celebrate and show off to the rest of the state and to the nation in the year 2020,  from where we have come to who we are now and how we are transformed. We have become more diverse. This gives us strength.”

In her remarks, Mills honored the contributions of the countless people who have contributed to building the state.

“For more than 200 years, the sons and daughters of Maine, with courage in the souls and kindness in their hearts and iron resolve and an unshakable independent spirit, have built this state and led the nation in so many ways,” Mills said

“On the eve of this bicentennial year as we gather to celebrate this milestone and to reflect on our history, let us also take sure and steady steps into our future, a future where every person can work and live in a state that they love with boundless opportunity for their friends and families,” Mills said.

Maine has a proud history, and its bicentennial celebration gives its residents the chance to honor it, she said, and to recommit themselves to the values that have shaped the state and its people, she said.

Will Lund, speaking on behalf of the Lund and Viles families, paid tribute to his grandfather William Payson Viles, who built and ran his businesses from his home on Stone Street, and who with his wife were philanthropists, and to his mother Sylvia Viles Lund, who raised six children, served on both the local and state school boards and served both on the Augusta City Council and in the state legislature.

“This is a symbolic spot for our families,” Lund said. “White pines, representing my grandfather’s timber business. The Kennebec River, representing 150 years of the lifeline of the timber business here in the state of Maine. The river served as conduit for logs coming downstream and it powered the mills. Today it stands as another symbol, that of conservation.”

Lund said his grandfather and mother would like to thank the officials and city workers who made the dedication possible.

“When I think what my mother and grandfather would want us to do, I would say they want us to celebrate the bicentennial, celebrate the dedication of this,” he said.

Tuesday’s event was scheduled to take place as close as possible to July 26, the date in 1819 when voters decided by a greater than 2-to-1 margin to separate the District of Maine from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Maine was made a state in March 1820 as part of the Missouri Compromise, a move that preserved slavery in the states were it already existed.

The ceremony included the Augusta Maine Police Color Guard and cannon discharges at the beginning and end of the festivities by the James Howard Company, a living history re-enactment unit based out of Augusta’s Fort Western, which dates back to 1754 and is on the National Historic Landmark.

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