BANGOR, Maine — The city of Bangor turns 175 years old next week.
Or is it 218?
No, wait, it’s 240, I’m sure of it; that’s when Jacob Buswell and the first settlers arrived, right, 1769?
Hold on. Didn’t explorer Samuel de Champlain, on his way to Quebec City, stop in the Bangor area more than 400 years ago?
Some historians insist Estevan Gomez first came up the Penobscot River to Bangor 80 years before that in 1525.
This is confusing.
The point is: Bangor has many historical dates that could be considered birthdays.
Today’s city leaders have chosen to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors in using Bangor’s incorporation as a city — Feb. 12, 1834 — as the official birthday.
“All of our dates are important,” City Council Chairman Gerry Palmer said this week. “We’re only celebrating what our forebears celebrated.”
The city has planned a party, complete with bonfire, cake and refreshments and live music, for Thursday, Feb. 12, at Bass Park and inside the Bangor Auditorium. The events will start at 5 p.m. and continue through 9 p.m. and are free to the public.
It’s not much, said Palmer, but it’s a chance to bring the community together without spending a giant sum of money.
“We’d love to have the money they had in 1959 or 1984,” the mayor said, referring to Bangor’s 125th and 150th birthdays, respectively. “But given these economic times, it’s an important time to keep morale and community spirit alive, and we can do that even with a small budget.”
“It wouldn’t have seemed right to not do something,” added Councilor Susan Hawes. “We understand that people have a lot of tough choices to make. We hope this is a chance for people to put that on hold and celebrate that quality of place and sense of neighborhood this city has.”
Next Thursday is meant to kick off an entire year of events that incorporate Bangor’s birthday. Because finances are on everyone’s mind, the city hopes to dovetail with a number of events that already are in the works.
“We want to make our presence felt without spending a lot of money,” said Jane Robbins-Teel, an administrator with the city manager’s office who serves on the celebration committee.
The city has even developed 175th birthday T-shirts that will be available next week for $10.
A number of agencies have partnered with the city to plan the 175th celebration, including the Greater Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“Part of what we’re seeing here at the CVB is that people are looking at their own backyard differently,” said executive director Kerrie Tripp. “It’s been a long time since we had a traditional bonfire. I think it will be fun.”
Gov. John Baldacci, a Bangor native, is expected to attend the festivities on Feb. 12, as are members of the city’s legislative delegation. Steven Butterfield, a newly elected state representative from Bangor, is in the process of planning a “Bangor Day” at the State House on Thursday, March 19.
“I’m organizing events all day in Augusta to showcase Bangor as part of the 175th anniversary of the city’s founding this year,” he said.
In recent weeks, there has been some debate over Bangor’s incorporation date, so let’s clear that up.
When permanent settlers landed in Bangor, Maine was still part of Massachusetts. In 1791, the Rev. Seth Noble traveled to Boston on behalf of 500 or so residents to incorporate Bangor as a town. John Hancock, then-governor of Massachusetts, even signed legislation to that effect.
When Maine became its own state in 1820, Bangor was a growing hub. The need for increased services led to Bangor’s incorporation as a city in 1834.
That’s how the city arrived at its birthday, Palmer said, but he doesn’t intend to overlook the efforts of Noble and others who came before.
Palmer will recognize Bangor’s Charter Day — not birthday — at a City Council meeting on Feb. 23.
As for the festivities next week and in the months to come, he said they are, quite simply, “an opportunity to commemorate our history, remember those who have come before us and recognize our accomplishments.”
On The Web
A summary of Bangor’s history may be found on the city’s Web site: www.bangormaine.gov/vb_history.php