FORT KENT, Maine — C.R. Joy didn’t start out his visit to the St. John Valley with the idea of making photographic history.

But as of Sunday afternoon, he had the boasting rights and distinction of being the first visitor to Fort Kent photographed in front of the new granite sign marking the start of U.S. Route 1.

In addition to marking the start of the 2,000-mile highway ending in Key West, Fla., the large white, gray and black granite stone debuted the town’s new slogan, “America’s First Mile.”

The slogan was the brainchild of businessman John Freeman who, together with the Marketing Fort Kent Advisory Committee, worked to secure grant funding and interest in a new monument square near the international bridge leading to Canada.

“I think this is just incredible,” Freeman said after the monument’s unveiling Sunday afternoon. “It’s really humbling to have an idea adopted by a community, [and] I hope this will benefit the community for generations to come.”

The monument replaces an old wooden sign nearby on the sidewalk, and Fort Kent’s town manager, Don Guimond, said there has been no shortage of ideas on what to do with that old sign.

Suggestions range from auctioning it off to donating it to a local historical society.

“This new sign says a lot about Fort Kent,” Guimond said. “This is not about the town, but it’s about the people in this town who always get things done.”

While no records have been kept on the number of individuals posing with the old sign, businesswoman Rita Canaan said that number is well into the thousands.

Among those past visitors was Canaan’s Florida counterpart.

“Back when I owned Bee-Jay’s [Tavern] a fellow walked in and told me he owned a tavern in Key West at the other end of Route One,” Canaan said. “He told me my bar was at the start of Route One.”

Freeman said the new marker’s design — created by local graphic artist Heidi Carter — is a perfect fit for the town.

“Fort Kent does everything first class,” he said. “It deserves a distinctive identity as America’s first mile [because] the road does not end here, it begins here.”

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.