Bowdoinham was incorporated in 1763 because the townspeople didn’t like the way they were being treated or taxed by the Plymouth Company — a governing-commercial body which controlled the Topsham-Bowdoinham region. Defying the company, the independent people on the shores of the Kennebec set up their own town and ran it the way they chose. Now, 200 years later, Bowdoinham citizens are still running their own town as independently as ever. They have set aside five days next week, starting with the Fourth of July, to properly celebrate Bowdoinham’s 200th birthday.
The fact the doings coincide with America’s anniversary of independence is not mere coincidence, for independence above all else is the quality which gives Bowdoinham its unique character. Not to be confused with blind stubbornness, the independence of Bowdoinham is a rare combination of backbone and community pride. Now home for some 1,000 souls, the community has waxed and waned since 1762. It was at its prosperous peak during the days of “frozen gold” when ice cut from the then pure Kennebec was in demand all over the world.
Since those days, Bowdoinham’s fortunes have slipped, but its backbone has stiffened. No one can tell what lies ahead for the town, but only one who did not know Bowdoinham would predict anything but success.
Past performances show why. When they needed a school in the 1950’s, the townspeople got together and built it. They cut the lumber, drove the nails, sewed the curtains and put cash on the line. Just as they had done in 1762, the people of Bowdoinham stayed away from outside control. They borrowed no money from the state, not from federal agencies in Washington, (a city, by the way, still regarded with much suspicion in Bowdoinham.)
Shortly after building the school, townspeople were asked to spend their tax money to set up a modern water district, and they did. But they have voted down zoning, and if it had been up to Bowdoinham Republicans, Peter Garland would still be a candidate.
The people of Bowdoinham are proud, conservative, and self-sacrificing. They are curious about ideas from the outside, but bold and fearless when it comes to making home-grown plans a success. And they’ll fly their banners of independence in the teeth of the strongest gale.
Somehow the combination has worked. Somehow the little town has preserved the best of the principles for which this nation’s first Independence Day was wrung from history. It’s too late now to go back and make over every American town in Bowdoinham’s image. It’s not not only too late, but such a transformation would erase much that is good. The responsibilities of world leadership no longer permit this nation the luxury of Bowdoinham independence.
Still, it’s nice to have Bowdoinham to leaven such loaves as the megalopolis, the population explosion and “creeping socialism,” as they say up there. You’ll find it a refreshing place to visit, and there will be a lot going on during the bicentennial celebration. There can be few better ways to observe the Fourth of July then in this Maine town where every child is born with the word “Independence” on his lips.
Direct link to article: http://www.bowdoinhamhistoricalsociety.org/articles-bicentennial-celebration