AUGUSTA, Maine — Why is Augusta Maine’s capital city? It's not one of the larger cities or towns. In fact, much of the state may know Augusta primarily for the state capital and the Civic Center, where it holds concerts and basketball tournaments.
But the story of how it was chosen for the capitol is one that tells a lot about how the young state developed.
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Maine officially became a state on March 15, 1820, the statehood act passed by Congress and signed by President James Monroe. But after Washington had acted and statehood was a fact, Maine needed a state capital.
At first, it was in Portland, in a fairly small building near the current site of Portland City Hall.
“The largest city at the time would be the first capital,” said historian Herb Adams of Portland, “but they also knew it couldn’t stay the capital."
Adams and Maine State Historian Earle Shettleworth said those outsides of Portland thought the new government needed a more central location.
Shettleworth also said some people worried Portland could be attacked by sea, because that had happened in the past, and could easily have happened a few years earlier when British ships were just outside the harbor during the War of 1812.
“And we had just gotten over the war of 1812 and it was thought ‘not a good idea to have your capital so vulnerable'," said the historian.
So in 1822, the Legislature orders a committee to search for new locations for the capital.They received requests from Augusta, Hallowell, Wiscasset, Belfast, and Portland, said Earle Shettleworth, focusing on a place centrally located for the population at that time.
“The best offer was Augusta, which said we will give you Weston’s Hill, where the statehouse is now, and we will give you the beautiful land from Weston Hill down to the river for a state park,” Shettleworth said.
He said Augusta was even willing to help pay for the building. Despite those seeming benefits, it took five more years for the Legislature to agree on the deal. They finally did, the new State House was built and in 1832 the capital moved from Portland.
“Portland was not happy to have the big apple taken away from them,” said Adams. "Portland made many efforts to get it back."
Earle Shettleworth said there were many attempts to get the capital returned to Portland.
“Literally every legislative session from then to 1907 there was a bill to return the capital to Portland.”
Finally, after 80 years of those arguments, Maine voters passed an amendment to the Constitution to declare Augusta the permanent capital.
Two hundred years after statehood began, Maine is bigger, the State House larger. Augusta no longer really in the center. But still the center of the decisions that will shape Maine’s future.