Falmouth 300: A chance to look back, forward

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FALMOUTH — The Tercentennial Committee has a simple message: Falmouth is a great place to be.

And it hopes to send that message as the town commemorates its 300th anniversary with a variety of events intended to celebrate Falmouth’s past, present and future.

Marge Devine, chairwoman of the planning committee, said she hopes people use the 300th to develop a “deeper understanding and knowledge of how Falmouth evolved from a wilderness settlement to the lovely place that offers so much today.”

Devine has lived in Falmouth her whole life and is descended from one of the original families. Falmouth, which also used to include the communities of Portland, South Portland, Cape Elizabeth and Westbrook, was officially incorporated on Nov. 11, 1718.

At that time the settlement was known as New Casco and later the whole territory became known as Falmouth. Throughout the late 1700s and early 1800s the various communities began to break off, until Falmouth, as it stands today, was left with the name in 1814.

The first settler in the area was Arthur Mackworth, who came in the 1630s. From then on, until all the Casco Bay settlements were abandoned in 1690 following the destruction of Fort Loyal by French Canadian forces, the area began to grow.

Devine said the attraction was that Falmouth was “a seaport town and a lumber center.” She said as the town developed there were three distinct areas, which to some extent still exist today: the Foreside, Falmouth Corner and West Falmouth.

Devine, who is writing a book on Falmouth’s colonial period, said the Foreside was dedicated to fishing and marine pursuits, while the interior of town was more focused on forestry, agricultural and dairy farming.

The first signature event of the 300th anniversary year, Falmouth Fest and Old Home Days, was held last weekend, when between 900 and 1,000 people showed up to take part.

The goal, according to Devine and Erin Bishop Cadigan, the town’s tercentennial coordinator, was to remember Falmouth’s frontier days and also to help people understand and appreciate the civic accomplishments that have made the town what it is today.

Devine said she sees the whole 300th celebration as a way “to show our gratitude for the town we all love. I would hope that people would use the tercentennial as a guide to look back with pride and to be introspective about what we’re doing right now and how we can improve.”

Overall, she said, “I want the 300th to help us continue that sense of community spirit that’s always been part of Falmouth.”

Cadigan said she hopes the 300th “will be a truly memorable event to all in town. We wanted to expand beyond the history and also showcase what Falmouth is now. We’ve had a wonderful response and I think every organization and community group in town has been involved in some way.”

Cadigan also said that “attendance has been great” at just about every 300th event, which include an ongoing speaker series, a traveling history exhibit, a digital time capsule, a monthly Donate 300 Challenge and more.

“What’s nice about this whole celebration is that there are so many opportunities and so many ways to participate,” she said. “I really see the 300th as a way to build bridges between generations and different parts of town.”

The next signature event will be the Community Picnic & Street Dance scheduled for Aug. 8. Also, throughout the month of June there will be other 300th-related activities, including a Parks and Open Space Tour on June 12, the Peony Bloom Ice Cream Social at Maine Audubon on June 20, and the concerts in the park kickoff on June 25.

Devine said she can remember a Falmouth where there was no television, kids used to swim at Mussel Cove as a way to cool off after picking beans all day and Route 1 didn’t exist.

Falmouth’s continued rural character is one reason the Ancona family moved to town two years ago from Chicago.

Tom Ancona said the original attraction to Maine was the ability to “have a better work-life balance” and said Falmouth “seemed great because of its amazing access to nature, close proximity to Portland and wonderful schools.”

In addition, he said, “Living in a home with a yard, with woods close by and being able to get a dog were (also top) priorities.”

What has surprised both Ancona and his wife, Laura, is that the town, especially their Middle Road neighborhood, is “socio-economically mixed (and) our neighbors (include) younger families and retirees.”

“I have a lot to learn from our neighbors who have been in the area for a long time (and) the tercentennial is a great way to do that,” Ancona said.

Laura Ancona said for her the draw of Falmouth is the “school system and its general location in relation to Portland and other surrounding communities. Being close to Route 88 is nice, too, because we can take nice walks with a view of the ocean.”

In addition, she said, “I continue to be surprised by how many people I meet in various capacities who are also Falmouth residents. Everyone is so nice and it’s a very welcoming, friendly community.”

When asked what she most likes about living in Falmouth, Ancona said, “If I had to choose one thing, it would be the people.”

This story has been updated to correct the date of the next 300th signature event.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Erin Bishop Cadigan, left, Falmouth’s tercentennial coordinator, and Marge Devine, chairwoman of the Tercentennial Committee, hope people use the celebration of the town’s 300th anniversary to “look back with pride.”

Laura and Tom Ancona moved to Falmouth two years ago, partly because the town has maintained its rural character but also because of its proximity to Portland.