Topsham 250th to wrap with time capsule, fireworks

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TOPSHAM — The town’s year-long 250th birthday celebration, which received a less-enthusiastic response than organizers expected, will end with a bang: a fireworks show and bonfire on New Year’s Eve.

The steering committee’s co-chairman this week said he he wished the various events throughout the year had received stronger support, particularly compared with the 1964 bicentennial.

The celebration wraps up at the Topsham Fairgrounds, in front of the Exhibition Hall, on Wednesday, Dec. 31. Horse-drawn wagon rides will be offered from 6:15-8:15 p.m., a bonfire will start at 6:30 p.m., and fireworks will go off at 8:30 p.m.

Hot cocoa and music will be provided.

The event bookends the year-long celebration, which began with a bonfire last Jan. 1.

“That really got us excited, because (that) event was well-attended, it was popular, people had a great time; they were saying we should do this every year,” Steve Edmondson, co-chairman of the steering committee with Mike Labbe, said Monday.

But then interest appeared to wane, according to Edmondson.

The steering committee, which had worked since 2012 to organize the celebration, recently met for the final time. Edmondson said he thanked the committee members for the work they put in this year, adding that although he was disappointed by the lack of attention the celebration got from the community and businesses, it did not diminish the group’s efforts.

“We all did put in a lot of work,” he said Monday, although it was not reflected “by the numbers of attendees to the different events. Nonetheless, we are proud of what we did.”

Those events included a Celtic festival in May, to celebrate Topsham’s Scottish-Irish history; monthly lectures by the town’s historical society at the Topsham Public Library, and a weekend celebration in October with a barn dance, music, a 5K run and balloon rides.

Edmondson on Thursday, Dec. 18, was scheduled to present a time capsule to the Board of Selectmen, to be opened in 2064 during Topsham’s 300th birthday. Much of its contents include memorabilia from this year, he said: event posters, a commemorative coin, photos, and the 1964 bicentennial booklet.

An online “party” with Topsham’s English namesake fell through due to technological issues, Edmondson said.  It was to have been called “Two Topshams, Two Bridges, Two Pubs,” and would have allowed residents of the Topshams here and in the county of Devon, England, to share a drink at the same time via an Internet video link.

Even though he wasn’t in Topsham in 1964, Edmondson said he has come to understand that well-received event from its book, and from talking with people who participated. Topsham has changed much in the past 50 years, the former town selectman said.

“We’re no longer the little bedroom community that we were back then,” he said. “We’re now a thriving community with a lot of people from away. … So many new people have come to the area, and they just don’t have that connection with the town, that historical lifetime connection, that some of the old-timers might have. And I think that might have contributed to some of our lack of turnout.”

Plus there’s a lot going on around the area. The steering committee postponed until October its long-planned July weekend festivities, due to competition from well-established annual summertime events like Bath Heritage Days and the Yarmouth Clam Festival.

But as 2014 draws to a close, Edmondson is looking forward to the final event.

“Weather permitting, we think it’s going to have a great turnout,” he said, “because no one else does fireworks on New Year’s Eve that I’m aware of in the general area.”

And there’s the time capsule, too, to be opened the next time Topsham may attempt a year-long birthday celebration.

“We’re hoping that will be something that, at least 50 years from now, the committee then will have fun with,” Edmondson said.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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Topsham’s 250th anniversary year began with the bang of fireworks and the warmth of a bonfire at the Topsham Fairgrounds on New Year’s Eve, 2013. The town’s year-long sestercentennial will wrap up Dec. 31 with another bonfire and fireworks display.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.