Bath City Councilor Sean Paulhus was an advocate for having the land in front of and around the city’s Customs House designated William King Square, a nod to Maine’s first governor, whose house once stood on that Front Street property. The City Council approved Paulhus’ resolution Jan. 8. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

BATH — William King Square – named for Maine’s first governor and a longtime Bath resident – is back, just in time for Maine’s bicentennial.

The City Council on Jan. 8 unanimously approved Councilor Sean Paulhus’ proposed resolution to establish the square in the area in front of and around the Customs House at 1 Front St. King’s house sat on the property for more than 50 years when he lived in the City of Ships. Following his death in 1852, the city moved the building to what is now the Sagadahoc Bridge off-ramp, in order to build the Customs House.

“This location has historic meaning (regarding) King’s life and the history of Bath and the state,” Paulhus said Jan. 9. Doing research on King – a hero of Paulhus’ since his Ohio college days, when he came upon a book about Maine becoming a state – the councilor found references in old newspapers to a William King Square.

That designation faded into obscurity after King’s house – at one point the King Tavern – was torn down to make way for the bridge, Paulhus said. But with 2020 rolling around, the time seemed right to restore the name.

“With the bicentennial this year, (I thought) it would be a good way to start the remembrance here in Bath,” he said. A sign marking the square will be installed.

It’s Paulhus’ latest effort to spread awareness of King, whom he credits with having a crucial role in shaping Bath and helping Maine become a state. He pushed to establish March 16, the day after Maine’s statehood anniversary, as an annual day of observance for King. While still in college in 2006, he commissioned a portrait of King that now hangs at City Hall.

Born in 1768 in Scarborough, while Maine was still part of Massachusetts, King lived in Topsham before moving to Bath in 1800, and represented first one town then the other in the Massachusetts Legislature. His home overlooked the Kennebec River, on which his merchant fleet was docked.

King was an ardent supporter of Maine statehood, presiding over the District of Maine’s constitutional convention in 1819. Maine became the 23rd state the next year, but King’s governorship was cut short in 1821 when President James Monroe tapped him to be a special minister to settle a territory claims treaty with Spain.

But Bath continued to be home, and King’s contributions there included establishing the South Church and the Bath Bank, and serving as customs collector from 1829-34. A monument at Maple Grove Cemetery marks his grave.

Amanda McDaniel, executive director of Main Street Bath, admitted Jan. 9 that she hadn’t heard much about King prior to her time with the city, but she’s enjoyed the learning experience.

“The William King piece (of Bath’s history) is pretty spectacular,” she said. “The more that we can shout about that, and learn a little bit more about his life and why he chose to live here, will sort of echo … why we are all here as well.”

A century-old photo of a massive downtown gathering inspired McDaniel to hold a block party there this summer. Front Street will be closed to vehicles Aug. 9 for the occasion and McDaniel hopes to capture as many people as possible in a photo to be taken by a flying drone.

Putting the new square to good use, Main Street Bath looks to plant a time capsule in the yard following the block party. Other activities on the horizon commemorating Maine’s milestone include a historical trolley tour around the city this summer; a baked bean supper at various locations March 14, the day before Maine’s 200th birthday; and the planned June launch of the Virginia, the reconstruction of a small ship built at the Popham Colony in 1607-08. While the latter isn’t necessarily a bicentennial event, it does hearken back to a Bath-area first, McDaniel noted.

The next bicentennial planning meeting is to be held at City Hall at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 21, and is open to all interested in participating. A schedule of events is to be posted at visitbath.com next month.


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