Augusta's Statehouse and Museum
It stands to reason that one of the most interesting states in America would have a commensurately interesting statehouse. Well, reason being one of Maine’s most prized commodities, we do, in fact, have just such a statehouse in our state capital, Augusta. But if we are to start this story at the beginning, it wasn’t Augusta that was the capital. The original honor went to Portland.
Maine separated from Massachusetts and became a state in 1820, sparking a competition among a number of cities with hopes of becoming the state’s capital. Portland emerged from the original scrum with the title. However, history tells us that the city of Augusta then wrested the honor from Portland without so much as a bloodless coup. In fact, it was blue ink that sealed the deal – from a quill pen in the hand of a gentleman named Lincoln. Enoch Lincoln, governor of Maine who signed the official bill in 1832. A 35-acre parcel stretching from Old Hollowell Road to the Kennebec River was chosen as the building site. Next on the agenda, a builder.
Perhaps it was due to a certain degree of separation anxiety, but Maine turned once again to Massachusetts for not only the inspiration but the actual architect of the esteemed statehouse in Boston, one Charles Bullfinch. Needless to say, Mr. Bullfinch knew a good thing when he had one going. Thus he based his design for the new Maine statehouse on the successful model in Massachusetts.
$139,000 could buy a lot of house in 1830s New England. From the laying of the cornerstone on July 4, 1829, through three years of spirited construction and decorating, that was, in fact, the total cost of making the Bullfinch vision a reality. Built with granite from the nearby Hallowell quarries, Maine’s new statehouse featured a facing of handsome archways, impressive columns and a noble cupola to top it all off. In other words, it was the state-of-the-art statehouse. In the coming years, a number of enhancements would be made, including a remodeling of the interior in 1852, the addition of a sweeping three-story wing in 1890 and a major makeover in 1909 that resulted in the present-day exterior appearance of the building. A gilt copper statue of the Roman Goddess of Wisdom became the crowning jewel of the soaring new dome. If you ever get up that high and want to introduce yourself, just call her Minerva.
The rest, as they say, is history. A history commensurate, of course, with being one of the nation’s most interesting states. And traveling back into Maine’s fascinating history is as easy as strolling a few hundred feet directly south from the capitol building to the Maine State Museum. Along with the statehouse, the museum is a must-see for Augusta visitors. From our three-story water-powered woodworking mill to a 12,000-year-old look into Maine’s Paleo-Indian culture to Maine’s moon rock and the state flag that was carried on Apollo 17, the State Museum is proof that Maine keeps getting more and more interesting with every passing year. At least that’s the conventional wisdom, according to Minerva.