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You don't have to drive around much of Maine before concluding that we haven't built many cities in the three- or four-hundred years we've been building things in these parts. We've cut down a few-trillion trees and built lots of boats. We've moved millions of yards of sand and gravel and built tens of thousands of miles of roads. And we've also built a lot of small towns and quaint village. In fact, some Maine towns insisted on having three or four quaint villages within their borders just for good measure. But like I said, we haven't done many cities.
In fact, people from away often find it hard to believe that Portland - the largest city we've managed to build so far - only has about 60-thousand residents, give or take a few. And, not to change the subject, but if you're in the mood for 'taking' there are probably more than a few of those 60-thousand souls that Portland's police chief, would be more than willing to give away.
But I digress.
Some visitors might wonder why our cities are so few. Those who try to explain Maine's status as an urban-challenged region of the country come up with reasons like: Well, you have to understand that Maine has never had enough people to make for a decent sized city. Indecent ones we can build, decent ones we can't.
They say in the 19th-century just when our population was beginning to grow and large cities were a distinct possibility here in Maine, our farmers began to hear about all the dark, rich farmland in the mid-west that was available for the asking, so close to half our farmers packed up and moved to the mid-west so they could ask for some.
For generations Maine farmers had been tilling our hilly, rocky fields and had little to show for their efforts but miles and miles of picturesque stone walls and stacks of unpaid bills. In fact, in those days Maine merchants used to say there were two types of Maine farmers: the slow pay and the no pay.
Now, under normal circumstances - whatever they are - those poor Maine farmers would have moved to Maine’s cities and swelled their populations considerably. But when all that mid-west farm land became available many of our farmers left the state. What’s more, many poor city dwellers decided to pack up and leave, too, so our small Maine cities got even smaller.
The only good thing that resulted from all that packing and moving was that as our towns and villages got smaller they became much more quaint and all that excess quaintness created places like York and Yarmouth and Boothbay Harbor and Camden. Further Down East all that over-flowing quaintness helped make Bar Harbor, Milbridge and Jonesport.
Once word of those quaint Maine towns began to spread, the first people from away started arriving and they started buying up as much local color and Maine quaintness as they could afford.
Turns out most of those land buyers from away‚ came from our neighboring state to the south - Massachusetts - the state that used to own every square inch of land around here until we broke away in 1820 and became an independent state.
With all this Maine quaintness being snapped up by people from Massachusetts it was feared that they’d end up owning us again after buying us back one house-lot at a time.
And that - dear visitor - is why we don’t have any big cities in Maine. It’s all Ohio’s and Indiana’s fault. The rest of the blame - like most of our land - belongs to the people of Massachusetts.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at mainestoryteller@yahoo.com or 899-1868.
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