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York County: A place of pride

For nearly 400 years, the people of York County, known for their industrial spirit and giving hearts, have made their home in the southern tip of Maine.

From Kittery to Old Orchard Beach, Biddeford to Newfield, more than 200,000 people reside here, in communities ranging from tiny villages to densely-populated urban centers.

Despite differences in socio-economic status, geographical location and political affiliation, a common thread is sewn through those who live and work in York County: Pride.

Pride is what keeps homes – that date back to the 1700s and the grand old times of ships’ captains, merchants and farmers – looking as beautiful and pristine today as they did during the Civil War.

Pride keeps communities clean of litter and safe for enjoyment, no matter what the hour. Even though York County towns and cities grapple with modern-day issues such as crime, homelessness and despair, their police and fire personnel are some of the best in the state, well-trained, and ready to respond. Social service agencies provide the proper safety net to save those in need and the general populace is ready, willing and able to step in financially and with good old fashioned muscle to help their neighbors and take back the streets.

From cleaning up Bacon Street in Biddeford to the Ocean Shuttle project in Sanford, residents have shown they have pride and care about their communities. And when the norm isn’t enough, organizations such as the York County Shelters program and the dozens of food and clothing pantries are able to provide sustenance and shelter.

Many products, from weapons to signs of peace, are made here and delivered into the global market. Lobstermen still cruise the Atlantic, ready to haul in the daily catch to Cape Porpoise. Blankets are still woven in Biddeford, a tradition spanning nearly three centuries. Sanford, the “town that wouldn’t die,” is showing some of the highest levels of economic vitality in the region. Farmers ply the earth, bringing to market fresh dairy products and maple syrup. And, Saco Island, long vacant, will soon be filled with people working once again, and the taste of freshly brewed beer.

People show quiet pride in their faith as hundreds of churches thrive in a time when many question religion. Congregational churches still stand as the focal point of many communities. At the same time, various faiths, from Judaism to Catholicism, Fundamentalism to Orthodoxy, have a home here, and are welcome.

Our school children beam with pride as they complete on the athletic and academic fields. Biddeford boasts championship-winning hockey and student newspaper teams, for example. Even though some schools might be small, such as Old Orchard Beach, the pride emanating from within the walls cannot be overlooked or held back.

And finally, pride runs deep in family ties. Many residents can trace back to when their first ancestors came here, where they lived and worked, and where they lie buried. The names of York County’s residents ring of ethnic diversity, and remind everyone that all are welcome here.

So, welcome to York County, a place in which to take great pride.

York County remains active after more than 3 centuries

Maine has a tradition of strong local control and weak county government, so residents may go for years without realizing that people are working in Alfred to keep the wheels of the county in motion. The county commission, which presides over much of the operation, is rarely noticed except at budget time - and not always then.

But the keepers of county government here are in a special position. They’re preserving a tradition that stretches back to the county’s founding in 1636, long before the United States ceased to be a set of the British colonies and Maine ceased to be a part of Massachusetts.

York County, in fact, has the oldest continuous records of any county in the United States.

At the lovely old York County Courthouse in Alfred are a framed photograph of President-elect Lincoln, copies of the Declaration of Independence, and papers of such noted authors (and onetime York County residents) as Sarah Orne Jewett and Booth Tarkington.

Today’s county government includes the sheriff’s department (which operates the York County Jail), emergency management agency, district attorney, county commission, treasurer and registries of deeds and probate. These are offices that deal – quite literally – with matters of life and death.

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