Monroe is celebrating its 200th anniversary as a town this year, and has a number of events scheduled to mark the occasion. The first is a contra dance and potluck Saturday, Feb. 3, at the Town Hall, beginning at 5:30 p.m., with music by Whiffletree. (More information below.)

Settled shortly before 1800, Monroe was first incorporated as a plantation in 1812, then as a town six years later, two years before Maine became a state. The first settler, John Couillard, built his cabin on the east bank of the Marsh Stream across from the current village in 1798. Settlers came from Southern Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, mostly of English, Scots-Irish, and Welsh descent.

From virtual wilderness, the town grew to 630 in 1820, 1,606 in 1850, and 1,703 in 1860, its most populous year. The smallest population was recorded in the year 1970 with 478. Currently there are about 850 residents within 39.5 square miles.

In the 1830s through 1840s, raising sheep was an important industry. Large parts of the town were cleared for pasture. There were numerous mills along Marsh Stream: grist, lumber, shingle, lath, stave, and saw mills. There was a barrel factory, a cheese factory, and a pail factory. Other products of the era were firewood, hay and marsh hay, vegetables, fruit, wool, and dairy products.

Over 150 men from Monroe served in the Civil War. Thirty-five died in battle, from wounds, or from disease. In 1886, the Monroe Soldiers Monument Association formed to erect a monument in the Village Cemetery. Made of zinc in Bridgeport, Conn., and shipped in sections by train to Brooks, it was hauled by two teams of horses to the cemetery, where a granite foundation had been prepared. It was dedicated on Memorial Day, 1887.

After the Civil War, in the 1890s, and during the Depression of the 1930s, the population declined as many small farms were abandoned. Products could be purchased and transported more cheaply elsewhere. Many families moved out West, others gave up farming altogether. The town, like the rest of rural Maine, was moving toward a market economy. By the 1960s there were only six or seven farms left. Old farms reverted back to woodland.

Monroe was electrified in 1938, thanks to the Rural Electrification Act of 1936, and had its own telephone company located on the corner of Main Street and Swan Lake Avenue.

The 1970s' back-to-the-land movement brought many young people to town. In the decades following, Monroe became home to more residents seeking a slower, more pleasant and rural life. In more recent years, a vibrant crop of young farmers has put down roots. They produce vegetables, cheese, meat and poultry. Many of these products are available at the Belfast Farmers Market and in local stores.

Some of the coming events are:

Feb. 3

Contra dance, potluck at Town Hall. Potluck supper, 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.; contra dance, 6:30 to 8 p.m., with music by Whiffletree and calling by Chrissy Fowler. More info: call Tyler Yentes.

March 24

Reminiscing Monroe's Past: Conversations at Town Hall.

May 28

Parade, Field Day, other events in Gesner Park.

June 23

Street dance, food at the Monroe Fire House.

Sept. 15

Bonfire, fireworks at the town sand pit.

Nov. 10

History talk: Monroe Cheese Industry at Town Hall.