While shipbuilding’s influence remains at the forefront of Bath’s character, Maine’s “Cool Little City” has so much to offer that you have to come check it out. Wonderful restaurants, bars, coffee shops and unique shopping help make contemporary Bath a place of two worlds. Just as downtown Bath buzzes with activity, the intimate town measuring nine square miles offers a calming quiet, making it especially livable. These two contrasting characteristics have made it a go-to destination for tourists seeking the classic New-England experience, and in 2012 it earned the prestigious Great American Main Street Award, the first town in Maine to do so. Bath was also listed as one of America’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations in 2005 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Described as as “a jewel hidden in plain sight” by the National Trust president Richard Moe, Bath is “a small, historic and relatively unspoiled New England town, that had the good sense to hang on to what makes it so special.”
While downtown serves as a hub for connection and commerce, culture and creation lies throughout the entire city. Alongside the Kennebec River, visitors to Bath will discover the Maine Maritime Museum, which has been voted one of the best maritime museums in the world. For over 30 years, local residents with a passion for the theatrical have delighted audiences with performances at the Studio Theatre of Bath. The city is also known for its historic architecture, such as the Gothic-Revival-styled Chocolate Church Arts Center, and guests of the city can also be founded taking part in walking tours of classic mansions and homes located throughout town.
For those who wish to exercise their bodies as well as their minds, the great outdoors is a step, pedal or row away. Visitors to the Whiskeag Trail will find five picturesque miles of hiking/biking trail that leads them through Thorne Head and Sewall Woods, and presents scenic views of the Kennebec River. And anyone who feels at home on water will want to get to know the Kennebec, which is highly traveled by canoes, kayaks and tour boats.
Those looking to get back to nature will be right at home on the sandy dunes and rocky headlands of Reid State Park and Popham Beach State Park, which epitomize the classic New-England beach setting. Contemporary visitors to this quaint village are charmed by the area’s intimate atmosphere, friendly residents and historic 19th century architecture.
With so much going on, it’s hard to believe Bath retains its reputation of peaceful tranquility. We always have room for one more, and we can’t wait to meet you.
Incorporated in 1781 and named by postmaster Dummer Sewell, this revered port village nestles into the Kennebec River’s western bank, 12 miles north of where the 170-mile-long river meets the Atlantic Ocean. Historically, Bath played a role in many industries. Dealings in brass, iron and lumber helped develop the town, and coal and ice were popular in trade. But above all, Bath is known for its importance to shipbuilding. After all, Bath is the “City of Ships.”
While there are many reasons that led to Bath’s prominent stature in the field of shipbuilding, it is a simple matter of geography that led to the development of the industry in the first place. The city is set alongside a five-mile section of the Kennebec River that is straight and easily navigable, allowing easy access to the Atlantic. Even before the town incorporated, Jonathan Philbrook, along with his sons, built two ships, thus launching the town’s celebrated achievements in the field.
Shipyards and wharfs began to spring up throughout the town during the latter half of the 18th century, and by 1800, vessels were in high demand by local business owners involved in trade. The pinnacle of this initial period was reached in 1854, when there were at least 19 major shipbuilding companies located in Bath, leading to a tremendous population boom.
Lean times were on the horizon, as the post-Civil-War depression and a shift in focus from wooden ships to metal hulls endangered the prominence of the city’s #1 industry. Many shipyards shuttered during this period, but with an unbridled determination amongst those remaining, a concentration on the construction of schooners built for trade helped carry the town back toward more prosperous conditions.
With the city once again flourishing economically, Thomas W. Hyde expanded his foundry along Water Street and incorporated it as Bath Iron Works (BIW) in 1884. The acquisition of several shipbuilding firms strengthened the BIW empire, which despite suffering significant losses in a series of fires during the 1890s, continued to prosper.
Following World War I, the demand for ships decreased, leading to a population decrease in Bath and eventually a cease in all shipbuilding by 1925. William S. Newell proved a savior for both BIW and the city by reshaping the company and focusing production on yachts and utility vessels. Newell’s successes in this area helped Bath endure the Great Depression before once again assisting the country’s war efforts during World War II. As demand for warships decreased, BIW once again underwent a transformation, focusing on the production of fishing trawlers and other vessels.
While current technologies have altered the ways we go about traveling, it is important to remember the proud tradition shipbuilding has had on not only the United States, but the world. This tradition is embodied not only by those still honing their craft at local shipyards, but by the entire city of Bath – Maine’s “City of Ships.”