The City of Bath is situated on the Kennebec River about twelve miles from the Atlantic. In 1607, the first ship built in the New World was constructed at Popham on the Phippsburg peninsula at the mouth of the river. The city was incorporated in 1847, but had previously been chartered under the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1781. Bath extends for five miles along the river but is only two-thirds of a mile wide. This topography has not only limited expansion of the City in the past 100-plus years but also has limited an increase in population. Bath has always enjoyed a wide range of socio-economic levels that has created an interesting community in which to live.
The population of Bath covers the spectrum, with larger-than-average numbers of affluent retirees as well as subsistence-level residents. While Bath’s population has remained approximately 9,000 since the mid 19th century, growth has been tremendous in the surrounding communities and peninsulas.
Bath is home to one of the largest employers in the State of Maine – Bath Iron Works (BIW). Construction there continues the shipbuilding tradition started centuries ago. Bath was one of the most significant shipbuilding cities in the United States in the nineteenth century, boasting more than 20 shipyards along the Kennebec. BIW has undergone a significant modernization in the last decade and has obtained contracts that will guarantee consistent employment for the foreseeable future, including that of the Navy’s newest class of destroyer, the Zumwalt.
The waterfront is a focal point for the City, and a new Hampton Inn is located along the waterfront. Waterfront Park was renovated in the last two years and further plans for development along this stretch of the river are being pursued.
Most of the stately homes that line the streets of Bath were constructed in the 1800’s by sea captains and shipbuilders. Several of these homes have become charming bed-and-breakfasts. The vibrant downtown area, with carefully renovated buildings, is home to a variety of businesses, restaurants, and shops.
This is a city very proud of its history. It boasts of an active preservation group, Sagadahoc Preservation, Inc., as well as the Bath Historical Society. Walking tours of the residential and downtown architectural treasures and the historic cemetery are available at the Visitor Center located in the renovated train station. The station also houses the National Trust for Historic Preservation “Main Street Bath” office. This national model for downtown revitalization has been active in Bath since 2001, which has resulted in Bath being named one of the Trust’s “Dozen Distinctive Destinations” in the country in 2005 and winner of its prestigious “Great American Main Street” award in 2012.
Another of Bath’s treasures is the Maine Maritime Museum. It attracts more than 70,000 visitors annually to its campus, which is the site of the last nineteenth-century shipbuilding yard that survives in the country. Offered there, in the summer, are a variety of cruises. Year round there are maritime art exhibits and programs. The Patten Free Library, founded in 1847 and located in a charming park in the center of town, has an outstanding collection as well as a History and Genealogy Room, which is a mecca for researching the area’s history, along with the Maritime Museum’s extensive library. The Bath Area Family YMCA, the second oldest in the country, is housed in a new facility built in 2001, that includes two pools, full size gymnasium, and walking track. The Chocolate Church Arts Center is home to an art gallery, staging for both concerts and plays, and a studio space for smaller performances.
Bath provides education for Kindergarten through the twelfth grade. Several of the outlying communities that do not have their own high school send their children to Morse High School. The student population in Bath, however, has diminished in recent years. There also is a comprehensive vocational school adjacent to the high school. Morse High School is proud to have the oldest alumni association of any public school in the country, and annual reunions are a treasured tradition. Alumni support a Scholarship Fund that gives several hundred thousand dollars in scholarships to graduating seniors each year.
The City is also home to Hyde School, a residential independent preparatory school, nationally known for its character education and family programs. Its spectacular campus surrounds the mansion of John S. Hyde. Bowdoin College, founded in 1794, is ten minutes away in Brunswick. The alma mater of Nathaniel Hawthorne, poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Civil War hero General Joshua Chamberlain, and President Franklin Pierce, Bowdoin offers extensive educational and cultural opportunities to the surrounding area, including Senior College. In addition, every summer Brunswick hosts the world-famous Bowdoin International Music Festival and the superb Equity theater company, Maine State Music Theater. Arts and music organizations abound in the mid-coast area.
Excellent health care is provided by one area hospital. Mid Coast Medical Center is housed in a new campus finished in 2001, and is located between Bath and Brunswick and also is affiliated with Maine Medical Center in Portland.
Bath is a welcoming and active community. There are countless opportunities for volunteerism in support of the arts and historic preservation, as well as other service-oriented projects including the food bank, a soup kitchen, a homeless shelter, and Habitat for Humanity. The Food Mobile (formerly the food truck), sponsored by the Good Shepherd Food Program, is hosted by Grace Church once a month. Members of Grace Church are involved in all of these programs.
Bath is home to a wide variety of faiths. There is a Church of the New Jerusalem (a Swedenborgian group) based in an historic Greek Revival building, one of the oldest Jewish congregations in the state, and churches representing most of the traditional Christian denominations.
The area is rich in recreational opportunities. There are two state parks with white-sand beaches less than a half-hour away, as well as many walking, hiking, and biking trails. Three golf courses as well as downhill and cross country skiing are within easy driving distance.
Portland, Maine’s largest city, is 40 minutes away with a full-service airport, and offers an excellent symphony orchestra, theater, shopping, and gourmet dining that can be enjoyed year round. It is home to professional baseball and hockey teams, with ticket prices costing far less than in larger cities.
Bath is a charming and unique small city with much to offer both young and old, year round. Its history, balanced with a vibrant economic base, has always attracted both young families and retirees to the area. There is a very strong “Pride of Place” in this little city on the Kennebec.