Spotlight on Bath, Maine
January 2, 2013 Leave a comment
Bath is a small town on the mouth of the Kennebec River about 35 miles north of Portland, Maine. Its principal industry has been and continues to be shipbuilding, although the wooden pinnace ships built in 1607 have given way to Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. Over this time, the town has maintained picturesque residential districts, working industrial districts, and a vibrant retail area.
City Hall is at the top of the hill from which Front Street, the town’s main street, descends, and terminates Centre Street. These two streets make up the retail core of Bath. Front Street, like Maine Street in Brunswick, has some places where it bulges to form small plazas. The street is dense with trees, benches, signs, and other furniture. The commercial district ends to the north about when you get to the Patten Free Library. The district exhibits the idea of having “A” and “B” streets, and Water Street, where parking is located to keep it from damaging Front Street, is a perfect “B” street.
Bath lacks the common traditional to New England towns, but does feature a very nice waterfront park which is adjacent to the commercial district. This shows the importance of the waterfront in the history of the town.
Many of the residential streets of Bath run perpendicular to the commercial and industrial streets along the river, and as such they go up the steep hills of the bluffs that line the Kennebec. The town is known for its pre-war residential architecture, and people from nearby towns will often visit to look at houses.
Bath is rare in that it is a small Northeastern town where many of the jobs are still based on manufacturing, and those mostly on shipbuilding. The Bath Iron Works is a major regional employer and supplier of US Navy ships, as well as yachts and lightvessels. They have done a good job of preserving some of their oldest buildings from back in 1884, while expanding to serve the needs of modern ship manufacturing. Some of the neighboring homes across Washington Street have been converted to offices where ships are designed and other support services take place.
Bath is a great town, and not just because it is pretty, but also because it is a town that knows how to work. It’s lessons in retail, industrial and residential design can serve as models for towns in similar situations across the country.