January 11, 2017
The city of Bath, located on the west bank of Kennebec River some 12 miles from the Gulf of Maine, has a shipbuilding heritage that began in 1743 and continues today. In 1841, the 1,133-ton Rappahannock, then the largest vessel in the world, was built by Bath’s Sewall shipyard. By 1857, Bath was the fith-largest shipbuilding port in the country in registered tonnage. The industry continued to thrive until the years immediately following World War I, when all of the shipbuilding companies closed. In 1927, the Bath Iron Works was revitalized, and continues to serve as a major Navy shipbuilding facility and the area’s primary employer.
The Bath of today is down-to-earth and unpretentious, featuring an eclectic mix of historic houses and buildings bordering the river. Indeed, Front Street, which parallels the river, was named one of America’s Top 10 Great Streets by the American Planning Association. The Sagadahoc Preservation Society offers a self-guided walking or driving tour of Bath, available at the Chamber of Commerce on Front Street, or at the Patten Free Library on Summer Street.
Bath’s business district comprises numerous shops, offices and a huge variety of restaurants, all within easy walking distance of the river. A popular stop for bargain-hunters is Reny’s department store, where you can pick up great deals on clothing and pretty much anything else you need for the home or garden.
Much of Bath’s waterfront remains undeveloped and open to the public. A weekly farmers’ market, held Saturdays on the riverbank, attracts locals and vacationers alike, and is a great opportunity to restock your galley with all kinds of fresh vegetables, cheese, fruit and other locally produced treats. And the town dock offers plenty of free tie-up space, along with pumpout service.
When approaching Bath from the south, the first major structure you’ll see after rounding Doubling Point is the sprawling Plant Memorial Home. Given to the city as a gift in memory of his parents by shoe manufacturer Thomas G. Plant, the Colonial Revival building was built in 1917. It now serves as an assisted-living center.
Just beyond the Plant Home is a good public launch ramp with ample parking and tie-up float, followed by the celebrated Maine Maritime Museum (MMM), where you can sometimes arrange for a mooring or dock space along Deering Pier. In 2002, a Visiting Yachtsmen’s Building was added to provide amenities for those visiting the museum by boat.
The MMM celebrates Maine’s maritime past through fascinating exhibits and its extensive collection of historic wooden boats and artifacts. It also offers a host of hands-on boating courses and seminars, along with several interactive exhibits, including the Tugboat Pilothouse, the Ship ’s Fo’c’s’le, and a Pirate Play Ship. It’s a must-stop for boating enthusiasts.
Continuing north of the MMM, you’ll encounter the huge dry dock and industrial shipbuilding facilities of the Bath Iron Works. A security zone of 400 feet exists around the BIW facility, so keep your distance.
Beyond that are the Carlton and Sagadahoc Bridges. The town dock and the Kennebec Tavern & Marina are located to port, just north of the bridges. The latter sells gas, but no diesel. Both afford easy access to the downtown area. You can also find gas at BFC Marine, but no transient services. A second public launch ramp with tie-up float can be found just north of town.
The upriver portions of the Kennebec north of downtown Bath are also beautiful and worth exploring. At Thorne Island Ledge, keep a lookout for seals, which like to sun themselves on the exposed rocks. Travel a bit further north and you will pass through the Chops Passage and enter Merrymeeting Bay, which is fed by five rivers. It is a special place, but then again, so is Bath as a whole.