Bath is a city in Sagadahoc County, Maine, located on the Kennebec River. The city is a port of entry with a good harbor. The Abenaki Indians called the area Sagadahoc, “mouth of big river,” a reference to the Kennebec River. Bath was named after Bath in Somerset, England by the local postmaster and incorporated as a town in 1781. In 1847, it was incorporated as a city and was designated as the county seat in 1854.
Bath is called the City of Ships and is home to Bath Iron Works (BIW) which has built hundreds of wooden and steel vessels, mostly U.S. Navy warships.
Industries such as lumber, iron and brass developed in Bath, along with trade in ice and coal. Shipbuilding began in 1743 when the first two vessels were built by Jonathan Philbrook. By the mid 19th century, Bath was the nation’s 5th largest seaport, producing clipper ships that sailed around the globe. Percy & Small Shipyard, the last commercial enterprise to build wooden ships in the city, was acquired for preservation by the Maine Maritime Museum. The area once boasted over 200 shipbuilders that launched over 5,000 vessels.
BIW was founded in 1884 by General Thomas W. Hyde, a Bath native who served in the Civil War. After the war, Hyde bought a local shop that made iron hardware for wooden ships built in the Bath shipyards. In 1890, the company won its first contract with the U.S. Navy to build two iron gunboats. At peak production during WW II, BIW launched a new ship every 17 days. Ships built at BIW were considered to be of superior toughness leading to the slogan – Bath-built is best-built.
Since 1995, BIW has been a subsidiary of General Dynamics Corporation, the world’s 5th largest defense contractor, designing and building battleships, frigates, cruisers and destroyers.
We could not visit BIW since visits are by appointment only and there are no ship or facility tours open to the general public.
The Maine Maritime Museum offers trolley tours, but only during summer months. But, the huge BIW cranes are visible from the town.
Downtown bath is lined with shops and restaurants. A specialty cooking store, Now You’re Cooking, is an emporium of pots pans, and everything kitchen and cooking related. There is also a Renys, perhaps Maine’s best-known department store outside of the Freeport outlets. The most striking building on the downtown main street is Bath City Hall. Appropriate for the city’s history, it has a ship at the top of the weathervane. George Patten Davenport, a Bath resident and philanthropist, willed $10,000 toward the construction of a new city hall with the condition that it be called the Davenport Memorial City Hall after his father, Charles Davenport. He also left nearly $2 million to establish the Davenport Trust Fund to benefit “young and needy children, especially those of Bath, Maine.”