Why Downtown Bath, Maine is one of New England's Best Small City
Bath, Maine. Photo credit: VisitBath.com
by Eric Hurwitz. Page updated on 11/11/16
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The feeling of walking down Front and Centre Streets, in
downtown Bath, Maine, serves as a joyful reminder of what downtowns
used to look like before they closed down and became downtrodden, or,
in the name of progress, transformed into generic, cookie-cutter
destinations with chain stores and restaurants.
Bath, on the other hand, looks like a coastal "It's a Wonderful Life"-
type community with incredibly strong-looking, well-preserved, 19th
century brick buildings, as well as period street lighting, and brick
sidewalks to stroll the peaceful friendly small-city center.
Bath, a truly underrated Maine travel destination, really seems more
like a charming small-town than a city, which is validated by its
just-over 9,000 population. Additionally, with its presence on the
Kennebec River, Bath offers travelers and residents pleasant scenery --
the type of water views that helps make Mid-Coast Maine so special.
In Bath -- known as the "City of Ships" for its maritime culture --
you'll find shops and restaurants that belong to only Bath, yet have a
familiar ring from another era -- perhaps this is what it was like
strolling a downtown in the 1930s or 1940s. For starters, there's
Reny's Department Store (86 Front St.) that sells just about
everything at discount prices, the independently-owned Wilson's Drug
Store (114 Front St.), the Bath Book Shop (96 Front St.) carrying over
15,000 books, Cafe Creme (56 Front St.) for that small town coffee shop
vibe, Island Treasure Toys (82 Front St.) offering a wonderful locally
owned and operated toy shop experience, Dot's Ice Cream Shop (160
Front. St.), and many antique shops, boutiques and galleries. The list
of one-of-a-kind stores goes on and on, reflective of the way Bath has
thrived through the years by refusing to give in to economic adversity,
or big money taking away its personality. Perhaps this is why Bath has
been named "one of the best small cities" and the National Trust for
Historic Preservation honored Bath in 2005 as one of as a "Dozen
Distinctive Destinations." Most recently, downtown Bath finished 29th
in the Best Choice Reviews 50 Best Small
Downtowns in America article. Bath is truly one great walking
town with many interesting stops along the way.
Bath also offers several fine restaurants in its downtown district. The
pleasant employee at Reny's had recommended as a first-stop J.R.
Maxwell's (122 Front St.), just a few doors down. A perfectly restored
1840 former hotel, Maxwell's, with its high ceilings and handsome brick
and wood look, serves a wide variety of seafood, steak and chicken
dishes at very reasonable prices. I had a crab melt with swiss
cheese that was out-of-this-world, along with a mixed greens salad with
a great vinaigrette dressing. The most impressive thing about
Maxwell's, however, goes well beyond its excellent food: you get a
sense of history and community pride eating in the presence of a
historical building. If it were another city, Maxwell's might have been
"sent out to sea" in the form of an empty storefront, or seedy
bar. Here, in Bath, Maxwell's resonates with a vibrancy as strong
as its community.
While Bath is more a "real town" than a popular touristy vacation
destination, the small city does offer several lodging opportunities --
many of great historic charm -- including the Galen C. Moses
House (1009 Washington St.), Benjamin F Packard House (45 Pearl St.)
and the Kismet Inn (44 Summer St.).
Like most vibrant communities, Bath also has its share of year-round
events with the most prominent being the Bath Heritage Days, which is
held July 2-5 each year. The event features fireworks, Maine's largest
parade, outdoor concerts, an art show and much more. Additionally,
cultural and entertainment venues are on the rise, as evidenced, for
starters, by the Chocolate Church Arts Center (804 Washington St.) with
its plays and concerts, and Front Street Public House (102 Front St.)
frequently offering live music.
The foundation for Bath's community success is simple: hold
proud past, celebrate a continuous renaissance, and look forward to a
bright future. Bath Iron Works, founded in 1884 as a shipbuilding
complex, sails on proudly today as part of General Dynamics with a
mission to design, build and support complex surface combatants for the
U.S. Navy. The Maine Maritime Museum (243 Washington St., Tel.
207-443-1316), located on the Kennebec River, celebrates Maine's
maritime heritage and culture and is generally regarded as one of the
best maritime museums in the world. Then, there are the spectacular
coastal homes on tree-lined streets that remind us that Bath is strong
and should remain that way for years to come. After all, neighborhoods,
a thriving downtown, and a powerful industrial base have been the
catalysts to keeping our eastern seaboard communities alive since the
For more information on Bath, log onto VisitBath.
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