About the Area
Bath has some wonderful history! Europeans first arrived in 1605 when the English navigator, George Weymouth, found his way across the ocean to the Kennebec River. In those days, the Kennebec Indians called the river the Sagadahock. The French explorer, Samuel de Champlain, also found the “Quinibeguy” (Kennebec) that year, coming overland shortly after Weymouth had taken his leave. Unknowingly, both men set the stage for the painful Indian wars which kept Maine a very dangerous and sparsely settled frontier for the next 150 years.
Weymouth’s “goodly account” of the Sagadahock locale – bountiful furs, extraordinary fisheries and whispers of Eldorado gold – spurred the launching of an English colonial expedition of approximately 100 men (no ladies) led by Captain George Popham which arrived here in August, 1607. The Popham Colony, as it came to be known, built Fort St. George on the south end of Atkins Bay, near the location of Fort Popham, the Civil War fort which today still guards the mouth of the Kennebec.
The Popham Colony, while established just a few months after the Jamestown settlement in Virginia and some 13 years before the Pilgrims stepped onto Plymouth Rock, was not permanent. Because of hunger, a fire, an unusually severe winter, sickness and the death of many, including Captain Popham, the colony returned to England the following year aboard the Virginia, a 30-ton Pinnance which was built at Popham – the first boat built by Europeans in the New World!
Recently, Maine’s First Ship was organized to research, build, and operate a reconstruction of the Popham Colony’s pinnace Virginia. The new Virginia symbolizes the birth of Maine’s ship-building tradition and will help celebrate the 400th anniversary of English settlement in the New World. She will be used to increase the public’s awareness and understanding of Maine’s place in early European exploration and involve them with programs devoted to that purpose.
Some say that the next European to visit our Kennebec shores was Captain John Smith of Pocahontas fame in 1614. Throughout the 1600′s, a small but constant trickle of colonists from the Massachusetts Bay Colony came to Maine – first fishermen and fur traders and then families to settle in and farm the land. During this period, French colonists from New France (today’s Canada) were setting up trading posts, many of which became prosperous settlements and have survived to this day. These settlements insured the preservation of our state’s rich French heritage.
It did not take France and England long to both claim sovereignty over this bountiful land which eventually would become the state of Maine in 1820. The Indians wars, which spanned the period, 1676-1760, made permanent settlement by the English colonials a very discouraging endeavor. Settle, abandon and resettle seemed to be the order of the day. A settlement known as Georgetown finally took hold in the lower Kennebec. Incorporated as a town in 1716, Georgetown included Long Reach, the predecessor of present-day Bath. The Indians called it Long Reach because it was a long paddle by canoe across the river. One of the earliest settlers of Long Reach was the Reverend Robert Gutch who acquired through deed in 1660 some 3,800 acres from Chief Robinhoode and other Kennebec chieftains, built a log cabin where today the railroad tracks cross Washington Street, then drowned on his way to church.
Some say Bath’s shipbuilding heritage goes back as early as 1743, when Jonathan Philbrook launched his first ship in Long Reach. With its location on the Kennebec, just 12 miles from the sea and close to a seemingly endless supply of oak and pine, Bath became a natural center of shipbuilding and commerce in our young country. By 1854, Bath had 22 shipyards which launched over 32,000 tons of new vessels in that year, compared to 2,000 tons in 1842. Further, in the 1854-1855 period, Bath built more ships than either New York or Boston and ranked fifth among American ports in terms of tonnage of ships registered.
Bath ships sailed the globe, bringing timber to France, block ice to India, and supplies to the California Forty-Niners. Profits often were immense and the maiden voyage of a vessel frequently paid the entire cost of its original construction. A ship carrying a cargo of lumber to the West Indies; the ship’s owners purchased the lumber for $8.00 a thousand and sold it for $60.00 a thousand. Their return cargo of rum, sugar and molasses produced a profit equal to that of the outward cargo. Over time, great Bath fortunes were made by many who not only built the ships, but operated them as a fleet as well.
Of course, all was not smooth sailing. The loss of ships and sailors’ lives was extraordinarily high. This wonderful seafaring tradition is also responsible for the naming of Bath. The story goes that when mariners from Long Reach arrived in the famous English seaport of Bristol, they would often take r and r’s in the nearby resort town of Bath, England, with its “medicinal waters, healthy climate and fine scenery.” When the Town of Bath, Maine was incorporated in 1781, the name of Bath had been suggested by so many sailors that it was adopted.
This brings us to the Inn at Bath. Built in the 1840′s during Bath’s booming shipbuilding days, this fine Greek Revival home sits in the heart of Bath’s residential Historic District. The building had always been a residence until it was purchased and converted it to a bed and breakfast over the winter of 1989-1990. The earliest records found thus far show that the property was sold on August 28, 1826 for the total sum of $300, this would have been raw land. By the mid 1800′s it was appearing on tax records as a value of $4000, reflecting that a house was now on the site.