Front Street: Bath, Maine
The center of commerce, government, and fellowship in Bath for 200 years, Front Street is one of Maine's architectural treasures. Bath's maritime and shipbuilding history permeates the street, which affords scenic views of the Kennebec River and the city's place-defining trademark, the giant red-and-white Bath Iron Works crane. Familiar with adversity, the street has rebounded from hardships, disasters, and disinvestment time and time again. Bath's merchants and citizens, unwilling to concede defeat, have stood together and rebuilt what was razed and revitalized what was shut down or boarded up.
Six blocks, some no more than 50 feet in length, between Vine Street to the south and Oak and Commercial Streets to the north.
Part of a nationally designated historic area, several unique and significant structures line Front Street. Wide, brick sidewalks accommodate pedestrians, shoppers and, on fair days, merchandise displayed outdoors. Trees and plantings complete the scene, creating an almost park-like setting along the street.
While Front Street is historic, it's hardly static. Construction of a new hotel, compatible with surrounding buildings, is underway. As the city looks to diversify its economy, Front Street remains Bath's center stage.
Defining Characteristics, Features
- An integral part of the 3,000-acre Bath Historic District added in 1973 to National Register of Historic Places
- Italianate U.S. Custom House and Post Office, made from stone and completed in 1858 (25 Front St.); on National Register; designed by Ammi Burnham, first supervising architect of U.S. Treasury Department; used as office today
- Both humble and grand examples of local architecture: Davenport Memorial Building (1929), designed by Boston architect Charels G. Loring to serve as city hall; Romanesque Revival style Patten Free Library (1889) by George E. Harding; Italianate style buildings on Bank Block (1859) and Church Block (1863)
- Elements of shipbuilding past: carefully framed view of Bath Iron Works crane; gift, antique, furniture stores, cabinetry shops; annual Bath Heritage Days
- Streetscape additions — lampposts (with buried cabling), benches, street clock, and store awnings — reflect 19th century style
- Restoration efforts include refurbished building facades and reconstruction of 19th century gazebo (torn down in 1950s) on library grounds
Heart of Downtown
- Mix of commercial and government uses attract residents and tourists. City hall is visual and literal anchor of downtown. Patten Free Library features preserved Dahlov Ipcar mural in children's wing. Street has grocery, drug store and service providers (doctors, hairdressers and real estate agents); also novelty, specialty and antique shops draw tourists. Dining options range from an upscale bistro to a Wi-Fi coffee shop
- Eminently walkable with wide, brick sidewalks and shade trees; landscaped parking lots
- City hall is start and end point for two publicly operated and subsidized trolley loops; Bath smallest community in Maine with bus service
- Site of several annual events, such as New Year's Day ringing of Paul Revere bell, cast in 1802, in the belfry at City Hall
- Block-long Library Park, site of Patten Free Library, backs to Front Street; benches, trees, grassy slopes, and pond provide respite; rebuilt gazebo houses musical concerts, cultural offerings; site of Bath Garden Club's annual plant sale
- Seasonal decorations — flower baskets, holiday wreaths, banners, and flags — adorn Front Street's historically accurate street lights
Commitment to Planning, Preservation, Sustainability
- Defeat of 1960 urban renewal proposal to replace historic downtown with pedestrian mall results in loss of several department stores: Sears, Newberry's, W.T. Grant's, Senter's; city's 19th-century architecture kept largely intact but value not clear; businesses struggle
- Founding of Sagadahoc Preservation, Inc., nonprofit volunteer group, in 1971 jumpstarts preservation efforts; aids in historic district designation
- City produces comprehensive plans in 1959, 1983 and 1997; latter portrays Bath as walkable, year-round destination. City Council adopted 2009 comprehensive plan in September after four years of work by citizen committee and city planners
- Action Plan for the Bath Waterfront and Downtown, adopted in 1999, ensures Front Street is part of Bath's Historic Overlay District affecting existing and new buildings
- City uses federal Community Development Block Grants to fund facade restorations
- Ordinance (2000) removes off-street parking requirements, encourages mixed uses
- Ordinance prohibits neon, roof, interior-lit signs that detract from downtown character
- Resolution on energy conservation and climate protection encourages businesses and property owners to reduce energy consumption; study underway to determine ways to reduce energy use by historic-style street lights
- To reduce heat island and decrease carbon output, Bath's arborist routinely plants new and replaces diseased and damaged trees along Front Street