As far as we know, Maine does not have a state-wide program like New Hampshire and Vermont with the road-side historical markers (though we thought this sign might indicate that Maine is getting in the historical marker business).
However, we have noticed that various towns in Maine will feature there own historical markers. On a recent road trip in Maine, we found these historical markers at a waterfront park in the quaint town of Bath, Maine which sits on the banks of the mighty Kennebec River. Enjoy!
The River is a road, a road of life.
Within this road of life called the Kennebec River, currents flow north and south by Bath several times a day. On the rising tide, salt water runs up from the Atlantic, past Bath, and into Merrymeeting Bay where it mixes with fresh water of five other rivers in a rich stew of life. On the falling tide, fresh water in the Kennebec runs from its head at distant Moosehead Lake, and swirls with both the outgoing tide and other river systems into strong currents within the city limits. These tidal waters and wetlands together form an estuary, whose complex ecosystem sustains thousands of varied birds, fish, and plants.
Picture caption: The estuary, of which the Kennebec River constitutes a part, is a critical, interactive environment. The river is habitat for 66 species of finfish. Shoreline ledges and mudflats provide homes for nesting and migrating birds in the East Coast flyway. Osprey and bald eagles soar over fish schooling in the currents. Harbor seals prey upon fish and ducks. Goldeneye ducks court along Bath shores.
The River is a road, a road of life.
Today the same “great fyshe” that amazed the European explorers in 1697 still leap and swim in these tidal waters. Once abundant in the Kennebec River, the now endangered Atlantic Sturgeon can grow to 12 feet in length and can weigh over 800 pounds, but are more commonly half that size. Females can live for over 60 years. Fossile records show that this primitive species with rows of exterior bony plates and the ventral mouth of a bottom feeder has remained relatively unchanged for millions of years. A smaller, endangered form of sturgeon, the Shortnose Sturgeon, lives year-round in the Kennebec. In part because the great fish o this river were plentiful and a valuable source of revenue, the Plymouth Company claimed the Kennebec Purchase in 1640.
Picture caption 1: Cyrus King (1816-1881)m the only son of Governor William King, drw the busy Kennebec River and Bath about 1844. The Penobscot in the center of this detail, went from Hallowell to Boston twice a week in 1844. The fare from Bath to Boston in the early 1840s was $2.50, but meals were extra.
Picture caption 2: Albion Kennerson Edgecomb (1872-1948) fished the waters of the Kennebec River all his life. In this photograph taken early in the 20th Century, “Kenney” stands proudly with a large sturgeon, while two others liew at his feet. His fishing operation was based just upstream on Sturgeon Island, a traditional location for the processing of fish for decades. Surprisingly, in July of 1900, Mr. Edgecombe netted a young whale, perhaps a beluga, in Merrymeeting Bay.
The River is a road, a road of opportunity.
Echoing with the clamor of hammers and saws building ships and homes, Bath was booming by the 1850s, as was the expanding American nation. 100 years before, the community of just forty families, known as “Long Reach,” separated from Georgetown as its second parish in 1753, but then ballooned to an incorporated city with about 12,000 residents by 1854. The resulting development hugged the shore as almost three-dozen wharves stretched into the Kennebec, providing multiple locations for the docking of vessels. Homes, both elaborate and modest, were often constructed to face the river, as eyes often turned to observe the many shipyards assembling various boats to watch the coming and goings of the numerous ships that brought travelers, necessities, and luxuries.
Picture caption 1: The bird’s-eye map was a very popular view of American cities in the nineteenth century. This detail, from the 1878 map of Bath, published by J. J. Stoner in Wisconsin, showed a community bustling with activity, a steam ferry crossing the river from Woolwich, and some of the many wharves.
Picture caption 2: Broad Street ran down from Bath’s main commercial thoroughfare, Front Street, to the City Landing on the Kennebec River. This image from about 1880 captured the entwined nature of city and river, where vessels were built for varied trade throughout the world an, in turn, brought the goods of the world to Bath.
The River is a Road, a road winding back through history
The Wabanaki “Kennebec” translates to “long, quiet water.” That water was a means of travel and trade for native people, as well as a source of food, encouraging migration between seasonal camps for the “People of the Dawn.” Inevitably, here too was a route for exploration. The arrival of Europeans stirred those quiet waters.
Samuel de Champlain, the French explorer, explored the “Quinibequy” during July of 1605, just days before George Weymouth and his English shipmates kidnapped six Wabanakis near the Kennebec. In 1607 the English first attempted to establish a colony in New England at the river’s mouth. When the Popham settlement was abandoned a little over a year later, the colonists constructed the Virginia, the first ocean-going ship built in North America by the English, and returned home.
For over the next hundred years, the site of Bath, twelve miles upstream from Popham, was on the outskirts of the major settlement activities at the mouth of the Kennebec. by the 1750s, that four-mile straight stretch known as “Long Reach” began its development as the center of maritime activity on this river road.
Picture caption 1: Cyrus King (1816-1881), the only son of Governor William King, drew the busy Kennebec River and Bath about 1844. His detailed work was translated to this lithograph, a rare image of Bath as the community began a transformative period of expansion.
Picture caption 2: Champlain’s map of the Quinibequay, from his 1605 voyage, was originally published in Volume II of his 1613 Voyages of Samuel de Champlain, a work later translated by Charles Pomeroy Otis and edited by Edmund F. Slafter in their 1878 publication of Champlain’s work.
The River is a Road, a working road of shipyards
Bath’s history, a singular voyage of 250 years, illustrates the rise and decline of wooden shipbuilding in Maine. While several private vessels were built along the Kennebec prior to the American Revolution, independence allowed shipbuilding to grow substantially in the subsequent decades. In 1841, the Rappahannock, the largest vessel yet built in the United States must have astonished onlookers. The industry’s escalation culminated in 1854 when twenty-one shipyards lined Bath’s shores, producing the third largest tonnage of vessels in the nation. However, the tide of shipbuilding ebbed with the financial uncertainties after 1854 and was further drained by the Civil War’s strife. The later nineteenth century saw the revival of Bath’s shipbuilding, but never to the heights of mid-century. For Bath’s shipyards to survive, the modern technology of building ships in steel had to be embraced. The rebirth of one shipyard in particular, Bath Iron Works, in the early twentieth century, allowed the local shipbuilding heritage to continue and create new maritime benchmarks.
Picture caption: The 1805 Brig Minerva of 188 tons was constructed in Bath by builder Charles Clapp. This 1807 painting, by an unknown artist, is the earliest known painting of a Bath-built vessel.
If there hadn’t been a Kennebec River, there wouldn’t be a City of Bath
Vertical rock layers of varying hardness formed both the valley now drowned by the river and the banks that step gradually higher from the water. Bath’s topography today runs generally north and south because tectonic-plate collisions in the far distant past gave rock layers that orientation. In the last 200 million years, erosion by rivers and, more recently, by glacial ice sheets left ridges of granite bedrock, and valleys where the rock layers were more easily worn down.
These geologic processes left a long, deep, straight stretch of river with a sandy bottom and gentle slopes at the river’s edge, perfect for launching a small brig, a large 6-masted schooner, or a huge destroyer. This north-south stretch was part of a larger watery road, the Kennebec River, which connected the ocean with inland Maine.
Picture caption: Detail of the Bedrock Geology of the Bath Quandrangle, Maine.