Bath Harbor is located on the coast of southwestern Maine about 36 miles northeast of Portland. Lying at the mouth of the Kennebec River, its shipbuilding industry began in 1762. With a population of just over 9,000, its beautiful 19th-Century architecture draws many tourists.
The indigenous Abenaki, members of the Algonquin people, called the area Sagadahoc (mouth of the big river), referring to what was called the Kennebec by Europeans. Samuel de Champlain explored the river in 1605. The first settlement in the area, Popham Colony and Fort St. George, failed due to harsh weather and weak leadership. Even so, its colonists build the first ocean-going vessel in the New World, the Virginia of Sagadahoc, to return to England.
In 1660, lands were bought from a native leader and incorporated as Georgetown. Bath was incorporated as a separate town in early 1781 and named after the town in England. It was incorporated as a city in 1847 and designated county seat in 1854.
While several industries grew up in the town, it is best known for shipbuilding. Jonathan Philbrook and his sons built two vessels in 1743. Since that time, Bath Harbor has seen the launch of about five thousand vessels, and the area once contained over 200 shipbuilding companies.
By the middle 1800s, Bath Harbor was the United States’ fifth largest seaport, and it produced clipper ships that sailed the world. The last wooden ships built in the city were built by Percy & Small Shipyard in 1971 for the Maine Maritime Museum.
The most well-known shipyard in Bath Harbor was the Bath Iron Works. It was founded by Thomas W. Hyde in 1884, and it built hundreds of wood and steel ships, primarily warships for the US Navy. The Iron Works launched a new ship every 17 days during World War II. Operating today as a division of General Dynamics, the shipyard is still a major employer for the region.