Bath is renowned for shipbuilding, which began in 1743 when Jonathan Philbrook and his sons built 2 vessels. Since then, roughly 5,000 vessels have been launched in the area, which at one time had more than 200 shipbuilding firms. By the mid-19th century, Bath became the nation’s fifth largest seaport producing clipper ships that sailed to ports around the world. The last commercial enterprise to build wooden ships in the city was the Percy & Small Shipyard, which was acquired for preservation in 1971 by the Maine Maritime Museum.
Today, that shipyard has been transformed into a comprehensive collection of historic materials, and engaging educational programs where you can learn how Maine evolved as one of the world’s most important maritime ports. Locate on the banks of the Kennebec River, the museum’s campus features a shipyard with five original 19th century buildings including a Victorian-era shipyard owner’s home, an active waterfront, and a full-size representation of the largest wooden sailing vessel ever built.
The museum features interactive areas for both children and adults, and many visitors report that children love it. Many guided tours are included in the entry fee, and you can add in extra boat trips with guides. You can take a book tour of the river, see the Bath Iron Works, and watch a new US Navy destroyers being built. Plan to spend a few hours here because there are plenty of things to see, especially for boat lovers, lovers of the Maine experience, or anyone interested in knowing the history of sailing and historically-important voyages.
While there are a number of paintings in the galleries, you’ll find many more ship models there. Ongoing exhibits change through the year, like one of the more recent exhibits featuring Naval Architecture which has a large number of ship drawings, half-models, computer imaging displays, and more. The museum store has an incredible assortment of books, is well organized, and covers everything ranging from cookbooks to maritime history to naturalist guides to practical sailing skills. The staff is very friendly and helpful, one visitor even reported that they offered to take her husband around the museum in a golf cart because he had a hurt leg.
The most famous shipyard is the Bath Iron Works, founded in 1884 by Thomas W. Hyde which has built hundreds of wooden and steel vessels, mostly warships for the U.S. Navy. During World War II, Bath Iron Works launched a new ship every 17 days. Today, the shipyard is a major regional employer, and operates today as a division of the General Dynamics Corporation.