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Merchants' Row

Text by Dakota Elwell, Danyelle Layton, and Molly Turner
7th graders at Bath Middle School
With images from the Patten Free Library

Do you know what a merchant is? A merchant is a buyer or seller for goods for profit, like one who carries on a trade. Merchants are usually operators of stores. Merchants' Row is located at 108, 114, and 116 Front Street, the home of many retail stores, built at a variety of times, ranging from 1832 into the 1840s. Merchants' Row is a great part of history because of what the buildings have been through, such as the fire of 1837, and because the occupants of this block are representative of Bath's retail history.

A few key people that have a connection to Merchants' Row are John Hayden, Davis Hatch, John Tucker, Captain William Patten, Michael Gannet, and Lewis E. Wilson. In 1829, when he was 20, John Hayden started a watch and jewelry business. In 1863 he sold it to Howland and Donnell, who had both been his apprentices and journeymen. Davis Hatch had a business selling boots and shoes at 116 Front Street. When Hatch died, his son took over the business. Lewis E. Wilson owned Wilson's Drug Store on 114 Front Street until he sold it in 1967; the business is still successful today. John Hayden was one of the mayors of Bath and was the father of Emma Eames, a turn of the century opera star, who sang for European royalty. His son-in-law, Thomas W. Hyde, was the founder of B.I.W. 114 and 116 Front Street are part of the block of buildings built and paid for by John Tucker, Captain William Patten, and Davis Hatch. John Tucker was a local brick maker, and Captain William Patten was part of the important, ship building Patten family. These people are important because their businesses lasted so long and they helped to make Bath what it is today.

The buildings on Merchants' Row were all Greek Revival buildings. 108 Front Street was built in 1832 and was the only building that survived the fire of 1837. The other buildings on Merchants' Row were built in 1837 after the fire. The purpose of Merchants' Row is to sell goods. One way Merchants sold products to consumers was by having fancy displays in the store windows. Some architects added architectural details like mouse toothing, decorative cornices, and decorative brickwork. This striking architecture tends to be found only on the front of buildings. The Greek Revival buildings on Merchants' Row were actually quite simple except for these few architectural details. When they were built, the main architectural points of this style were simplicity and symmetry.

Merchants' Row is an interesting part of Bath's history because of the fire of 1837, known in Parker Reed's History of Bath as the “Great Fire.” One store in Merchants' Row, being built of brick with a slate roof, helped slow down the fire so the firemen and others could put out the flames. That surviving building is 108 Front Street which is currently housing Bohemian Rose. This fire broke out on one of the coldest nights of the coldest winters, in the boot and shoe store of Samuel Foote on Front Street, north of Merchants' Row. The wind carried the fire along the west side of Front Street burning down everything in its path, almost impossible to stop.

The huge fire burned down many homes and businesses including those belonging to prominent members of Bath's society such as Davis Hatch and John Hayden. Out of all the things that were saved from the fire the most plentiful things were odd shoes that didn't have any matches. After the fire, Davis Hatch continued his business from the ground floor of his reconstructed building on Front Street, and maintained it there for almost a century. Other businessmen built brick stores as Bath's downtown began to shift from one largely of wooden buildings to one of brick. The fire not only affected many businesses, but also severely affected many people's lives.

Another way that merchants convinced people to buy their goods was largely by advertising. They often featured women on their advertisements such as Davis Hatch's business card of 1880. Business owners also advertised by placing large signs outside their shops; these symbols made people instantly recognize the type of retail store. For example, Davis Hatch's boot and shoe trade had a sign of a big boot hanging out into the street. Charles A. Harriman, who owned a jewelry and glasses business had a sign of an eye hanging outside his store. John Hayden, who owned an earlier jewelry trade had a sign of a compass to symbolize that everything in his store had perfect measurements, that his jewels had extremely accurate cuts, and the watches he sold would be precise. Merchants' Row was very important to Bath's economic development and the growth of the downtown.

The building that houses Wilson's Drug Store was built after the fire in 1837 and was owned by Lewis E. Wilson from 1915-1967. Even after he sold his business, Wilson still worked there until he retired in 1972. Wilson's Drug Store still stands today. One of the businesses before Wilson's, in the late 19th century, was Annette's grocery store and another grocery store owned by Michael Gannet. Henry Gannet, Michael Gannet's son, was the co-founder of the National Geographic Society. Bath is a very historic city and should do whatever we can to hold onto and preserve its rich history.

Merchants' Row
Merchants' Row

Merchants' Row is the oldest part that still survives in Bath's downtown. These buildings are from 167 to 177 years old, and create the heart of Bath's downtown. Physically they are at the center of Merchants' Row and that is what downtown continues to be all about - people going to stores and buying things they want and need.