In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Bath's Historic Downtown

Intersection of Centre and Washington

Text by Kyle Hietala, Savannah Silva, and Micheal Stinson
7th grade students at Bath Middle School
Images from the Patten Free Library

There have been many different buildings, businesses, and people to pass through the intersection of Centre and Washington Streets in the city of Bath, Maine. Over a period of two-hundred years, five notable establishments have made history at this location; these unique and important buildings have their stories told here.

Central Congregational Church, Bath, 1967
Central Congregational Church, Bath, 1967

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Patten Free Library

Churches have long been an important part of Bath. Throughout the 1800s and 1900s, many churches served the town, but a unique church stood out from the rest. According to several books, in 1846, William Rogers, John Patten, Jeremiah Robinson, Otis Kimball, and Caleb S. Jenks formed a building committee of the Third Congregational Church and Parish for the establishment of a new church. In 1847, construction of this new church began, overseen by master builder Isaiah Coombs. Arthur Gilman designed the church in the style of Gothic Revival, as stated by the Sagadahoc Preservation Architectural Surveys. The church was named the Central Congregational Church, and Pastor Ray Palmer began service for citizens of Bath. For 118 years, the church served the City of Bath, seeing over ten pastors and many citizens. Throughout these 118 years, the church saw many changes. According to several city maps, around 1910, the church had a vestry added to it. In 1890, a large organ was purchased for the church.

Swett Drugstore Bottle, Bath,ca. 1920
Swett Drugstore Bottle, Bath,ca. 1920

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Patten Free Library
William Mains Bill, Bath, 1884
William Mains Bill, Bath, 1884

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Patten Free Library

In any city, a reputable drugstore could be found in the late 1800s and early 1900s. For Bath, this was the Swett Drugs business among many other drugstores. In 1892, Swett purchased the Webber Drugstore on Front Street. In 1894, Lewis B. Swett opened his second drugstore, as recorded in a newspaper article. This was the second branch after the very successful flagship store at 160 Front Street. This store, located at 782 Washington Street (the southwest corner of the intersection), did very well, surviving for more than 20 years despite fires and other setbacks.
Owner of Swett Drugstore, Lewis B. Swett helped build Bath's economy. Swett was born on November 18, 1866, and married Ms. Louise Barker in 1913. In August of 1921, Lewis Swett died. Shortly before his death the drugstore went out of business. He successfully operated two drugstores, and had been a high-ranking medical student from the University of Massachusetts before establishing his business.

Chase Grocery Store, Bath, ca. 1895
Chase Grocery Store, Bath, ca. 1895

Item Contributed by
Maine Maritime Museum

Before the drugstore, a well-respected grocery store owned by Hiram L. Chase operated on the southeast corner of Centre and Washington streets. This store was built around 1867 according to numerous city directories, and survived for more than 40 years. As well as running a successful grocery business, Chase was an inventor. He developed several systems to store food cold, making him one of Bath's few famous citizens. Born in Fall River, Massachusetts in 1831, Chase married twice and died in 1892. He invented a unique method of refrigerating butter, and was well-respected for the goods he sold.

Centre street, Bath, ca. 1950
Centre street, Bath, ca. 1950

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Patten Free Library

In the time of World War II, Bath became a busy town. Shipbuilders needed clothes, gloves, boots and more, and they turned to Sears Roebuck for affordable clothing. In 1941, Sears opened its only small-town national chain branch on the north side of Centre Street, despite the small facility and limited parking. It was a nice brick store, but as the years went on the location became inadequate for Sears. When Bath rejected a massive urban renewal project in the early 1960s, Sears and its chain stores in Bath were left without enough facilities and parking. Sears could either choose a new location in Bath, or move to Cook's Corner in Brunswick, which was the cheaper and more financially sensible option. So, in 1968, Sears Roebuck left Bath and opened a new location in Cook's Corner, marking the end of a very well-respected store in Bath.

Center Street Postcard, Bath, ca. 1914
Center Street Postcard, Bath, ca. 1914

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Patten Free Library
Vine & Water Streets, Bath, 1986
Vine & Water Streets, Bath, 1986

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Patten Free Library

As Bath evolved, the intersection at Centre and Washington changed. Originally, the intersection was in close proximity to the railroad station, making the streets direct routes for people heading to the railroad station, often using horse-drawn buggies for transportation. Liveries were common in the age of the railroad, and a large one was on Washington Street until about 1860. Until the automobile in the early 1900s, roads and businesses were suited for people on foot, carriage, or railroad. Typical of this era, a railroad and hotel built in 1816 named the Commercial Hotel were present on the northwest corner of the intersection.

Roy's Market at Centre and Washington Streets, Bath, 1981
Roy's Market at Centre and Washington Streets, Bath, 1981

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Patten Free Library

Washington Street has always been trademarked for its cultural, community, and local importance, while Centre Street has long been the main route for people to travel into the city. When the Carlton Bridge was built, Centre Street became busier, and the first traffic light to be installed in Bath in 1938 was put at this intersection, according to a newspaper article; the intersection saw the beginning of the automobile era, and this changed everything. With the construction of the Carlton Bridge to replace the ferry system in 1927, Centre Street became overwhelmingly busy. Gas stations were erected on the corners in the 1960s. Roy's Provision Market opened around 1958 at 775 Washington Street, as recorded in multiple city directories, and left around 1985. Steen's Auto Shop and Terry's Chevron station served local people as well as other people passing through the city. Steen's was originally a sheet-metal manufacturer in the 1950s, but eventually evolved into a heating business and then an automobile dealership.

Music Hall, Bath, 1941
Music Hall, Bath, 1941

Item Contributed by
Maine Maritime Museum

Finally, the longest-standing establishment to function at the intersection was the Music Hall, situated on the northeast corner. A lot of mystery surrounds the origins of this building. The best prediction is that a good portion of the music hall was built prior to 1830, as stated in a newspaper article, but no official recorded date can be found. In terms of the building itself, the Music Hall was a fairly large, rectangular structure designed for large social functions. The Music Hall served any and every purpose imaginable. It hosted many different singing and instrumental music schools, dance lessons, art exhibits, live concerts, special art classes, and other public functions, as written in many newspaper articles. In 1914, the Music Hall suffered severe damage from an explosion due to a gas leak. In 1925, the Music Hall changed ownership to a pool hall, and the location changed hands from pool halls, bars, and other small businesses, until razed in 1957 due to its dilapidated condition.

The Central Congregational Church merged with the Winter Street Church in 1965 to consolidate the expenses of maintaining two large facilities, according to a long newspaper article. After the church was sold and everyone became members of the Winter Street Church, the Congregational Church took on a new purpose. It currently is occasionally used as a church , and primarily it is used as an arts center for dancing, musical productions, and more. Today, it is known to be the Chocolate Church because of its unique chocolate brown color that covers the caramel it was originally before being painted white.

Terry's Chevron Station
Terry's Chevron Station

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Patten Free Library

With the beginning of the age of automobiles in the early 20th century, Bath adapted to suiting the needs of not just local townspeople but travelers as well. The intersection saw the addition of several gas stations and a convenience market in the 1950s. A little later, the church stopped its services, and was made into a center for performing arts. In many ways, this intersection represented the trends of Bath, as the city, state, and country grew. Until the Route 1 bypass was built, Centre Street was the main artery for commuters passing through Bath, and as of today Centre Street is still an important part of transportation. The intersection still acts as the point of parting; to the east lies Woolwich, to the south Phippsburg, to the west, West Bath and Brunswick, and all the way up Washington Street is Merrymeeting Bay, and much of residential Bath.

Out of all of these historical objects, people, and buildings, only the church remains. It is now painted chocolate brown, and is used as a cultural center. Given the church's age, it has some structural problems, as recently stated and investigated on the news. The main steeple is leaning over 17 inches to the side. Because of this, the church's future has become very uncertain. It is estimated as of spring 2009 that the church will require a 1.8 million dollar repair for it to be functional. The intersection is now home to a large credit union chain building, a large apartment complex (Washington House) and one of Bath's few traffic lights. Washington Street has become world-famous for its variety of 19th century architecture, and Centre Street remains the most direct way to Bath's vibrant downtown. The Carlton Bridge is now only used for trains, and the Sagadahoc Bridge now acts as the way to cross the Kennebec River by car, foot, or bicycle. In over 200 years at this intersection, time has never stood still, and it will be that way for a long time.

The Washington House
The Washington House

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Patten Free Library