In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Columbian Block

Text by Taylor Johnson, Michaela Lothrop, Paige Martin, Devon Vanmeter
7th grade students at Bath Middle School
With images from the Patten Free Library

The Columbian Block, at 168 through 194 Front Street, consists of two similar buildings built in the Vernacular Italianate style in 1894. The buildings are three-story, brick structures with flat roofs. This block was built on the site of the Columbian Hotel and the Columbian Hall, which burned in 1893. Since the original construction in 1894, the first story and probably the roof has been extensively altered. In 1979-80, the street facade was remodeled to fit the nineteenth- century style of the downtown area. The architect of the Columbian Block was John Calvin Stevens, who was the best architect in the State in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Before the fire of 1895 this part of Front Street was occupied by the Columbian Hotel. Some of the buildings that were in the block before this fire were Columbia Hall, candy and meat stores, grocery stores, and a restaurant. One of the buildings that needed considerable reconstruction following the fire, was the YMCA. Due to the fact that the fire started in the Columbian Theatre, it required a great deal of renovation as well. From the time that the fire burnt many buildings down to when they were rebuilt, the architectural features changed quite a bit. Most of the early buildings in the Columbian Block had gable roofs and walls made out of granite, brick, terra-cotta, dentil moldings and soldier bricks.

Some of the key people that were associated with the Columbian Block at 168 through 194 Front Street, are Galen C. Moses, John Calvin Stevens, Officer Merrill, and Mrs. Chas. B. Harrington. Galen C. Moses funded the YMCA, provided funds for the 1889 building for the Patten Free library, was a director of Bath Iron Work's board, and was even the president of the First National Bank of Bath. Galen Moses was also the president of the Bath Street Railroad, Bath Gas and Electric company, and the New England Ship Building Company. Galen C. Moses was born August 30, 1835 and died on Monday, April 19, 1915.

There were a couple of people that were not as influential as Galen Moses, but still connected to the Columbian Block. One of them was Officer Merrill of the Bath Police Department. He was the first to recognize the tragic fire in 1895, from the outside of the theatre as he was making his rounds for the night. He rang the bell to warn people of the impending danger. Mrs. Chas. B. Harrington was another person to realize there was a fire, but from the inside of the theatre. Another person associated with the Columbian Block was John Calvin Stevens who was from Portland. He was the architect for rebuilding burned properties. All of these people either saved lives of the citizens of Bath, or made huge contributions to the town.

Front Street, Bath, ca. 1915
Front Street, Bath, ca. 1915
Patten Free Library

The Columbian Block is an integral part of Bath's history because it provided needed services for Bath's citizens. One of the many businesses in our block was the YMCA which stands for Young Men Christian Association. The YMCA was important because it provided opportunities for athletic events such as swimming in the pool or playing basketball in the gym. There were also a variety of rooms for entertainment and socialization. Another business that was in the Columbian Block was the Columbian Theatre. This was where plays and other sorts of entertainment occurred such orchestra performances from Bath's own musical group. The Columbian Theatre business rented the building and never owned it. This was according to a newspaper article from 3-16-1950 stating that the ownership had been changed and the occupants would remain the same. There was also a building in the Columbian Block that was used for gatherings and group meetings; this building was the Columbian Hall. A large fire on October 15, 1937 took place in both the YMCA and Columbian Theatre, along with many others.

Another theatre that was part of the Columbian Block was the Uptown Theatre. This opened on August 8, 1938, and provided another opportunity for people to attend plays, watch movies, and participate in other activities. One of the less important buildings in the Columbian Block was the John F. Clary Ice Cream and Candy Store. This was known as the “sweetest place in town” according to a 1907 newspaper article. The Leonard and Mitchell Drugstore, at 194 Front Street, was also part of this block. This business, along with the Mikelsky Music store at 168 Front Street, was there from 1912 to 1924. Sometimes people came into Bath just to visit and explore the wonderful and diverse businesses that were here.

There were several special events that took place in the Columbian Block. One notable event was the ball that took place in the Columbian Hall on April 11, 1856. The tickets sold for $1.00 each and it was hosted by the Bath Cornet Band.

One of the major events that took place in the Columbian Block was the fire on October 15, 1937. There was another fire as well; this took place in 1895. This fire was very destructive to the City of Bath. It destroyed the YMCA, Columbian Theatre, Bath Aerie of Eagles, and threatened the Columbian Hall. This was the third fire to cause major damage to the Columbian Block in 44 years.

All in all, the Columbian Block has gone through several changes due to fires, styles of different time periods, and the business needs of Bath citizens changing over the years. Every part of the Columbian Block continues to be important to the City of Bath as they always has been and probably will be in the future.