Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Bath, Maine, Earns a 2012 "Great American Main Street" Award

Congratulations to Bath, Maine, for being chosen by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as a 2012 Great American Main Street Awards winner. The National Trust chose only five communities in the United States "whose successes serve as a model for comprehensive commercial district revitalization." Other winners include Culpepper,Va., Jacksonville, Ill., Valley Junction/West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, Mo.

I know it must have been a daunting task for the Preservation to choose towns and cities for this award, as so many communities in our great country have worked so hard to improve their downtown districts. Locally, I think of, in addition to Bath, Melrose, Mass., Wakefield, Mass., Bellows Falls, Vt., and Saco, Maine, as shining examples. That being said, I believe that Bath was a fine choice for this accolade. Last time, I visited in 2008, Bath really impressed me with its nice mix of stores and restaurants, and the renovated historic commercial buildings displaying good signage and American flags. There's clearly a pride of ownership element going on here.

As a sucker for the "Main Street USA" look, it was a revelation to see the independently-owned Wilson's Drug Store, Bath Book Shop, Bath Sweet Shoppe, the historic-looking J.R. Maxwell and Pub bringing and other local businesses bringing an appealing back-in-the-day look to downtown Bath. All in all,  it was really a pleasure to visit this revitalized downtown! I suppose that's what happens when there's a mandate for equal representation amongst Bath businesses, residents, and city government to improve its community. Every town and city should follow this model!

"It's the dedication behind the 'Main Street' team that really helped change Bath," said Samantha RickerGoad, the director's assistant at VisitBath. "The downtown has completely turned around from 10 years ago. The people here can be proud of where they live. We've always been known as the home of Bath Iron Works, which is very special, but I always knew it could be so much more...It's definitely the quintessential New England downtown."

As a kid in the 1970s, I remember a more different Bath. If my memory serves me correct, downtown Bath looked like any other gritty small industrial city. I didn't want to be here as a place to stop for lunch, especially after visiting beautiful Acadia National Park and Boothbay Harbor.

Now it's a different story in Bath. Although you can still see some gritty elements, I believe this works to Bath's advantage -- that is, the "roots" of this city remind us of the great shipbuilding industry while keeping the community from becoming just another gentrified, overly precious reclamation project. I look forward to seeing continue relevant, appropriate development in what is one of my favorite small cities in all of New England!

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