Midcoast Maine’s fraternal twins, Bath and Brunswick, are yin and yang, distinct yet complementary, connected by Route 1, the region’s major artery–and by the aptly named Merrymeeting Bay, where two of Maine’s major rivers (and four other smaller ones) mingle.
Bath, identified by the flock of cranes pecking away at Bath Iron Works, hugs the lower Kennebec River, a tidal highway that has shaped the city’s shipbuilding heritage and salty disposition. Although textile mills powered by the Androscoggin River built Brunswick’s fortunes, it’s Bowdoin College‘s downtown campus that has fostered an arts and intellectual legacy.
Ever since colonists at nearby Popham launched the first English ship built in the New World in 1607-08, Bath’s veins have run blue. The Maine Maritime Museum, built on the site of the former Percy and Small Shipyard, preserves and continues this seafaring heritage. An embryonic skeletal model of the Wyoming, a colossal six-masted schooner launched here in 1909, helps put the operation’s size into context. Just imagine the sheer numbers of workers it took to complete the improbable task of slipping that massive ship into tricky tidal waters.
On the other side of Bath’s tracks is the Chocolate Church, an 1846 Gothic Revival landmark turned performing-arts center. Up Washington Street, elegant homes built by captains and shipping magnates reveal the city’s seafaring fortunes. Front and Centre downtown (literally, at the intersection of those streets) is City Hall, capped with a Paul Revere bell. Cheek-by-jowl Victorian brick storefronts harbor boutiques, galleries, and shops, anchored by Reny’s, a.k.a. Chez Rene, a who-knows-what-you’ll-find emporium overflowing with bargains on just about everything.
As shipbuilding is to Bath, Bowdoin College is to Brunswick. It has invested millions in renovating its facilities and adding inviting, street-friendly facades to the Pickard Theater, home of the Maine State Music Theatre; Studzinski Recital Hall, where the Bowdoin International Music Festival stages concerts; and the treasure-filled Museum of Art, now entered through a stunning brass-and-glass pavilion that has preserved the museum’s lion-guarded facade, designed by the firm of McKim, Mead and White.
Brunswick’s literary and leadership legacy also includes Joshua Chamberlain, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, all Bowdoin grads, as were Robert E. Peary and Donald B. MacMillan, whose explorations are chronicled in the college’s Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum. At First Parish Church, Harriet Beecher Stowe was inspired to pen Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Below the town green, a.k.a. “the Mall,” Brunswick’s downtown offers an eclectic collection of antiques shops and thrift stores, bookshops and galleries, restaurants and snack shops. Inside Fort Andross, a renovated mill, is Frontier Cafe, a combination theater, arts center, and eatery, with big windows facing the Androscoggin. It’s a fine spot to ponder the flow of water and ideas that has shaped this region’s fame and fortunes.
Yankee‘s picks for Mid-Coast Maine. Click on any destination below for a map and more information.