The year 2020 will stand out in American history for events we’d rather forget, but I still believe every day is a gift, and I’ll cherish the time I’ve been given to stay home and explore my own neighborhood. Since March, I feel as though I’ve been running in place and connecting with people by learning to Zoom. The world may not be spinning in its old familiar way, but I feel lucky to live in Bath. If you love maritime history, nineteenth-century architecture, and people who think it’s important to be kinder than necessary, this cool little city will hug your heart and make you feel better. When the Corona virus began to limit travel, I started to take long walks. While rambling, I discovered green space laden with Queen Anne’s Lace, old brick buildings with new purpose, impressive statues, historic markers, carefully restored homes, and beautiful gardens that I had barely noticed before.
Wednesday, September 16, 2020
All the history around me moved me to take out my phone and snap pictures, and I wasn’t alone. Even when standing at my own front door, I saw passersby taking pictures of the flowers crowning the white fence across the street and then stopping again to take another picture of the Japanese maple tree next door. The streetscapes of Bath invite us all to savor every step, but they also remind us that change is inevitable. On one of my walks, I realized two historic inns have gone missing since my husband and I arrived here seven years ago. Perhaps this loss is due to the Airbnb phenomenon or the new hotel on Route 1, or maybe the innkeepers simply wanted to move on to a new adventure. Whatever the reason, two inns have closed; the B&B experience once enjoyed at the Mulberry House (formerly the Galen Moses House) and the Kismet Inn is no longer available. I’m saddened by this loss because if my husband and I hadn’t stayed at one of Bath's historic inns, we may never have found our home on Washington Street. In 2013, in the middle of a February snowstorm, we stayed at The Inn at Bath because the Brunswick Inn was full; that unexpected turn of events was pure serendipity. On a snowy Saturday morning, sitting around a beautifully set table at The Inn at Bath, Joe and I met George Smith, the beloved Maine columnist, and his wife, Linda. For well over an hour, we chatted with the Smiths, and the innkeeper, Elizabeth Knowlton. After that fabulous breakfast, we decided to go exploring with a local realtor, and we found a house we couldn’t resist! Whether you call it kismet or serendipity, Joe and I have met dozens of people who share a similar story. Our experience suggests that innkeepers are more than ambassadors; they’re magicians who turn visitors into residents. Before another historic inn disappears, let me count the five that are continuing to make magic.
At 360 Front Street, you’ll find The Pryor House. Gwenda and Don Pryor purchased this classic B&B in 1999, and they’ve been welcoming guests there for twenty years—the longest stewardship at a Bath inn. This Federal-style colonial was built in the 1820s by a member of the Moses family, one of the most prominent families in Bath during the boom years of wooden shipbuilding. When Gwenda and Don decided to return to Maine from Pennsylvania, Elizabeth Lindsey’s inn was up for sale. Gwenda, a social worker at the time, was looking for a creative outlet that would allow her to be a stay-at-home mom, and Elizabeth was over eighty-years old and ready to retire. As fate and Bath would have it, The Elizabeth B&B became the Pryor House, and two wishes came true.
A block away from the Pryor House, nestled into the southeast corner of North and Washington Streets, you’ll find a garden with a bench, and behind that garden stands The Inn at Bath, a truly happy place. In 2001, the innkeeper, Elizabeth Knowlton, moved to Bath from Montana after selling her adventure-travel lodge, Bear Creek, which she ran for six years. I suspect Adventure is Elizabeth’s middle name because prior to owning a fly-fishing lodge, she taught school in Buenos Aires, Argentina. On her quest for adventure, Elizabeth has certainly discovered how to make everyone feel welcome, and how to prepare the heartiest breakfast with fruit, yogurt, granola, bacon and eggs, and sometimes a little red pepper. In 2004, when Nick Bayard, the founder of the inn, asked her if she’d like to buy his B&B, she said yes within 24 hours. (Nick had purchased Marsha Dearborn’s elegant Greek-revival home, circa 1840, from her family in 1988 and successfully converted it into Bath’s largest B&B.) Recently, Elizabeth filled out a questionnaire that I sent to local innkeepers. She answered the fourth question—What is the occupation of your most famous guest?—with the word Writers; then she wrote: “Irene and Joe Drago, and they were here with Linda and George Smith!” Herein lies the secret to Elizabeth Knowlton’s success. Like magic, Elizabeth can make you smile!
Two blocks north of The Inn at Bath, near the corner of Washington and Pearl Streets, you’ll find the Benjamin F. Packard House. In December of 2004, Amy and Mark Hranicky decided it was time to live their dream. On their honeymoon in 1990, they had their first B&B experience in Cape May, NJ, and they glimpsed their future—someday they would be innkeepers. Fast forward back to 2004. After reading an article in Yankee Magazine about up and coming towns in New England, they narrowed their search for an inn to Bath. They visited that December and fell in love with the City of Ships. (This sounds like a familiar story.) When they returned for a second look in February, 2005, they uncovered their future at 45 Pearl Street.
Like a fairy tale with lots of twists, the Italianate-style home, circa 1845, had been built around a simpler, 1790 house; 140-years later, it was converted into an inn by Liz and Vince Messler. Later, it was sold to the Haydens, who kept it as a B&B for a number of years before converting it back to a private home in 2002. Amy and Mark bought their storied house with the intention of adding another bedroom, and returning it once again to a B&B. Clearly, the history of the Benjamin F. Packard House proves that change is the only constant. I’m convinced that the shipwright Benjamin Packard—the most famous owner of 45 Pearl—would agree. By all reports, Packard, who was also an owner of two shipyards, lived a bold life by keeping his eyes on the horizon. In their own way, Amy and Mark are following his lead. Recently, they told me their most memorable guests are quilters, a group of friends from north of Bangor who visit every year. Oh, the stories quilters tell—they must be unforgettable!
A few months after Amy and Mark purchased their inn on Pearl, Rachel and Ken opened The Kennebec Inn at 696 High Street—a short walk from their first inn, the William T. Donnell House, which they opened in 1997 and later sold as a private home. This detail fascinates me because I’m a docent at the William T. Donnell House at the Maine Maritime Museum, which was the home of the Donnell family when William T. was building ships with Gardiner Deering next to the Percy & Small yard. Once again, the beauty and success of The Kennebec Inn highlights the long reach of Bath’s shipbuilding history. (And let’s not forget, Long Reach was Bath’s original name.) In 2005, Rachel and Ken started to restore the circa-1850 Italianate on the south end—not far from the site of the South Church and the once bustling shipyards of Houghton, Rogers, and Deering & Donnell. If you love sea stories, this inn is brimming with them. The original owner, Captain James B. Perkins, was a master mariner during the “Halcyon Days” of Bath; in 1869, a few years after selling his home in Bath to Captain Samuel B Reed, he became the first director of the Eastern Steamboat Company, which operated out of Phippsburg. Sadly, the second owner, Captain Reed, was lost at sea, but his grand home still welcomes guests from near and far. In fact, at the Kennebec Inn, there are guest rooms named in honor of Captain Perkins and Captain Reed.
In 1843, John Bosworth Swanton—a descendant of William Swanton who is credited with building the first year-round shipyard in Bath in 1760—built a Greek Revival-style house at 888 Middle Street. Today, that stellar home bears the name Middle Street Inn. And it also carries the lovely distinction of being Bath’s newest, historic inn. In 2016, Chuck Spliedt and Jude Smith, discovered this gem after a year-long search; in 2017, they began the Herculean task of converting it into a comfortable B&B, and they welcomed their first guests the same year. Three years later, these new innkeepers have had the arduous task of adapting to ever-changing guidelines for health and safety. However, true to their new home, they have stayed the course. Chuck hails from Baltimore, Maryland, and he honed his hospitality skills there; Jude, born and raised in western Pennsylvania, left a corporate career to make heavenly breakfasts at a warm and cozy inn on Middle Street. (There seems to be a thread here—Bath innkeepers tend to come from away.) When I asked Chuck and Jude what was the occupation of their most famous guest, there answer surprised me: “Well, it’s not an occupation, but we had a granddaughter of a former U. S. President stay with us.” It would have been sweet to join that guest at the breakfast table!
For the inns of Bath, the pandemic of 2020 has been difficult to navigate, but my research shows that innkeepers have an enormous capacity to adjust to change. For innkeepers, a typical day starts with a freshly made breakfast, new guests at the table, and new stories to share. At the end of today, the good news is five historic inns remain in Bath.
While I was writing this blog, I learned that Elizabeth Knowlton has sold The Inn at Bath to a new innkeeper. Over a year ago, Elizabeth told me she was ready to pass the baton, and now she has gracefully passed it. Though we will miss her tender heart and her gift for listening kindly, we wish her fair winds and following seas and hope she visits us often with stories to tell.
Have you stayed at one of Bath's historic inns? If you haven't, please do. If you have, leave a comment and share your first impression.
Thursday, April 30, 2020
In 1845, Alexandre Dumas, the author of The Count of Monte Cristo, wrote, “All human wisdom is contained in these two words: Wait and Hope! In Corona Time, those words still ring true. In the midst of COVID-19, all we can do is wait and hope, and in Bath, Maine, we’ve been following that plan the best we can. For a city respected for building grand homes with beautiful doors and granite steps, side porches, cupolas, and wrought-iron fences; wooden docks, red brick stores, churches with magnificent spires, and a fairy-tale library, our streets are unusually quiet these days, but neighbors are still planting seeds, making bread, leaving books in the door, and sending homemade masks to friends and strangers in need! Like people around the globe, they’re connecting in new ways with Zoom and Facebook Live. Without a doubt, we’re in touch with our CREATIVE side! And oddly, as we put on masks, we’re showing our feelings more clearly than ever before.
As spring rolls in, the sun is shining more, and people are out more, and they're walking, biking, and running with a sense of purpose. We have to keep moving forward, but when it's necessary, we need to stop, or step off the sidewalk and onto the road, to keep our social distance. Driven to be out, but trying to follow the rules, I started running a new route. Along the way, I’ve found big hearts and lots of inspiration. My favorite stretch is along High Street between Harward and Park; I’m especially fond of the intersection at High and Whiskeag Road which offers a stunning view of Governor William King’s stone house. Honestly, the only reason I’m motivated to run up Harward, a steep hill, is the promise of peace at the top. And I’m not the only one who seeks that feeling—I’m rarely alone when I reach High Street.
On land or at sea, change is inevitable, and this season is bound to change our view, but the salt air will still smell good, and the water will still refresh our bodies. Together, let’s hope for a big summer splash and a bright, healthy future!
Wednesday, February 5, 2020
If you had asked me who were the most famous nurses in history when I was in grammar school, I would have answered Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton. Somewhere between eighth grade and college, I learned that Dorothea Dix was also a famous nurse. Born in Hampden, Maine, in 1802, Dorothea was raised by her grandmother in Boston because her parents suffered from alcoholism. As a young woman, she was driven to reform mental health care across the country. During the Civil War, she served as the Superintendent of Army Nurses and recruited dedicated women to care for the sick and wounded. Recently, proving that you’re never too old to learn, I added a fourth nurse to my list. In 1861, Sarah Sampson from Bath, Maine, followed her husband and his company to the battlefields of the Civil War. The redoubtable Sarah Smith Sampson was born in 1832 and married in 1855. When her husband, Captain Charles A. L. Sampson, left for Washington D.C. to serve with Company D of the 3rd Maine Volunteer Infantry, Sarah insisted on accompanying him. She told the newly commissioned captain, one of the best ship carvers in Bath, that she would make herself useful as a nurse. The Sampsons had no children at that time, so Sarah was determined to take care of all the boys from Maine.
|Savage's Station Field Hospital (June 1862)|
|C.A.L. Sampson, Bath ship carver|
The mansion on the corner of South and High Streets was conveyed to the state of Maine in trust by William Rogers on July 21, 1869. The circa-1800 house, built by Samuel Davis, had been the home of William M. Rogers, the father of the grantor, for many years. In 1870, responding to a growing need, Sarah brought fifteen orphans from the children's home to Augusta to appeal to the legislature for financial support. Once again, her wish was granted. Bath’s orphan asylum was made a State institution and the governor appointed John Patten, J. Parker Morse, General Thomas Hyde of Bath, and N.A. Farwell of Rockland as trustees.
|The orphans' home as it appears today|
|Col. Sampson's figurehead "Belle of Bath"|
For as long as she lived, Sarah Sampson returned to Maine for the reunions of the 3rd Maine Regiment, and she was regarded as one of the “old comrades of the march.” At the 1906 reunion, the last before her death, Sarah was interviewed by the Bath Independent about her choice to serve. She was quoted as saying, “There is a good deal of the gypsy about me, and I always thought it would be fun to live in a tent.” She also described her meeting with President Abraham Lincoln: “He was the best man I ever saw on Earth.”
|"Tea with Sarah Sampson" at Winter Street 5/9/2020|
Saturday, December 7, 2019
|Shirley Temple attends a birthday party for captain's daughter|
In April, 1940, Lydia Diane S. Grant—born at her grandparents’ home at 1054 Washington Street in Bath—was living in Hawaii with her mother, Lydia Baxter Gillette, and her stepfather, Captain Claude Gillette. Her parents threw her a thirteenth birthday and invited all the children in the neighborhood, including Shirley Temple, the visiting movie star. After the cake was cut and the gifts were unwrapped, Diane and her friends posed for a picture. In the photo, the captain's daughter and the Hollywood actress stand out because they’re the ones wearing lies. Both blue-eyed girls went on to live remarkable lives. Shirley Temple Black died in 2014 at the age of 85. After entertaining millions on the big screen, she became a mother, an advocate, and ultimately a U.S. Ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia. She was also one of the first American celebrities to talk publicly about her battle with breast cancer. Diane Smith Grant, known to many as Snooky, is now ninety-three years old, and she’s still telling stories about her life, including her adventures in Hawaii, the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the evacuation of military families on Christmas Day.
|Mrs. Claude Gillette, the sponsor of U.S. Submarine Gusk 1945|
By the time WWII was over, Diane was 18, a young woman who had seen the horror of war but chose to be optimistic. Looking back, she prefers to talk about serving General Marshall and a handsome RAF pilot at a Washington restaurant. Diane’s younger brother, Tom Gillette, was 14 when the war ended, and he returned to Bath ahead of his parents to attend Morse High School. After Rear Admiral Gillette retired, he renovated the historic Queen Anne at 1111 Washington Street, and Tom has fond memories of that home. Diane and Tom are both survivors. Perhaps they appreciate life more because of their experience. Tom speaks highly of his dad. Claude Sexton Gillette met and married their mother in the 1930s when he was a commander working with the Bureau of Ships to coordinate Bath Iron Works’ efforts to rebuild the Navy. In the months following the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was a captain, one of the most experienced engineering duty-only officers in the Navy, and he was in charge of salvage and fleet repair. Later, he would be promoted to Rear Admiral and awarded the Legion of Merit, the nation’s highest non-combat medal, for his exemplary work at the Pearl Harbor and Puget Sound shipyards. He is buried with his wife in Bath’s Oak Grove Cemetery.
|Shirley Temple on the USS Pennsylvania|
William Faulkner once said, “History is, not was,” and I agree. Because of history, I met the Gillettes. While I was signing copies of Daughters of Long Reach at the Common Ground Fair, a man read the back cover of my book and said he had friends who would enjoy reading it. When he started telling me about the Gillettes at Pearl Harbor, I was enthralled. The man told me that Tom was having trouble adjusting to life at Pearl, so his dad’s friend, the captain of the USS Arizona, invited him to have dinner, watch a movie, and sleep on the ship. Tom thought that would be fun and spent a night on the Arizona in November, 1941. (Diane told me later that Captain Van Valkenburgh, her dad's Annapolis roommate, invited her and a few of her friends to dine with him aboard ship on December 7, 1941, but that date was cancelled because the Arizona was sunk and the captain was killed with 1,177 aboard when the Japanese attacked.) Needless to say, I was moved by the Gillettes' story, and honored when the man at the fair asked me to personalize a copy of my book for Tom and Diane. A few weeks later, I received an email from Tom. He and his sister were in Maine for the summer; they were going to make their annual visit to Oak Grove Cemetery, and they wanted to take me to lunch.
|Miss Temple with sailors at the Hollywood Cafe|
Tom Gillette went on to become a naval architect. He told me he studied the sinking of the Northampton. The swift actions of the crew that night saved lives. Over 700 sailors were rescued by U.S. destroyers and PT boats; fifty perished. My father was a nineteen-year old machinist mate when he swam away from his burning ship. He watched it slip into a black hole, and for the next fifty-six years he remembered the fifty. He talked about them shortly before he died in 1998.
|A movie star and a submariner|