I visited the Maine Maritime Museum on an off-day from a consulting project I was on in the area near Bath. Since I knew of Bath's long history of shipbuilding, I was hoping to find something interesting in the town that would speak to that craft, both in the past and in the present day. The museum turned out to be that destination.
The museum sits on the grounds of the former Percy & Small Shipyard, in what amounts to a residential neighborhood along the banks of the Kennebec River. Close by is the famous Bath Iron Works. The museum touts itself as one of the last remaining, intact shipyards that built large wooden sailing vessels. Many of the craft buildings have been preserved on the site, and a pair of large metal "skeleton" sculptures - approximating the size of the "Wyoming" (one of the premier sailing vessels to have been built there) - holds a prominent spot on the grounds where she would have been constructed.
The various craft buildings and boat houses are quite interesting to tour, and much of them are exhibited as they would have been during the height of shipbuilding operations. The building that was of greatest interest to me was the design building, where you could fully appreciate how the drafts, models, and templates were created. There was an interesting lobster exhibit in one of the boathouses. Also, the Grand Banks schooner, "Sherman Zweicker", is moored on a pier that can be toured. Around on the other side of the main museum building, a smaller building houses the wreckage of the "Snow Squall", a famous clipper ship that was recovered and brought back to Bath.
Tours of the Bath Iron Works shipyard are available, and highly recommended. Cameras are not allowed on those tours, so all the quite interesting sights as United States Navy vessels are being built have to remain in one's memory banks.
During my visit, there was also a featured exhibit in a gallery in the main museum building that highlighted the naval history of the War of 1812. Among the very interesting artifacts from that era was an original letter of marque and reprisal signed by President Madison. As a fan and student of history, that document alone was almost worth the price of admission.
Speaking of admission, the rates are very fair and reasonable. That would make it easy for families to visit. I will say, though, that while the museum does have a few attractions and rides to keep young children entertained, the museum probably is not something that young children would truly appreciate.
The museum grounds are much like a park. While they do have some paved or dirt paths that link some of the buildings, my observation was that it would be somewhat difficult for wheelchair-bound guests to get around and access some of the buildings. However, the main museum building is completely accessible and easy to move around.
Overall, as far as attractions go in coastal Maine, this was a very good place to visit and spend a couple of hours. You will learn quite a bit about the craft - make that art - of shipbuilding, and come away with a better appreciation for the work that went into crafting beautiful seagoing vessels.
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