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Bath:  A Short History

 

Photo courtesy of Everett Rust

 

The first recorded exploration by the Colonial Government of what is now Bath occurred in late July and August of 1754. Captain Peter Powers and company crossed the Ammonoosuc River at its mouth on July 28, traveled up the Ammonoosuc, and proceeded north through what is now West Bath . They returned by the same route a few days later.  

Bath was originally charted in 1761 and rechartered in 1765 and contained a little less than six square miles. The first town meeting was in 1784. Initial settlement took place along the Ammonoosuc and Connecticut Rivers , and the first settlers were subsistence farmers who produced nearly everything needed for food, clothing and shelter. The earliest houses in Bath were log cabins. However, none of these are known to remain. Soon the center of activity shifted to West Bath and the first meeting house in town was erected there in 1792. By the early nineteenth century Bath Village had become the social, political, and industrial center of town.  

The first industries supported the rural way of life with blacksmith shops for making horseshoes and nails, wheelwrights building and repairing wagons and sleighs, gristmills for grinding wheat into flour; and sawmills preparing lumber for building. Barter was the "coin of the realm," and taxes assessed for roads were paid by working on the roads. Produce was hauled to Boston by horses or shipped to Hartford via the Connecticut River and traded for what could not be produced locally.  

Bath is divided into Bath Village , Upper Village , Swiftwater, Carbee, Getchell, West Bath , Pettyboro, and Nutter Districts. Originally 13 schools were distributed through the town, and each district had, to varying degrees, other institutions, churches, and businesses. Water power provided by the Ammonoosuc and Wild Ammonoosuc Rivers , as well as many of the smaller streams, drove the early mills and other industry. Bath Village and Swiftwater were the commercial engines of the town. Industries included a woolen factory, a creamery, a distillery, and at least two factories that made starch from potatoes. The practice of jurisprudence was important to the town through the nineteenth century. Logs were floated down the Ammonoosuc, Wild Ammonoosuc, and Connecticut Rivers to mills in the town and beyond. Mining of various minerals flourished briefly. With the coming of the railroad in 1850, "going below" became quicker and easier.  

Bath has evolved with the passing of time and shifting economic and demographic patterns. While Bath Village center remains the focus of the town, both socially and economically, a variety of moderate and small businesses are now found throughout the town. Agriculture and forestry remain important. Only one business in the town now relies on water power. Fundamental Solutions, Inc., located in the old leatherboard mill, generates electricity by waterpower that it sells along with a variety of other products. Canoes, kayaks, and tubes are the major users of waterpower in the town today.  

Electricity and the internal combustion engine have replaced waterpower and beasts of burden, and the railroad has come and gone. Improved roads and more reliable year round transportation have played a role in the development of the town. Education has been centralized, and nonagrarian residential development has spread. Bath once supported 13 Schools. Today the Bath School , located in the village, teaches grades K-6. Most of the older students continue their schooling at Lisbon or Woodsville. Twelve cemeteries once served the town. While only five of these continue in active use, all save one whose exact location is lost to time are maintained by the town and provide vivid windows into the past settlement and decentralized character of Bath .  

Population peaked in the early 19th century (1,623 in 1830) and the trend was a decline in residents through the late 20th century (604). This trend has reversed and the population of Bath has shown a steady increase. Bath is no longer a farming/industrial/judicial center, but is becoming a bedroom community for the nearby towns of Littleton and Haverhill .

 

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