BATH, Maine — The daunting and expensive task of converting a century-old freight shed into a community center received a boost Tuesday when Maine Preservation granted the effort $1,000 in seed money.
Christopher Closs, a preservation adviser for Maine Preservation, said that although the structure is clearly utilitarian, the project to revive it is an example for other towns seeking to cling to the past while positioning for the future.
“As this project goes forward and more people gather here, I think you will see that this will become an engine in and of itself,” Closs said during a ceremony Tuesday where he presented the grant to the alliance. “I salute you for your creative energy. This is a model for what other communities in Maine can do.”
The 110-year-old Bath Freight Shed started as a transfer facility for freight brought to the city by rail. Train cars and other freight crossed the Kennebec River on steam-powered ferries before continuing to destinations all over coastal Maine. The long wooden building also has been a warehouse for local retailers, a scrap yard for Bath Iron Works and headquarters for a moving and storage company.
The building has been for sale since 2008. Owner Howie Kirkpatrick Jr. of Woolwich has had dozens of inquiries, but no one has been able to pay the $895,000 asking price for the shorefront building and the four-tenths of an acre of land on which it sits. In the meantime, Kirkpatrick has leased the building to a group called Maine’s First Ship. With the help of local students and teachers, that group is in the midst of building a replica of the Virginia, a ship originally constructed at the Fort Popham Colony in Phippsburg in 1607.
Various other projects also have been envisioned for the freight shed recently, including starting a winter farmers market, setting up a bicycle rental operation and using the building for educational programs run by the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust, among others.
As partial payment to Kirkpatrick, the group has made several upgrades to the building and is planning to revamp the electrical system this winter — if the Bath Freight Shed Alliance can gather enough money, supplies and in-kind help to make the project possible.
“We are at a change point for this building,” said Wiebke Theodore of Arrowsic, who is spearheading the effort. “This building is really taking on new life; it’s an exciting time for downtown Bath.”
The seed money from Maine Preservation will fund an engineering and design study of the building. Theodore is seeking donations of a full range of electrical supplies — everything from wiring to circuit breakers to light fixtures — to help the project advance.
Bath City Planner Andrew Deci, who joined the city staff this past summer, said he views the project as vital to preserving Bath’s long maritime heritage.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to really do something meaningful,” he said. “The work going on here at the Freight Shed is very important in terms of preserving one of the only industrial complexes here in the City of Bath.”
To learn more about the Freight Shed Alliance’s goals or to make donations to the electrical project, call 841-5505 or email Wiebke Theodore at firstname.lastname@example.org.