Camden Harbor, a place of beauty
Now that winter has arrived, in all its glory, Camden Harbor is still beautiful, but there is more tranquility and less activity. In the summer there are so many boats and yachts in that one can hardly see the water. The boats in the winter storage have their plastic covers, but we know there is work going on under those covers this winter in preparation for next summer. Camden Harbor is well known everywhere as a heaven of beauty "where the mountains meet the sea." Salt water is so alive that everyday it looks different, and several times it has frozen over all the way out to Curtis Island.
The Harbor has an interesting history. As early as 1603, Martin Pring and the other explorers who came later like Captain George Weymouth and Captain John Smith, used the Mount Battie and Mount Megunticook as landmarks. When James Richards, Camden's so-called first shelter, arrived in 1769 there were only a few wigwams on Eaton's Point (now Wayfarer Maine) to shelter Native Americans of the Penobscot tribe.
In 1814 the British appeared at the mouth of St. George's River and took the fort below Thomaston. So Camden had guards from Camden Harbor to Clam Cove. Col. Foote decided to fortify Camden by quickly erecting two forts, one Jacob's Point (near where today's Camden Yacht Club and the area above it), and the other on Eaton's Point where the steamboat wharf used to be. It took 100 men about two to three days to complete them. They were crescent form and about 40-feet in length. The height was 8- or 10-feet and thickness about 3- to 4-feet. The space between the inner and outer walls was filled with dirt. A platform was built inside that raised the soldiers to the right elevation to allow them to rest their muskets on top of the breastwork. They had two 12-pounders mounted on carriages and pointed toward the harbor. Then they got one 18-pounder and took that and two 12-pounders to the summit of Mt. Battie. Sure, it was an undertaking, but John Grose took the contract for $25.
Bay View Street was not built until 1866. Before that the land had shipyards, as early as the late 1700s by William McGathry, Noah Brooks, Joseph Stetson, etc. and went from Chestnut Street to the waterfront. The business that came after the street was built were lumber yards, coal yards, Camden Anchor Works, Knox Marine Engine, J. & B. C. Adams and harbor related businesses. You did not pay taxes for a "water view", because no one wanted to live on the streets near the water. It was a poor residential district. At one time, I've been told there were 10 wharves on the west side of the harbor.
When the old Anchor Factory burned May 19, 1935, the Camden Public Landing was created. Now it is used by tourist, day sailing boats, sight-seeing boats and fishermen.
Atlantic Avenue was not built until 1880. Land went from High Street to the water. There were many small shipbuilding businesses, where Camden Public Library, the Amphitheater and Harbor Park are today. These were owned by Isaac Coombs, Israel Decrow, John Dailey, Oliver Clarey and others. On Eaton's Point were shipyards as Hodgeman and Glover in 1855, H. M. Bean in about 1873 to 1909, Robert Bean from 1914 to 1920, Camden Shipbuilding and Marine Railways working on yachts until 1941, when the yard was started up again by Cary Bok, Clinton Lunt and Richard Lyman in 1941 for World War II, building APCs, ATRs, barges and minesweepers for our government and lend lease for the British. Then Cary Bok and William Peterson had a yard there building yachts from 1945 to 1963. Wayfarer Marine has been there ever since for service, storage and repairs.
Mary Louise Curtis Bok Zimbalist made Camden more beautiful, when in the mid 1930s, she gave us Camden Public Library (designed by Parker Morse Hooper and Charles Loring), The Garden Theater (designed by Fletcher Steele) and Harbor Park (designed by Olmstead). Nice shops began to move to Bay View Street, and Duane Doolittle, when he started Down East Magazine made buildings nicer, but within keeping the charm of Camden. New owners of homes on Sea Street made them lovely and various owners of the shipyard on Eaton's Point made that section look nicer too.
A noticeable change came when Dr. Raymond Tibbetts built Lok Marina. It was an attraction that neither residents nor visitors had seen before. When they stopped using it it was frozen over so people could skate there. Now there is a building or condo built and the Lok Marina parking garage for people renting there.
The harbor was quite polluted before Camden put in the waste water treatment plant. You couldn't see 2-feet down into the water. There were about nine large sewers that went into the harbor. When Knox Woolen Mill was in operation, and they washed the wool, the suds would come into the harbor. As teenagers we used to row to Sherman's Point and catch flounders and they used to catch codfish out in the bay, but they have all disappeared. Either the fish liked the pollution or maybe there is another reason.
Anyway, the harbor is nice and clean now and is larger because the Army of Engineers gives a permit for dredging, when the people around the harbor see that it is filling in. The town has an active Harbor Committee. Willard Wight was chairman for many years, and his business is on the water. He has been keeping an eye on Camden Harbor most of his life.
There is a lovely view for all from the benches at the Public Landing, benches in Harbor Park or the library grounds. If you would like company, there is a bench near Edna St. Vincent Millay's statue in Harbor Park.
Barbara Dyer is Camden's official town historian.