A beautiful place in the heart of downtown

By Barbara F. Dyer | Mar 15, 2014
Courtesy of: Camden Public Library Camden Public Landing

Camden Public Landing is reached from the entrance of Main Street down Commercial Avenue. Today it is a parking area for townspeople, tourists, fishermen and the vessels that take people out for an hour or two and some for the day. People like to sit on the benches and watch the activities in the inner and outer harbor. So, it has many uses and a view to behold, like none other.

There are plans, in Camden’s Master Plan on the table today, for some possible changes. The Economic Development Committee, the merchants and the town staff will have more discussions and set priorities. In talking with Brian Hodges, I learned we have received a grant for implementing a wider boardwalk, installing a stub pier and a fisherman’s hoist on the pier. When finalized by this group, it will be presented to the Select Board and the taken from there through processes.

How the place came about is a story that goes back to 1935. The Camden Anchor Works owned by the Aldens had been located in that vicinity, and they built some of the largest anchors that went on vessels going all over the world. That business then became the Camden Anchor-Rockland Machine Company and in addition they built vessels, and it was owned by John Bird.

Then, believe it or not, Camden had a sardine factory that started up in 1929, with 40 employees and a weekly payroll of $1,300. It was owned by Angus W. Holmes and Angus N. Holmes from Stockton. In July 1930, there was a small fire there, but on March 14, 1935, there was a suspicious fire. They went out of business and Isadore Gordon owned the vacant building. May 19, 1935, I took a walk down town to celebrate my birthday, and there was a big fire blazing that included that building and Camden Lumber Yard as well as threatening other buildings on Bay View Street. I left for home in a hurry.

According to the Camden Herald published March 5, 1936, the development of Camden’s waterfront property was now under consideration. The subject was presented at the open meeting of the Committee of Twenty-one (now the Budget Committee). A sub-committee was appointed to talk with the present owners of that property to see what purchase price might be arrived at. The outcome of those talks was presented at the closed meeting of the Committee of Twenty-one that week. It was then to be either passed over or recommended for vote at Town Meeting in March.

If the Town saw fit to buy the property, Mary Louise Curtis Bok offered her assistance in the beautification of the waterfront. Olmstead Brothers of Massachusetts would be the Landscape Architects. The drawings were displayed in the former La Folle Gift Shop. The land was to be useful and attractive. It was a very flexible plan and one thought was to have only two buildings: One to be a new fire station, with a dormitory for six or seven men on the second floor, with an office for the chief. There might be a hose drying tower and maybe a lookout tower for the harbormaster. The second building would be for snow removal trucks, a First Aid truck and repair shop for the trucks. There might be a community building to hold up to four hundred people and built like a sail-loft. The editorial listed Camden assets and stated: "Let’s guard them and improve their value."

April 30, 1936, the newspaper writes about Camden having a special Town Meeting because a petition requested it. Then it announced the Special Town Meeting would be held in the Opera House on May 6, 1936. Well, there were other issues and, as it always has been, some are strongly opposed to things, while others are strongly for them. The Camden Herald wrote: "We believe and have faith in the ability and integrity of our Town Manager and have nothing but praise for him. We have faith in the men that we, as a Town, elected to office and believe them honest and conscientious. We believe that the Isadore Gordon Property should be purchased by the Town, as that we may take advantage of the offer by Mary Louise Bok, and through her generous aid acquire for the Town a public landing, which will be another beautiful asset and replace the unsightly liability.” It also stated that every man and woman eligible to vote in the Town of Camden, should attend the meeting .

Then there was a gentleman, who always was opposed everything, as far back as I can remember.

Well, Camden had their Special Town Meeting and voters unanimously endorsed all articles for the Town’s betterment. They voted to buy the Isadore Gordon property on the waterfront for a public landing and pay for the same with an issue of serial bonds not to exceed $10,000. Most of the discussion was about the public landing property. Mr. Gushee spoke and gave a short history of the property and asked that the vote to purchase it be rescinded. Mr. Carswell arose in rebuttal and stated that the purchase of the property would be in the best interest of the town and be moved to pass over this article.

In reply, Mr. J. Crosby Hobbs pointed out that the natural beauty of Camden was one of its chief assets in attracting people to Camden and anything we could do to wipe out a blemish and beautify our town should be done. Mr. Dwinal spoke at length presenting reasons why the Gordon property should be acquired. Judge Emery spoke about it and by that time there was no doubt in the minds of those present what the outcome would be. At this point the meeting turned into an ovation for Mrs. Bok and hand clapping filled the Opera House.

In 1937, construction of a public wharf continued through the summer, with granite from Stonington arriving in July and put in place.

By 1940, people were using it for all day parking and the Memorial Day Parade was stopping there to honor those died at sea, instead of going to the Yacht Club, as they had previously. The same year they set off fireworks for the Fourth there and an anonymous donor gave ice cream to all youngsters.

Many people have enjoyed the Public Landing, since it was built.


Barbara Dyer is Camden's official town historian.

Camden Public landing and anchor works. (Courtesy of: Camden Public Library)
Inner harbor and Curtis Island, Camden 2002. (Courtesy of: Camden Public Library)
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Comments (1)
Posted by: William Pease | Mar 16, 2014 11:33

Bravo! What a perfectly wonderful, perfectly timed, and perfectly appropriate article on a critical moment in Camden's history and development. Very well done, indeed.

And bless the very well-thinking citizens of Camden and Mrs. Bok who did so much at those critical moments in its history to do so much to make of Camden what it has become so superbly today!

And, as always, a very deep and heartfelt bow to you, Barbara Dyer, for your continuing immense contributions to the history of Camden town and the mid-coast area of Maine.

Bill Pease

Lancaster, Pa. (but a Rocklander still at heart who never visits back home every other year or  so without going to Camden to marvel at the Public Landing, Mount Battie, your beautiful Public Library, and the Bok Gardens--superb, indeed.)

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