The Sagadahoc Real Estate Association, founded in 1887, has played an unparalleled role in the development and perpetuation of Bath as a vibrant historic commercial district. Brothers William and Oliver Moses established the association when they purchased several blocks and rebuilt them after the 1894 fire that damaged much of the coastal city’s downtown. In the mid-20th century the real estate association came under the control of the Morse family who continued to acquire and manage various properties.
The ongoing prosperity of downtown Bath is due in large part to the Morses’ steadfast belief in historic preservation. They took great care to keep their 15 buildings, including whole blocks of Bath’s downtown, in excellent condition. Additionally, they felt it not only economically necessary, but morally important, to keep rental rates affordable for their tenants. They also went out of their way to understand the importance of a successful retail mix, moving beyond simply filling empty spaces and onto seeking new businesses who would reinforce the success of all of Bath’s downtown.
Beyond real estate, siblings Jane, John and Frances followed in their father John G. Morse, Jr.’s footsteps of community service with Jane and John remaining in Bath to become strong and visible community leaders, volunteering with many nonprofit organizations. Jane was a founder and leader of Main Street Bath, guiding the community to develop a clear and profitable identity for downtown. She was also deeply supportive of the Maine Downtown Center, now a program of the Maine Development Foundation. And all of us at Maine Preservation remember her profound generosity. She was the kind of patron who would underwrite an event and then show up early to pitch in to volunteer. With Jane’s passing in 2016, her brother John stepped up to the plate and continues as the steward of downtown, all while playing down his family’s unique role. John, too, has served the community, including as chair of the hospital board.
In the “City of Ships”, the Morse family successfully helped steer the downtown through some stormy seas, including fires, urban renewal, and the rapid growth of shopping malls, big box stores and the internet. While other small downtowns in Maine have suffered and continue to face ongoing struggles, Bath is grateful for the Morse family’s indelible contributions to a vibrant historic district.
As a testimony to their success, Bath has received numerous state and national awards including the National Trust’s “Distinctive Destination.” And, Bath is the only community in Maine to win the National Main Street’s – Great American Main Street Award. But there is nothing new about awards for the Morse family. Here, in 1977, just before the founding of the national Main Street Program, is John’s father, John, Jr. with other leaders, including past Maine Preservation President Mary Ella Rogers, receiving the President’s Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
As the family passes on their holdings to a new generation of owners, we are honored to acknowledge a legacy that has forever marked downtown Bath as a dynamic and authentic commercial district. Maine Preservation is incredibly proud to celebrate John G. Morse IV, Frances Bowen and Jane Morse (posthumously), on behalf of the Morse family as our 2018 Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr. Preservation Champions.