Historic Bath showcases collection of treasured artifacts

Published 9:41 pm Wednesday, April 17, 2019

BATH — Robin Suggs know the Bath State Historic Site like the back of her hand.

She knows what artifacts are displayed in each of the period homes occupying the site, and she knows what treasures are tucked away in storage awaiting their turn in the spotlight.

Suggs has served as the assistant site manager since April 2018 but her work with overseeing the site’s collection goes back long before that.

Suggs joined the site staff as a part time employee in 2001 and she gradually took charge of the artifacts after becoming a full time staff member in 2007.

“I do the inventory of the houses and make sure each artifact is where it is supposed to be,” she said in a recent interview. “In the event of a disaster, we’ll know what was in the house.”

PIECE OF HISTORY: Robin Suggs, Bath State Historic Site assistant manager, shows off an antique shoe last that was found in the Palmer-Marsh House. Suggs oversees the site’s collection of historic artifacts. (Kevin Scott Thomas)

The Historic Bath site is home to the Bonner House and the Palmer-Marsh House, each restored to reflect life in the town in earlier eras. The Van der Veer House features exhibits of artifacts pertaining to Bath, and more items are displayed for public viewing in the visitors center and an exhibition hall located in the former Bath High School.

The homes on the site’s tour showcase furnishings, paintings and miscellaneous  artifacts; other items are brought out on special occasions, according to Suggs. Oftentimes, there just isn’t enough room to display the bulk of the collection.

“One of our goals is to expand our exhibition space so other items can be displayed for the public to view,” Suggs noted.

Some of the items in the collection were obtained in the mid-20th century in the years leading up to Bath becoming an official state site. Many pieces were donated by local families, and Suggs pointed out that much of the credit goes to members of the Daughters of the American Revolution as well as local humorist and history buff Edmund Harding.

While some items were not actually used in the houses in which they are now displayed, they are appropriate to the era.

An especially interesting treasure, and one of Suggs’ personal favorites among the collection, is an antique shoe last, a wooden form used for cobbling shoes.

BATH TREASURES: The Palmer-Marsh House showcases a fine collection of items representing life in Bath during the colonial era.(Kevin Scott Cutler)

“Colonel Robert Palmer had a slave who cobbled shoes, and this shoe last was found in the Palmer-Marsh House during the early days of the restoration,” Suggs said. “Now it is displayed in what is termed the servants’ room.”

Other items of interest include a cane back rest displayed at the Bonner House; dating to the 1800s, it is an example of an early lumbar support, according to Suggs. An art piece, a reverse painting on glass, hanging in the Palmer-Marsh House is also particularly eye-catching.

Suggs credits the late Leigh Swain and the late Bea Latham for nurturing her interest in the Bath collection. Swain was the site manager and Latham was assistant manager for many years.

“I had a passion for preserving history and I love puzzles,” she added. “Sometimes you’ll find something and you just have to figure out where it came from.”

For more information on activities and exhibits hosted by the Bath State Historic Site, call 252-923-3971.