If you live in an old house, you probably wonder about the history of it and the people who used to live there. My own house on Congress Avenue in Bath has always been a mystery to me. Tax records put the construction date at 1910, yet it is clearly shown on a map drawn in 1871. My only other clue was a collection of pennies I dug up in the yard dating back to 1847.

When my father originally bought the place in 1985, we heard some interesting stories from the sellers. The house had once been a farmhouse with 100 acres stretching down Lincoln Street past the current St. Mary’s Church. The big apartment house next door, which dad bought a couple of years later, was once a barn that had been moved there and turned into apartments during the housing shortage during World War I.

After 30 years of wondering, I asked Kerry Nelson of the Bath Historical Society for help. What she found was amazing. A series of newspaper articles told the interesting story of a forgotten park and circus grounds in Bath.

First came a newspaper clipping about John McKay. It said that he had been living in my house continually since 1859. Other clippings referred to it as the McKay Homestead, which made me happy. I’d rather live in a homestead than a regular old house. Another article about his son mentioned that he made a living by farming and operating a gas station on the corner of North and Lincoln streets.

Most interesting of all were the articles about what the paper called McKay Park. I had never heard of it, but apparently it was a well-known place in Bath at one time. At some point, the McKay’s started renting out the old farm for events. There is an article about a dog show with 50 dogs, including “mongrels, thoroughbreds and near-thoroughbreds.” Another shows an ad for the Downie Bros. Circus at McKay Park, featuring tightrope-walking elephants and Bill Cody, the cowboy movie star, along with his super horse Chico. Other ads prove that the Barnett Bros. circus was there as well, and also a carnival with a Ferris wheel and other rides.

From the sound of it, my house once presided over a mini Topsham Fairgrounds here in Bath. As for the apartment house next door, the paper mentions that it was once known as the Big Red Barn and was a landmark in town for many years before it was moved from the site of St. Mary’s Church to its present location. Eventually, the family started to cash out by dividing McKay Park into over 50 house lots, building houses and selling them off. Today the property is down to a single acre. I’m going to call it McKay Park just the same.

If you live in Bath and want to know about your house, get in contact with Kerry Nelson. I am very grateful to her.