Date of Award
Level of Access Assigned by Author
Master of Arts (MA)
Second Committee Member
Third Committee Member
Belfast, Maine, is a small, visitor-friendly city of approximately 6,700 residents located on that state’s picturesque mid-coast. Founded by Ulster Scots descendants in 1770, Belfast’s rich history has allowed its sense of place to evolve as the community’s identity changed from a frontier settlement to a commercial seaport, then an industrial city, and currently a host city for several prominent customer call centers. While now charming, increasingly gentrified and popular with tourists, the city earlier prospered for more than a century as a blue-collar industrial community, which eschewed tourism well into the 1980s. This paper addresses Belfast’s sense of place and identity as a manufacturing culture from approximately 1870 to 1970. Belfast is notable for recovering from several historic fires in the 1860s and 1870s, in part by repopulating its devastated commercial district with modern factories. Keeping those factories viable, and retaining the skilled workers who made profitable production possible, created much of the manufacturing culture at the heart of Belfast’s identity. Belfast matured into a city of interdependencies where factory payrolls supported the local economy, and the community reciprocated by supporting those producers with infrastructure targeted to make remaining in Belfast more attractive than relocating to competing communities. Those patterns of reciprocity and mutual support had historical roots that originated with the ancestors of Belfast’s Ulster Scots founders, and in the struggles of their Irish exile over the 1600s. That legacy later helped the community to be more accepting of similarly challenged immigrants who came to work in Belfast’s factories, as well as numerous workers migrating from neighboring rural communities. Belfast’s manufacturers would come to rely on those rural workers’ diverse skills to sustain increased production and offset local attrition. That rural-to-urban migration, and subsequent abandonment of farms, precipitated fewer but larger remaining farms. After WWII the capacity of those larger farms would be central to the rapid growth of Belfast’s signature poultry industry. In fact, Waldo County’s poultry industry would become so successful, so quickly, that its unchecked growth and associated waste disposal into Belfast’s harbor from its processing plants would make that harbor one of the most polluted in Maine. That pollution, and not the city as a manufacturing powerhouse which employed thousands of Maine workers for over a century, was the reputation that would curse Belfast as the “city with a bathtub ring.” The proud community which had survived massive fires, bankrupt factories, depressions and wars, was powerless to restore its soiled reputation, even decades after pollution control facilities made the harbor its cleanest in living memory. The conclusion of this study is that from 1870 to 1970, Belfast, Maine’s success as a manufacturing center, and endurance as a manufacturing culture, lay primarily in the mutually supportive relationships between its community and workforce, which permitted the city’s economy to repeatedly adapt to challenges and change. Not only was the community’s sense of place and identity defined by this collaborative economy, but it was also effectively surrendered with the end of this manufacturing era.
Munson, Michael, "The City with a Bathtub Ring: A Century of Shared Industrial Identity in Belfast, Maine" (2022). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 3635.