History of Portland, Maine

Portland, the largest city and most important seaport of Maine, is located on Casco Bay, 110 miles northeast of Boston. Portland is situated on a peninsula three miles long and a mile wide, as well as another peninsula to the east, (formerly the independent city of Deering) and some mainland territory and islands.Portland was first settled in 1632, but suffered from Indian raids in 1675 and 1690. During the War of Independence, the British bombarded and burned Portland, but it was rebuilt in 1786.Maine gained independence from Massachusetts in 1820 and Portland became Maine's capital, retaining that position until 1831. Portland's shipping activity declined after World War I, but later revived.The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born in Portland in 1807, in what is now called the Wadsworth-Longfellow House, which had been built around 1785 by his grandfather, General Peleg Wadsworth. The Maine Historical Society maintains the house as a museum.Cyrus H.K. Curtis was born in Portland in 1850, and left at the age of 16 to seek his fortune. His two provisos were that it be built by the Austin Organ Company of Hartford and that it be a memorial to Hermann Kotzschmar. Kotzschmar, a German immigrant who was for 47 years the organist at the First Parish Church Unitarian Universalist in Portland, had been a close friend of the Curtis family when he first came to Portland in 1849, so much so that the publisher's full name was Cyrus Hermann Kotzschmar Curtis. The Kotzschmar Memorial Organ remains a feature of the Portland City Hall to this day.Maine General Hospital opened in 1874 with 40 beds. The Maine Eye and Ear Infirmary followed in 1890, and Children's Hospital in 1908. In 1951, the three merged to become Maine Medical Center. The Catholic Diocese of Portland opened Queen's Hospital in 1918 to care for victims of the flu epidemic of 1918. It was run by the Sisters of Mercy and later became Mercy Hospital.The Portland Museum of Art was founded in 1882 and is the largest public art museum in Maine. The Maine College of Art, founded in 1882 as an adjunct of the museum of art, is the oldest arts educational institution in Maine.

History of Portland, Maine - History

About Falmouth - Colonial Origins

"A World on the Edge": From the Almouchiquois to New Casco

The history of Falmouth begins with the Native Americans who settled the region approximately 14,000 years ago following melting glaciers at the end of the last ice age. Archeological evidence suggests that agriculture first came to region between the years 1300-1400 CE. By the time French explorer Samuel de Champlain made European contact in the area in 1605, he identified the people living between the Androscoggin River and Cape Ann, Massachusetts as the “Almouchiquois.” Within the Almouchiquois, a semi-autonomous band Captain John Smith called the “Aucocisco” inhabited Casco Bay. English explorer Christopher Levett observed in 1623 that their leader (known as a Sagamore) Skitterygusset, resided at the Presumpscot Falls. The Almouchiquois suffered two tragedies prior to English settlement which has prevented scholars from knowing much about them. First, warfare with Micmacs to the north in a conflict scholars have later labeled the Tarrentine War brought defeat and death to southern Maine Indians. Second, an epidemic between 1616-19 claimed the lives of upwards of 90% of New England’s indigenous population. When the English began settling Casco Bay in the 1630s, only remnants of the Algonquian-speaking Almouchiquois remained in the area.

Falmouth’s early years were marked by extreme violence as it lay on a borderland zone between Europeans and Native Americans. Casco Bay represented the northernmost point of English settlement well into the 1700s. Powerful Abenaki tribes extending into French Canada lived to the west and north of Falmouth. Numerous wars between 1675-1763 among the English, French, and Native Americans rarely left Falmouth unscathed from the violence. The English twice abandoned Casco Bay altogether under pressure from French and Indian attacks in 1676 and 1690.

Arthur Mackworth was the town’s first European resident, building a house in the 1630s on the Presumpscot River. Later English settlers followed Mackworth’s example by settling on the Presumpscot, in close proximity to the bulk of English population on the peninsula known as Casco (now Portland). The borders of today’s Falmouth was known as “New Casco,” and was a village within the larger Casco settlement. The present Town of Falmouth would be known as “New Casco” until Portland separated in 1786.

Although the town was known as New Casco, it was during this early period that the name Falmouth first became associated with the area. In 1658 the Massachusetts Bay Colony took control of Maine, despite local resistance. Massachusetts renamed the Casco Bay settlements “Falmouth” after an important battle in the English Civil War which occurred in Falmouth, England. Massachusetts probably chose the name “Falmouth” to celebrate their conquest of Maine, symbolically mirroring the victory of Parliamentary forces over Royalists at Falmouth, England in 1646. Commonly known as “Falmouth on Casco Bay” to distinguish it from the Falmouth on Cape Cod, the original town boundaries included Cape Elizabeth, South Portland, Westbrook, Portland, and the current town

In an effort to improve relations with the local Native Americans, the English built a fort called New Casco in 1700 at the bequest of local Abenakis who desired a convenient place to trade and repair their weapons. The location of the fort would today be located opposite Pine Grove Cemetery on Route 88. A 1701 meeting between local Abenaki-Pigwackets and Massachusetts colonial officials cemented the alliance between the two peoples. A pair of stone cairns were erected as symbols of this friendship. The nearby Two Brothers Islands offshore later received their name from this long-forgotten monument. Unfortunately peace would not last as Queen Anne’s War broke out in the region two years later. The French sent Micmac, Mohawk, and French militia to raid the Maine coast and disrupt this new English alliance with the Native peoples of southern Maine. Massachusetts Governor Joseph Dudley traveled to New Casco in June 1703 in a vain attempt to keep local Native Americans out of the war. Six weeks later Fort New Casco was besieged by the invading Native American and French forces. The arrival of an armed Massachusetts ship saved the English huddled inside Fort New Casco. Peace returned in 1713, but three years later Massachusetts ordered the fort to be demolished. The destruction of Fort New Casco symbolized Massachusetts’ abandonment of their policy seeking the friendship of local Native Americans.

So long as the French controlled Canada, living east of the Presumpscot River in New Casco was a dangerous proposition. Only one family lived in the town in 1725. Growing English population and French defeat in King George’s War (1744-48) moved the borderland between Native Americans and English north to Midcoast Maine. By 1753 New Casco had grown to 62 families, and was large enough to form its own Parish. However Native Americans continued to target New Casco, most vividly witnessed by a raid in 1748 and the death of resident John Burnal in 1751.

The fall of Quebec City to the British in 1759 removed the French from North America, depriving nearby Native American groups of an important ally and formally ended the previous 130 years of unease or outright warfare in Falmouth. With the French no longer able to supply weapons for Native American resistance, little stood in the way of further English expansion into their territory. Local Native American populations had also been drastically reduced by disease, with most migrating north and west to join larger Native communities where they remain today. The colonial period had determined that the future inhabitants of Falmouth would be speaking English, not French or Algonquian.

Maine History Online

Images from Maine Historical Society

Tens of thousands of dockworkers, formally known as longshoremen, have labored on the wharves of Portland's waterfront for most of the past 150 years.

Many Irish immigrants, largely unskilled workers, got their economic start as longshoremen. These jobs provided the foundation upon which they could build their families' futures in Portland.

The work was difficult, the winter weather often brutal, and the unsteady nature of the labor problematic, thus presenting challenges to both the longshoremen and to their families. But, it also presented them with an opportunity.

Along Portland's waterfront much of the heavy manual labor in the early 19th century was being performed by a small but important black community of dockworkers, many living at the base of Munjoy Hill.

Some of these laborers had come to Portland by following the molasses trade from the West Indies. By importing large quantities of this dark sticky substance, Portland became a notable supplier of refined sugar, especially through the J. B. Brown sugar refinery on the waterfront.

Other by-products of molasses were rum and other forms of alcohol, distilled at the McGlinchy brewery and other legal and semi-legal enterprises throughout the town.

Portland's maritime history, and its commercial prominence, changed dramatically in 1853 when the city was linked by rail to Montreal by the Atlantic and Saint Lawrence (later known as the Grand Trunk) Railway.

This was the dream of John A. Poor who saw the potential of Portland as a major world port connecting, by ocean steamship and rail, the markets of the American continent with the maritime centers of Europe. Poor believed that Portland could eventually rival the major cities of the Baltic.

The development of Portland as Canada's main winter port was significant, even though it never quite rose to the level of Poor's vision of greatness. The major commodity handled through the port of Portland was Canadian grain, especially from November through April when the Saint Lawrence River was frozen, effectively making Montreal and Quebec land-locked cities.

Beginning in 1853 large steamships arrived in Portland with increasing regularity during the winter, giving the longshore laborers steady and eventually increasingly more lucrative work. This railroad connection coincided with the arrival of large-scale immigration from Ireland in the years immediately following the devastating potato famine of the late 1840s.

Although many of Maine's early Irish settlers had originated from the north of the country, mainly Scots-Irish Presbyterians from Ulster, the newer famine-era immigrants came largely from the poorer western regions of Ireland. Most post-famine immigrants to Portland came from County Galway, with its strong and surviving Irish language (Gaelic) tradition.

In a process known as "chain migration," one family member arrived and paved the way for others to join, usually by sending "money from America" to help with the cost of passage on steamers.

One place that these new Irish immigrants could find work in Portland was along the waterfront. By the mid-19th century the Irish had already displaced the black dockworkers. As work became more regular and attractive, at least in the winter months, the Irish dockers attempted to formalize and guarantee their working conditions. By the 1860s an Irish longshore association was demanding higher wages, especially during the boom times around the Civil War.

By 1880, these mostly Irish dock workers incorporated as the Portland Longshoremen's Benevolent Society (PLSBS). Most of the charter members of the PLSBS were Irish and many of these were primarily Irish -- Gaelic -- speakers. One of the bylaws of the PLSBS stated that "No colored man shall be a member of this society."

The maritime labor transformation from black to green had occurred and there would be no going back. Anti-black racism was not unique to Portland, but it was ironic given the early history of blacks on its waterfront as well as the fact that the Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Portland at that time, James Augustine Healy (1875-1900), was half black and half Irish.

The Irish immigrants congregated in two main neighborhoods and the streets connecting them along Portland’s waterfront: the west end, later known as Gorham's Corner, with its Saint Dominic's parish (the oldest Catholic Church in Portland, dating from 1833) and the east end, better known as Munjoy Hill, with its Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (1866).

The parochial nature of life in Galway, with regional differences reflecting seemingly small geographic distances, had migrated intact to Portland. Often the children from one of these neighborhoods hardly knew the streets or the residents of the other, even though they were barely one mile apart.

Because so many of Portland's Irish longshoremen had similar Galway surnames, such as Joyce, Connolly, Folan/Foley, O'Malley, or Gorham, a cultural trait common in Ireland, the use of nicknames for those with common family names, survived in Portland.

A few of the nicknames with Gaelic roots are Bád ní ngean (ball of yarn), Bartla Tadhg (Bartley Timothy), Cockaneeney (Cac an éinín, or bird droppings), greenhorn geimhridh (immigrant arriving in winter), Paddy na gcnoc (Patrick of the hills), and Philipín (little, or young, Philip).

Other nicknames often were quite comical, such as Average Man, Blessed Virgin, Broken Dishes, Leaky Roof, Paper Legs, Senator Cleghorn, Shaggy Dog, Soup Bone, and Ya-Ya.

Most of the longshoremen were Roman Catholic. Every bishop since the Diocese of Portland was first created in 1855 had an identifiably Irish surname, such as Bacon, Healy, O'Connell, Walsh, Murray, McCarthy, Feeney, Gerety, O'Leary, Gerry, and Malone.

By the 19th century there were numerous Irish social, cultural, and political organizations in Portland, including the Portland Longshoremen's Benevolent Society, whose peak membership of 1,366 was recorded in 1919.

By the early 1920s, however, there began a steady decline of work and membership. In the 1920s the Canadian government upgraded the ports of Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Saint John, New Brunswick, to handle "Canadian goods from Canadian ports." Canadian longshoremen in those two ports handled the grain that had been shipped from Portland for the 70 years between 1853 and 1923.

Despite a brief positive revival in maritime cargo due to World War II, Portland's maritime labor continued to decline. Eventually, Portland became known essentially as an oil port, with the Portland Pipeline handling oil shipments to Montreal. Oil was not labor intensive, however, and the longshoremen unsuccessfully searched for commodities to ship from this deep water port, or for imports that could be handled at Portland.

By the start of the 21st century, the port of Portland had largely become a natural resource without a clearly defined function.

Important Places of Portland's African-American History

Portland’s Black Communities have been shaping the city’s history, landscapes, and architecture since the city’s founding. As a major port city, Portland was both a stop on the Underground Railroad and home to a thriving community of free black people who worked the waterfront or for the commercial railroads. A few of the buildings that tell their stories remain standing, primarily in the India Street Neighborhood which was founded by free African-Americans who prospered in Portland’s maritime economy. Those buildings are featured below.

The writing about these historic places is based on information from the following publications. Please check out these valuable resources for more in depth reading:

In September of 2017 19th Century African-American Resources was add to Greater Portland Landmarks' Places in Peril list. Surviving historic resources and buildings tell the story of the African American citizens that contributed to Portland’s robust history. Three areas on the City’s peninsula were historically home to Portland’s black residents: Newbury Street near the Abyssinian Meeting House, Lafayette Street on Munjoy Hill near Mansfield’s Livery Stable and in the St. John-Valley Street neighborhood in close proximity to Union Station, a major employer to many of the neighborhood’s African American families. All three areas historically associated with Portland’s African American community are either rapidly redeveloping or ripe for redevelopment. In preservation efforts to date, these modest dwellings and institutional buildings associated with Portland’s black history have largely been overshadowed by larger, more elaborate buildings.

The Abyssinian Meeting House, 73 Newbury Street, (1828): Built in 1828 as a house of worship, the Abyssinian Meeting House is the third oldest standing African- American meeting house in the United States, and is of local, state and national historic significance. The Abyssinian became the center of social and political life for Portland’s African-American community in the 19th century. When the Great Fire was tearing through the city, the community that relied on the Abyssinian rallied together to cover the roof in wet blankets and successfully save it from the blaze. The building served as a church and a segregated public school, as well as a hall for concerts, dinners and entertainment. Its members and preachers included former enslaved people, leaders of the Underground Railroad movement, and outspoken advocates for the abolition of slavery in the United States. The Meeting House was closed in 1917, converted to tenement apartments in 1924, and finally, abandoned and taken over by the City of Portland for back taxes. In 1998, the Committee to Restore the Abyssinian bought the property and began its restoration. The committee continues to make progress on the restoration as well as raising awareness of this nationally significant building. For more information or to get involved, visit their website and get in touch with the committee. For Landmarks view of the Abyssinian click here.

The Abraham Niles House, 77 Newbury Street (c. 1840): Built next to the Abyssinian Meeting house, the Abraham Niles House is also a survivor of the Great Fire. Abraham Niles was a mariner and early member of the church next door. The Niles family lived in the house until the end of the 19th Century.

The North School, 248 Congress Street (1867): After the Great Fire of 1866, the North School was built to educate all neighborhood children, including the large population of black children living in the India Street neighborhood and on Munjoy Hill. While many of the teachers at the North School were descendants of Irish immigrants, Portland’s first black school teacher purportedly taught at the North School, too.
Click for more info on Portland's Historic Schools.

Reuben Ruby House, 81 Newbury Street (c. 1853-56): This building has been altered, losing many if its historic features, but not its historic significance. One of the first occupants was Reuben Ruby, founder of the Maine Anti-Slavery Society. Born in Gray, Maine he was the foremost Underground Railroad Conductor in Portland and worked on significant anti-slavery publications in Boston and Maine. He had a successful hack stand, the former location of which is marked on the Portland Freedom Trail. He purchased and donated the land for the Abyssinian Meeting House as well as funded its construction. His son, William Wilberforce Ruby, was the fireman who first alerted the city to the start of the Great Fire of 1866 and led his community to protect the Abyssinan’s roof during the fire. For more information on William Wilberforce Ruby, read the Portland Press Herald article on the Great Fire.

Eastern Cemetery 224 Congress (1668): Some of the Ruby Family are buried in Eastern Cemetery. This cemetery is the final resting place for many of Portland’s earliest African Americans. Near the fence on Mountfort St. there is a section of the cemetery that was originally designated for black people. In the first half of the 19th C. many prominent people of Portland’s Anti-Slavery movement, black and white, were buried in this cemetery. For more information on their lives read the Portland Freedom Trail or get in touch with Spirits Alive, the friends group that researches, restores, and advocates for Eastern Cemetery.

John and Mary Parrs House, 16 Federal Street (1870): While this house has been altered several times, most recently in 2015-16, the original structure was built in 1870. The Parrs family reflects the different work histories of African-American families in Portland. John Parrs was the owner of several buildings in the India Street Neighborhood and a mariner. His son, Braxton was a mariner and later, a postal worker. His daughter-in-law, Amelia, was a seasonal cook in Old Orchard Beach and one of the longest residents of the Parrs House. She was originally from Georgia and has an unclear family lineage, perhaps born into slavery.

The Valley Street neighborhood: In addition to the India Street Neighborhood, The Valley Street area was home to a significant portion of Portland’s black community. Many in the neighborhood worked at Union Station (1888-1961) or on the Maine Central Railroad. They worked as porters, cooks, and dining waiters on the passenger trains, as waiters, matrons, Red Caps, and bootblacks in the station, or as track and transit men on the cargo trains. Many of the existing homes on Valley and A Street were occupied by Portland’s black families. Maine’s Visible Black History provides more information on the history of the Valley Street neighborhood. The book features the Cummings Family who lived in this neighborhood and was known for, among other things, their long and successful careers with the railroad, starting with three brothers at the turn of the century, Eddie, Tate, and Leslie Cummings. Their children and grandchildren continue to be prominent in Maine as leaders in politics, civil rights, and advocacy for black history landmarks, including the Abyssinian Meeting House.

Historic Preservation

In 1990, the City of Portland adopted a historic preservation ordinance to recognize and preserve one of Portland's major assets - its rich collection of historic architecture and landscapes. The ordinance protects almost 2000 properties throughout the City, in neighborhoods as diverse a the Old Port, Stroudwater, Congress Street, the West End and Fort McKinley on Great Diamond Island.

The intent of the ordinance is not to prevent change, but to thoughtfully manage it, so that the unique character of these historic areas is retained. Designated properties are protected from demolition and proposed alterations or additions are reviewed to ensure compatibility with a property's original design. New construction within designated historic districts is also reviewed to ensure a respectful relationship between new and old.

Today, the impact of the ordinance is clear: preserving historic resources stabilizes neighborhoods and makes economic sense. A walk or drive through any of Portland's eleven historic districts reveals exciting changes, as more and more old buildings are carefully rehabilitated according to historic preservation standards and compatible new buildings are absorbed into the mix.

In the Parkside neighborhood, for example, along streets once marked by deteriorated housing and absentee ownership, there are now refurbished houses with owner occupants who take pride in their properties and their neighborhood. Along Commercial Street, exciting new architecture has taken its place beside restored 19th century warehouses, proving that new buildings can be both contemporary and compatible with historic structures. Throughout the City's historic park system, master plans are being developed to insure that future improvements respect the parks' original designs. All of these projects have been facilitated by the City's historic preservation program.

The success of this important program depends on the support and cooperation of the owners of Portland's historic properties. Before you undertake a project that will affect the exterior of your building or its surrounding lot, please read the information included on this website and call historic preservation staff in the Planning and Development Department to discuss your plans. They are prepared to assist you in finding practical and affordable solutions that meet both your needs and the ordinance's standards.

History of Portland, Maine - History

History of Portland, Maine
A Gazetteer of the
State of Maine

By Geo. J. Varney
Published by B. B. Russell, 57 Cornhill,
Boston 1886

Portland, eminent for its business facilities, for the healthfulness and beauty of its situation, and for the enterprise and urbanity of its citizens, occupies the chief harbor on Casco Bay, in the southern part of Cumberland County. Being the nearest port on the Atlantic coast to the cities of the St. Lawrence, and having a harbor safe and Convenient for the largest ocean-steamers, and open at all seasons, it has naturally become the chief seaport of the Canadas, as well as of Western Maine, and the northern parts of New Hampshire and Vermont. From the city proceed the Boston and Maine, the Eastern and the Portland and Rochester railways, traversing New Hampshire and Massachusetts business centres, and connecting with the roads to all parts of the continent. The Grand Trunk of the Atlantic and St. Lawrence Railroad comes down through the northern parts of Vermont and New Hampshire to the wharves of the ocean steamships in Portland Harbor. The Portland and Ogdensburg Railroad, passing up. the valley of the Saco, threading the White Mountains, by way of St. Johnsbury, Vt., and thence to the foot of Lake Champlain, will afford a still shorter route to Canada and the great West. The Maine Central with its branches, connects with the central region of the State from the Penobscot almost to the Rangely Lakes at Bangor it connects with the Piscataquis Railroad, and by the European and North American Railway, with the systems of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. All these lines are connected in the city by the marginal railway. In addition to the railroad facilities, lines of steamboats give water-carriage tri-weekly to New York, daily to Boston, tri-weekly to Bangor and intermediate ports, weekly to Mount Desert and Machias, semi-weekly to Eastport and St. John, N. B., and semi-weekly to Halifax, N. S., direct. The Allan line of steamships ply weekly between Portland and Liverpool, from November to May, affording large facilities of import and export.

Most of the leading manufactures are produced in the city or in its vicinit.y,-many of them in large quantities and of superior excellence.

The average amount of duties collected at the Portland Custom House for some years past is not far from $900,000.

The special industries in which Portland excels all other cities, are probably those of hermetically sealed provisions and the fisheries, and the preservation of fish in various forms.

In the fish business, about a dozen firms are engaged in the packing of mackerel and herring. These firms during the season of 1880, packed a total of 80,500 barrels of mackerel and 13,300 barrels of herring. The market-value of these is little short of $500,000. The number of vessels engaged in the mackerel fishery is 162 in the herring fishery, 75 making a total of 237 vessels, whose crews number 3,345. This does not include the persons employed in packing the fish. Half a dozen more firms are engaged in the curing of cod and other fish. The three which do the largest business in these, cured in the season ending with the middle of October, 1880, 50,000 quintals. The curing is done on the islands in the harbor. House Island has been in use for this purpose for more than 200 years.

Portland is the smallest town in the State ia superficial area. A small peninsula jutting into the inner waters of Casco Bay, and 16 islands and parts of islands, lying at distances of from 3 to 10 miles down the bay constitute the territory of the city. This peninsula, or Neck, was called Machigonne by the Indians, which according to some means bad clay while others contend that its interpretation should be knee or elbow,-descriptive of the curving form of the peninsula. The names of the islands are Peak's, Long, Cushing's, House, Great and Little Diamond (or Hog), part of Crotch, part of Hope, Little Chebeague, Jewell's, Cow, Rain, Marsh, Overset, Crow, and Pumpkin Knob. Several of these islands are very picturesque and attractive, and 4 or 5 have hotels. The peninsula is about 3 miles long, with an average breadth of three-fourths of a mile. On the southerly side lies Cape Elizabeth, separated from Portland by an arm of the sea called Fore River, which constitutes the inner harbor. On the northerly side, is Back Cove and beyond is Peering. The peninsula has a mean elevation at the middle of more than 100 feet,-sloping gradually to the water on either side, except at the eastern and western extremities,-which rise in Munjoy's Hill at the east to the height of 161 feet and at the west, in Bramhall's Hill, to 175 feet,-ending here in a bold bluff. Munjoy's Hill affords delightful views of the waters of Casco Bay and its numerous islands, and of the ocean beyond. Bramhall commands a sea view, and a broad landscape of farm, forest and village, and beyond all, the great semicircle of the mountains. This configuration of the peninsula gives excellent drainage, while from its altitude it is bathed in the pure breezes from sea and shore, rendering it one of the most healthy cities on the globe. From end to end of the peninsula runs Congress street, the backbone of the city, 3 miles in length. Parallel with this on the east for a part of its length, are, first, Middle street, devoted chiefly to the dry goods trade second, Fore street, miscellaneous trade andthird, Commercial street, fronting the harbor, and occupied largely by wholesale traders in heavy goods of all sorts. On the western side, the streets are Cumberland second, Oxford and Portland third, Lincoln and Kennebec,-the last two running along the margin of Back Cove. The whole peninsula has above 226 streets, lanes and courts, aggregating a length of 48 miles while 29 wharves extend into the harbor, affording accommodation to vessels of every size and kind. Besides the lines of steam railways, already enumerated, there are 6 avenues for teams and foot passengers. There is also projected and partly built, a Marginal Way, 100 feet in width, running entirely around the city. Horse cars furnish easy transit between the depots of the different lines of steam cars, and the principal streets connecting also with the suburban villages of Deering Point, Woodford's Corner, and Morrill's Corner. The business of the city centres on the southerly slope below Congress street, near the middle of the peninsula. Munjoy's Hill is almost a village by itself of middle class residences, having its own churches, schools and shops. The northerly slope, back of Congress street, along its whole length, is devoted to private residences. The western end, rising gradually to the eminence of Bramhall, is the fashionable quarter and, having been spared by the great fire of 1866, now contains the oldest mansions, as well as many new and elegant edifices. A marked feature of Bramhall is the well-kept gardens and lawn surrounding the houses, and generally open to public view through open fences, or over low hedges, or guards of stone.

The slope under Bramhall toward Peering's Oaks, is now, also, becoming an inhabited place, and many handsome residences are already erected.

Portland has several excellent hotels,-the Falmouth, situated on Middle Street, being the largest. It is a magnificent structure containing 240 rooms, and 10 large stores. Its front is of Albert-stone, and its sile walls of pressed brick, with Albert-stone trimmings. The building of the first National Bank, near by, is a fine building of red-sandstone. A little farther down is the fine granite front of the Casco Bank building. The Maine Savings Bank has its rooms on the corner of Plum street. Over it is the St. Julian Hotel, a neat little house conducted on the European plan. A short distance beyond is the handsome red-freestone building of the Canal Bank. The oldest of the public houses of the city, recently enlarged and brought up to the requirement of the times, is the United States Hotel, on the eastern side of Market square, and occupying the space between Federal and Congress streets. In Stanton Block, on Exchange street, the Board of Trade has its head-quarters and here, also, is the Merchants' Exchange, with its reading-room. Close by is the elegant building of the Merchants' Bank. On the corner of Middle and Exchange streets is the Post-Office, an elegant building of Vermont marble, occupying a square by itself. Among its red brick neighbors, its chaste white walls and elegant architecture give it a somewhat ethereal look. Its cost was half a million of dollars. In the second story is the United States Court room and offices. A little further up on the same Street, is the fine block of the Portland Saving's Bank,-then the Printer's Exchange, where several papers are issued. On Congress street, at the head of Exchange, is the City Government Building, an imposing structure, having a frontage of 150 feet, a length of 221 feet, with corner towers 75 feet high, and a central dome tLat swells upward 160 feet. Its front is of a light-colored Nova Scotia Albert-stone, and the sides and rear of pressed brick with Albert-stone trimmings. Its cost was $650,000. In it, besides city and county rooms and offices, are the Public Library, containing 26,000 volumes, and the library of the Maine Historical Society. There are also two excellent halls in the building, the largest of which, an elegant apartment, will conveniently seat 2,500 people.

At the foot of Hancock street on the corner of Fore street, stands "the old square wooden house upon the edge of the sea," in which the poet Longfellow was born. Turning to Commercial street, a short walk brings us to the Custom house, a handsome structure of granite,-which also has a front on Fore street. On the opposite side of Commercial street, not far away, is the extensive and massive "Thomas Block," built by Hon. William W Thomas, one of the oldest and most successful merchants of Portland,-who has added beauty and value to the city by the erection of many elegant buildings.

The site of the first settlement in Portland is now occupied by the depot, the immense elevator, and other buildings of the Grand Trunk Railway. The settlers were George Cleeves and Richard Tucker, who here built their house, cleared land, and planted the first corn-in 1632. They were squatters at first but in 1637, Cleeves went to England and obtained from Sir Ferdinand Gorges, proprietor of this region, a grant of the peninsula on which they had built, and other neighboring lands and islands. These he parcelled out to settlers, and a small community soon grew up, and became known as Casco. Fishing, cultivation of the soil, and trade with the Indians, formed the business. in 1658, Massachusetts usurped the government of Gorges' territory, and applied the name Falmouth to Casco Neck, and a wide extent of territory about this harbor but the peninsula continued to be called Casco Neck until its incorporation as Portland in 1786. Falmouth at first embraced, in addition to the Neck, the territory now belonging to the towns of Cape Elizabeth, Peering, Westbrook and the present Falmouth. With incorporation came the settlement of a minister, and the people built the first meeting-house on the point now occupied by the Portland Company's works. The first minister was Rev. George Burroughs, a graduate of Harvard University, who began to preach there in 1674. When the town was destroye d by the Indians in 1690, he went to Danvers and two years afterwardhe was executed at Salem as a wizard. When the savages fell upon the place in 1676, of the 40 families in town, only four or five lived upon the Neck. In 1678 old settlers returned and Fort Loyal, the largest fortification on the coast, was erected on a rocky eminence where the round-house of the Grand Trunk Railway now stands. A party of Huguenots, or French Protestants, came in as settlers about this time. The town now began to prosper,-mills were set up, and roads were laid out,-mere footpaths, however, as no vehicles had yet been introduced. In 1681, the first tavern was opened. In 1688, the population of Falmouth had increased to 600 or 700, comprising 80 families, 25 of whom were on the Neck. In 1689, during the second Indian war, a large body of their warriors approached the town. Major Church, arriving with two companies just at the nick of time, met the Indians in the valley on the north side of Bramhall's Hill, and, after a sharp fight, drove them off losing in the contest eleven killed and ten wounded. The next year, 500 French and Indians, after a siege of five days, captured the fort, and carried the garrison captive to Canada.

From this time until after the close of Queen Anne's war in 1713, the place remained "deserted Casco." With its settlement in 1715, begins the second period of its history, which ends with its destruction by Mowatt in 1775. The new settlement was on nearly the same site as the old. In 1727, Rev. Thomas Smith commenced in the place his long ministry of over sixty-eight years.

In the course of half a century a great trade with the West Indies, as well as with England, sprang up so that on Nov. 1, 1766, six large ships were lying in the harbor. At the commencement of the Revolution, 2,555 tons of shipping were owned in what is now Portland: and the population was about 2,000. Its patriotism was then as prompt as has ever since been. No vantage was allowed for the enforeement of the Stamp Act the hated stamps being seized and burned as soon as they arrived and when the tax was placed upon tea, a popular assemblage resolved "that we will not buy nor sell any India tea whatever" and when the British government closed the port of Boston in 1774, the bell of Falmouth meeting-house was muffled and tolled from sunrise to sunset. Incensed by his capture and detention here in the previous spring by a party of militia from Brunswick, Capt. Henry Mowatt, in October, 1775, entered the harbor with a fleet of five war vessels, and on the 18th of that month, laid the town in ashes. The citizens nobly refused to give up their arms to secure the immunity of their village, but mostly fled into the country, taking with them what they could carry of there goods. Out of 514 buildings, only 100 dwelling-houses were left standing. Thus for the third time, the town was desolated. With the acknowledgment of our independence as a nation, a period of prosperity again began. There were not only business but social changes. "Distinctions of rank and of dress," says Elwell, "gave way before the democratic spirit of the times cocked hats, bush wigs, and breeches passed out, and pantaloons came in. Capt. Joseph Titcomb created quite a sensation when he returned home from the South, in 1790, wearing the latter form of the nether garment, the first seen here." In 1785, the first brick house in town was commenced, and the first newspaper appeared, the "Falmouth Gazette," published by Benjamin Titcomb and Thomas B. Waite. The same author previously quoted says, "In 1786, the town was divided, and the Neck, with the name of Portland, started on an independent career, with a population of about 2,000. In 1793, wharves were extended into the harbor. In 1795, Nathaniel Peering built the first brick store. In 1799, the first bank was incorporated. Trade advanced westward from the old site at the foot of India street, and in 1800, Exchange (then called Fish) street was the principal seat of business." Then the wealthier merchants began to build them more stately residences, fitted to the increasing refinement and the more lavish expenditure. Such are the Matthew Cobb house, still standing at the corner of High and Free streets the mansion built by Ebenezer Storer, on the corner of High and Danforth street that built by Joseph H. Ingraharn, on State street and the fine old mansion on the corner of High and Spring streets, long the residence of the late General Wingate all giving evidence of the architectural taste and thorough workmanship of the olden time.

The non-intercourse policy adopted by the general government in 1806, and the embargo which followed in 1807, brought a disastrous and sudden check to all this prosperity. "Navigation fell off 9,000 tons in two years and all the various classes to whom it gave support were thrown out of employment eleven commercial houses stopped payment in 1807, and many others the following year. * * * In the war of 1812, which followed, our sea-faring people manned the privateers fitted out here, some of which ran a successful career, and did great damage to the enemy, while others were soon captured by superior force, and their crews held as prisoners."

The fourth period in the history of Portland begins with the peace of 1815, and continues to the commencement of the railroad era in 1846. This was a period of slow recovery from the disasters of the war. In March 1820 the district of Maine was separated from Massachusetts and admitted into the Union as a State, and Portland became its capital. In 1823, the first steamer ever brought to Maine arrived in the harbor. This was the Patent, a vessel of about 100 tons burthen, owned by Capt. Seward Porter, of this city, who had bought her in New York to run as a passenger-boat between Boston and Portland.
Both Jonathan Morgan and Captain Porter had previously expert. mented with steamboats of their own construction the Kennebec, built by the latter in 1822, having been the first to run in Casco Bay. In 1833, the steamer Chancellor Livingston, built under the direction of Robert Fulton, ran between Portland and Boston and the Cumberland Steam Navigation Company, formed in the same year, put the steamer Commodore MeDonough on the route in opposition. The Cumberland and Oxford Canal connecting the waters of Lake Sebago with Portland Harbor, was begun in 1828, completed in 1830, at a cost of $206,000. This helped the business of the town somewhat yet the steamboats and the Portland, Saco and Portsmouth Railroad, opened in 1842, took much Portland business to Boston. A new railroad connecting with Boston diverted also to that city the trade of northern Vermont, which had previously come through the north of the White Mountains to Portland. The fifth period commenced with the opening of the Atlantic and St. Lawrence Railroad to Canada, in 1853. To aid in its construction, Portland loaned its credit in bonds to the amount of $2,000,000. This Grand Trunk road brought the city in connection not only with the cities of Canada, but with the vast graingrowing regions of the West. Then came, as necessary adjuncts of the road, a winter line of steamers to Liverpool, and the construction of a new business avenue along the whole water front of the city, a mile long and 100 feet wide, running over tide water, across the heads of wharves. This is Commercial street, the scene of a large wholesale trade in flour, grain and groceries. Then came the building of the system of railroads, now consolidated under the name of the Maine Central, opening to the trade of Portland all parts of the State, and the Lower Provinces of Canada. Then Brown's Sugar House and the Portland Company's Works, and other Manufacturing establishments sprang up, giving employment to hundreds of people.

The financial panic of 1857-8 brought no serious disaster to the business of the city and trade had again attained to a flourishing condition, when the war of the Slaveholder's Rebellion broke out. Portland, as usual, was prompt to the demands of patriotism,-six companies of the First Maine regiment, Colonel Jackson, having been raised here. Later regiments organized in Portland were the 5th, 9th, 10th, 12th, 13th, 17th, and 25th. The latter was a nine-months regiment of Portland boys, led by Col. Francis Fessenden. In all, Portland contributed to the army and navy of the Union during the war, 5,000 men to whom she paid a bounty of $428,970. Of these, 421 lost their lives in battle, or by disease. Her citizens also contributed largely in aid of the sanitary and Christian commissions, and many of her noble women gave their services in nursing the sick and wounded.

One morning in June, 1863, the United States Revenue cutter Caleb Cushing, was missed from her moorings, and Revenue collector Jewett and Mayor MeLellan, promptly manning and arming the steamers Forest City and Chesapeake, found her in the hands of the rebels, becalmed near Green Islands. On discovering the approaching vessels, her captors set her on fire, and took to their boats. She presently blew up and the rebel crew were soon captured by the pursuing steamers, and lodged in Fort Preble, as prisoners of war. During the war, much shipping of Portland had been transferred to the British flag but the business of the city did not otherwise suffer much loss.

On the 4th of July, 1866, a carelessly thrown cracker set fire to a boat-builder's shop on Commercial street, whence the flames were soon communicated to Brown's Sugar House whence it swept on diagonally through the city, spreading like a fan as it went. Entire streets were swept away, includeing massive warehouses, lofty churches, splendid mansions, ancestral houses and the dwellings of the poor, in the oldest and most crowded parts of the city in one common ruin. For nearly half a day, and through the night until the small hours of the morning, the vast volumes of flame and smoke held sway, sending terror and anguish among the whole population. The fire ended near Munjoy's Hill. The morning saw fifteen hundred buildings laid in ashes fifty-eight streets and courts reduced to a wilderness of chimneys, amid which the most familiar inhabitant lost himself ten thousand people made homeless, and ten millions of property destroyed. Villages of tents and barracks sprang up on Munjoy, and generous contributions from abroad flowed in, providing food, shelter and clothing for the penniless.

In rebuilding, old streets were widened and straightened, and new ones opened and, after a lapse of ten years, the waste places were almost wholly rebuilt, far more roomy, convenient and handsome than before. Meantime the increase of the business facilities of the city went on. In 1873, the Boston and Maine Railroad was extended from South Berwick to Portland, taking on its way Old Orchard Beach. In 1875, the Portland and Rochester Railroad completed its connections with Nashua, N. H., and Worcester, Mass. The same year, the Portland and Ogdensburg Railroad was completed through the Notch of the White Mountains. In the same period, various manufactures sprang up within the city or in its vicinity, as the rolling of railroad iron, the making of carriages, shoes, matches, stoneware, and drainpipes and these products find a market all over the United States, and, to some extent, in foreign countries. In 1870, Lake Sebago water was introduced by aqueduct all through the city, and the sewerage rendered more complete. Broad and regular streets, handsome and substantial business blocks, elegant and commodious dwellings, good drainage well-lighted streets, pure water, excellent air, convenient conveyance in and out of the city, by horse and steam cars,-numerous shadetrees, unsurpassed views of sea and shore, good schools, well-attended churches, and a moral, industrious, enterprising and courteous people- these render Portland one of the most desirable of cities for a home and business. There are now living in the city a large number of persons over eighty years of age.

Among those who have contributed largely to make Portland what it is in these various respects, must be mentioned the following names: George Cleeves, a first settler and proprietor, and Rev. Thomas Smith, the first have already been mentioned. Not only was Mr. Smith for a long period, the only minister, hut also the only physician in town. Another distinguished citizen of the anti-Revolutionary period was General Jedediah Preble, who had served in the French wars, and at the breaking out of the Revolution, was prevented from being the principal military officer of Massachusetts only by the infirmities of years. Worthy of honorable mention, also, are Theophilus Bradbury and David Wyer, earliest members of Cumberland bar. Samuel Freeman, school-teacher, trader, and Revolutionary patriot, a deacon of the First Parish forty-five years, delegate to the Provincial Congress, Judge of Probate forty-five years, post-master twenty-eight years, president of the Maine Bank and president of Bowdoin College for a number of years, with other offices also the publisher of several law-books. About 1770, Theophilus Parsons, afterwards Chief Justice of Massachusetts, became a citizen, studied law, and was admitted to the Cumberland bar. Sheriff William Tyng, most prominent of the Maine Tories, was also a citizen of this town. A little later was Simon Greenleaf, distinguished as a member of the Cumberland bar, a learned jurist and writer on law Stephen Longfellow, father of the poet, long in the successful practice of the law in the Cumberland courts Prentiss Mellen, chief justice of the State Ezekiel Whitman, member of Congress for four terms, and chief justice of the Supreme Court of Maine Samuel Fessenden, the able lawyer, orator and philanthropist Albion K. Parris, Governor of the State at the age of thirty-three years, and long in successful practice here William Pitt Preble, a judge and Minister to the Netherlands Arthur Ware, a learned writer on Maritime law, and judge of the United States District Court for forty-four years Ether Shepley, long chief justice of the State George F. Shepley, son of Ether, a brave soldier, and later, judge of the United States Circuit Court, who died a few years after his father. Of orators and statesmen of national reputation, Sargent S. Prentiss though he won his reputation in the south-was born here and William Pitt Fessenden, the distinguished U. S. senator and secretary of the Treasury, was always a citizen of this town, lion. George Evans, another U. S. senator from Maine, was for some time a resident, as was also Hon. George T. Davis, a former member of Congress from Massachusetts, and Hon. Horatio King, acting Postmaster General for sometime. Other noted citizens were Commodore Edward Preble, hero of Tripoli Rear Admiral Alden, who served in the war of 1812, and in the Mexican war and Commodore George H. Preble, who has served long and well. Of literary men who were sons or residents, or both, are Henry W. Longfellow, N. P. Willis, John Neal, Nathaniel Peering, Isaac McLellan, Grenville Mellen, Bishop Horatio Southgate, S. B. Beckett, D. C. Colesworthy, Mrs. E. Oakes Smith, Mrs. Elizabeth Akers Allen, J. H. Ingraham, Seba Smith, Charles P. Ilsley, Rev. Elijah Kellogg, George Payson, William Law Symonds, Sarah Payson Willis (Fanny Fern), Mrs. Samuel Coleman, Mrs. Ann S. Stephens, Mrs. Elizabeth (Payson) Prentice, Mrs. Clara Barnes Martin, Mrs. Margaret J. M. Sweat, Prof. Edward S. Morse, Mrs. Abba Goold Woolson, Rev. Dr. Cyrus Bartol, Rev. Dr. J. W. Chickering, Rev. Dr. Samuel Deane, Rev. Dr. Thomas Hill, Rev. Dr. Ichabod Nichols, Rev. Dr. Edward Payson, Rev. Asa Cummings, Rev. W. T. Dwight, Rev. William B. Hayden, Rev. Jason Whitman, Dr. J. W. Mighells, Dr. Isaac Ray, Hon. William Goold, Hon. William Willis, Col. Z. A. Smith, Henry A. S. Dearborn, John A. Poor, William B. Sewall, Walter Wells, and many others. Of artists, Portland has been the residence of Charles Codman, Charles O. Cole, J. R. Tilton, Mrs. Elizabeth Murray, Charles E. Becket, J. G. Cloudman, Harry B. Brown, Frederick Kimball, Miss Maria Becket, John B. Hudson, Charles J. Schumacher, and others. Eminent names among Portland merchants who have passed away, are Matthew Cobb, Asa Clapp, William Chadwick, Albert Newhall, Joseph Cross, Ralph Cross, Arthur McLellan, James Peering, Benjamin Willis, Samuel Trask, Reuben Morton3 and. John B. Brown. [See notice of latter on page 611.]

Portland has eighteen church-edifices, including the cathedrals of the Episcopal and Roman Catholic denominations. There are also as many as twenty-five societies more or less benevolent in their objects, besides several others of an intellectual and social nature.

Portland has six National Banks, with an aggregate capital of $3,150,000. They are the First National Bank, and Casco National Bank, each with a capital of $800,000 Canal National Bank, having a capital of $600,000 Merchants' National Bank and National Trader's Bank, each having a capital of $300,000 and the Cumberland National Bank, with a capital of $250,000. The Maine Savings Bank, in Portland, on the 1st of November, 1880, held in deposits and profits, the sum of $3,181,195.45 and the Portland Savings Bank, at the same date, held $4,480,770.32.

Portland has three daily papers, all well sustained. The Argus-ancient and respectable, and always fresh, bright, readable and democratic the Press, a reliable Republican sheet, always elegant and honorable the Advertiser, the oldest daily paper in the city, but at present, the most concise Republican in politics, but independent in its views. The Portland Sunday Times, is a lively secular weekly, devoted largely to social matters. It is independent in politics. The Morning News is a spirited journal, devoted to reform It is Greenback in politics, but generally independent in its views. Zion's Advocate, an organ of the Baptists, is an excellent denominational paper. The Christian Mirror, the organ of the Congregationalists in Maine, is ably edited, and wholly worthy of its patronage. The Portland Transcript, known to every Maine family, is unsurpassed in its field by any newspaper in the country. The North-East, published monthly, is the organ of the Episcopal church in Maine. The Masonic Token, issued quarterly, by Stephen Berry, is devoted to masonry, and would consequently be very useful to every member of that order. The Helping Hand, a monthly, Published by the Young Men's Christian Association, is well adapted to a worthy purpose. Our Home and Fireside Magazine, published monthly and Saturday by H. Hal-. lett & Co., is devoted almost wholly to stories. The People's Illustrated Journal and The Illustrated Household Magazine, published monthly, by Geo. Stinson & Co., are of the same class and of equal rank. The Globe, published every Saturday, is devoted to local news. The Portland Price Current, issued every Saturday, by M. N. Rich, is a sine qua non to the merchants of the city and its neighborhood. The City Item is a lively little daily, devoted to news. It is Greenback in its politics. The Floral Monthly, issued by W. E. Morton & Co., is a very desirable publication to all cultivators of flowers.

Museums & Historic Sites

History comes alive in Greater Portland—where everything from colonial homes to maritime museums are on display. Museum homes invite visitors to step back in time and gain a greater perspective and respect for the historic forces that continue to influence our lives.

Variety of interactive exhibits & activities for children and families inspiring discovery and imagination.

A popular destination for visitors from all over the world. Gardens open year-round. Cafe & Shop open seasonally.

Hear the mysterious, amazing and amusing inside stories as you explore history and architectural treasures.

Travel back in time to vintage Vacationland. Group tours welcome and available any day by reservation.

Offers a nationally recognized collection of American art in its elegantly appointed galleries in beautiful Rockland.

Tour a former United States military fort built from 1858 to 1864. The fort is now a park, accessible only by boat.

Features innovative exhibitions and public programs that showcase new perspectives and trends in contemporary art.

3rd oldest historical society in U.S. comprised of the Longfellow House, the Brown Library, the Museum & Shop.

Beautiful historic building completed in 1892. Genealogy Research, Library, Heritage Trail, Museum and Archives.

Exhibits, lighthouse & nature cruises, kids' pirate ship, demos, family activities, hands-on fun for everyone.

Scenic train ride along beautiful Casco Bay. Activities, historic railroad cars & exhibits.

Located in the lighthouse keepers' quarters, the museum chronicles the oldest lighthouse in Maine.

Features an operating collection of antique aircraft, automobiles, airplane shows, and more.

The PMA boasts significant holdings of American, European, and contemporary art, as well as iconic works from Maine.

Experience a connection to the past by visiting the world's oldest and largest museum of public transportation.

Explore galaxies, atoms, cells & the sea in our subterranean star dome. We offer shows, classes, & more.

Dedicated to the preservation of Portland’s Eastern Cemetery through activities like walking tours and ongoing education.

This Georgian house connects people to colonial roots and helps discover the relevance of history to our lives.

One of the country's historic homes of the mid-Victorian period, open May through October for tours.

Historic Homes

Those interested in a glimpse of the striking interiors and fine architecture of Greater Portland’s historic homes will find them walking the city’s residential streets, in the Victorian district of the restored commercial buildings in the Old Port, and in the adjacent neighborhoods.

Our region prides itself on constant attention to landmark preservation and revitalization. This deeply-rooted community appreciation of our heritage and historical sites has made the region a destination for both advanced and passive history sightseers.

historical homes have been preserved and have opened their doors to visitors wanting a more intimate view of the lives and living spaces of a bygone age.

Historic Home, Photo Credit: Corey Templeton

Visitors will discover the wonders of a colonial times in a captain’s home – the only pre-Revolutionary home in the city, enjoy guided tours of the home of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and enter into the grandeur of the mid-Victorian period by touring a downtown mansion, filled with original furnishings and exquisitely decorated during the holiday season.

Want to find more historic homes and sites in the area? Check out our list below

History of Old Port along Waterfront in Portland, Maine

The Abenaki Native Americans lived here for millenniums before Portuguese explorer Estêvão Gomez’s discovery in 1524. The next European visitor was Englishman Captain John Smith in 1614. The first of several attempts at settlement began in 1623. In 1786, the town of Portland was established. A key to growth was maritime trade because this is the closest U.S. port to Europe. The harbor’s success accelerated in 1820 when the city became the capital of the new state of Maine. A further boom occurred after 1853. That is when a railroad was connected to Montreal. Portland rapidly became the winter port serving Canada when other harbors in Atlantic Canada and the St. Lawrence River were icebound. After the 1920s, shipments at the wharfs declined and the area deteriorated. In the 1980s, a rebirth began along the waterfront and the Old Port neighborhood. That is what you are experiencing today: a blend of the historic and the new all facing Portland’s Harbor. Most of the vessels you will see are cruise ships, sightseeing tours and lobster boats like those shown here.

86 Commercial St, Portland, ME 04101

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Watch the video: Portland, The Story of an Island Part 1. A history of one of the most fascinating places in England (January 2022).