Portland Mariner’s Church // 1828

Talk about a unique church! The Mariner’s Church in Downtown Portland was built in 1828 and is modeled after Faneuil Hall in Boston and East India Hall, Salem, Massachusetts; and was the first Greek Revival building in Portland (with some lingering Federal flair). It also for many years was Portland’s largest building! Its concept was that of a place of worship and education center for seamen of the port city between their voyages on the open sea. The ground floor was designed to house shops for merchants whose rent would support and maintain the building. The structure is virtually unchanged from how it looked nearly 200 years ago and showcases the importance of the sea to the port towns and cities of New England!

Cumberland County Courthouse // 1910

The Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland, Maine, designed by Guy Lowell, architect of Boston with local associate architect George Burnham was designed in 1906 and completed in 1910 and is the best in Classical Revival architecture. On the north and east sides is a three-story addition built between 1988 and 1991 by Terrien Architects Inc., showcases how Modern additions can be contextual and recessive, highlighting the historic buildings which they are attached to. What do you think of the original courthouse and its addition?

Portland Custom House // 1868

Probably my favorite building in Portland, Maine is the former Custom House building, an imposing granite building located a stone’s throw from the Portland Harbor. It was built to accommodate the city’s growing customs business, which, by 1866, was collecting $900,000 annually in customs duties—making Portland one of the most significant seaports in the country. The building is typical of the notable designs completed under the direction of Alfred B. Mullett, Supervising Architect of the Treasury from 1865 to 1874. Constructed between 1867 and 1872 (due to delays in obtaining granite for the upper stories) the U.S. Custom House combines elements of the Second Empire and Renaissance Revival styles and is one of the best preserved custom houses in New England. The interior custom hall is especially remarkable.

Woodman Block // 1867

Located next-door to the Rackleff Block, this high-style Second Empire commercial block in Downtown Portland, Maine really turns heads. The Woodman Block (like its neighbor) was built in 1867 from plans by architect George M. Harding, who designed the building for George W. Woodman, a drygoods dealer. This stunning commercial block originally housed Woodman’s dry goods firm, Woodman, True, and Company. It later held a druggist and medicine company. The building retains much of its original architectural character minus the iron cresting which once capped the mansard roof. They don’t make them like they used to!

Rackleff Block // 1867

Late 19th century commercial architecture in downtowns all across New England always transport me to the past because they evoke the days of carriages in the streets and the hustle and bustle of post Civil War American cities. After Portland’s Great Fire of 1866, many standing or damaged wooden buildings were replaced with fireproof construction in the event of another conflagration. Five years before the Great Chicago Fire, this was the greatest fire yet seen in an American city. It started in a boat house then spread across the city. Amazingly, only two people died in the fire, but ten thousand people were made homeless and 1,800 buildings were burned to the ground. This is one of the buildings constructed in the rebirth of the downtown/waterfront of Portland. The Rackleff Block was built in 1867 from plans by architect George M. Harding, who designed the building with details reading Italianate and Victorian Gothic. The building retains its original cast iron storefronts and ornate cornice with brackets.

Portland Central Fire Station // 1924

The Central Fire Station in Portland, Maine was built in 1924 and designed by William R. Miller & Raymond J. Mayo, architects located at 465 Congress. Lester I. Beal, a draftsman employed by Miller & Mayo, participated in the design. It was erected to contain the administrative offices of the Portland Fire Department, as well as to house fire engines and other apparatus of the inner city district. Portland has one of the oldest fire departments in the nation, 1768, when Falmouth appointed fire wardens to look for fires at night and alert the residents. In 1786, the citizens of Falmouth formed a separate town in Falmouth Neck and named it Portland, after the isle off the coast of Dorset, England. After the Great Fire of 1866 destroyed much of Downtown Portland, a new central station was built in 1867. The structure was deemed obsolete with new, large ladder trucks replacing smaller engines. The entire downtown block was demolished for the current Central Fire Station for the present building. The small building is at the center of a large lot, which is likely a candidate for redevelopment in the future (after some adjacent surface parking lots are developed).

Portland City Hall // 1909

The City Hall in Portland, Maine is among my favorite civic buildings in New England and is the third that was built on this site. The previous city hall on the site of the present City Hall, completed in 1862, burned in Portland’s Great Fire of 1866. It was reconstructed in 1867 by designs of Francis H. Fassett, a Portland-based architect. In 1908, it burned again. So much damage was done that the building had to be removed. The present Portland City Hall was designed by the New York architectural firm of Carrere and Hastings, assisted by local Portland architects John Calvin Stevens and his son, John Howard Stevens who together, oversaw day-to-day changes and work to the building. Interestingly, John Carrere is quoted as saying he would rather have his reputation rest on the Portland City Hall than upon any other building he designed (and he designed MANY great buildings). The impressive structure was inspired by the New York City Hall, which was built about 100 years prior in 1803-1812. The Portland City Hall remains today as a great visual anchor for the revitalizing downtown area of Portland.

Portland Head Light // 1791

When I think of Maine, I think of rocky coastline, lobster, and lighthouses. Located in Cape Elizabeth, just south of Portland, you will find the Portland Head Light, an obscenely beautiful lighthouse, which has provided a beacon to sailors for centuries (and more recently Instagrammers). In 1787, while Maine was still part of the state of Massachusetts, President George Washington engaged two masons and instructed them to take charge of the construction of a lighthouse on Portland Head. Washington reminded them that the early government was poor, and said that the materials used to build the lighthouse should be taken from the fields and shores surrounding the site. The original plans called for the tower to be 58 feet tall, but when the masons were finished, they climbed to the top of the tower and realized that it would not be visible beyond the land to the south. When the masons were ordered to increase the height another twenty feet for visibility reasons, one quit, leaving a single man to finish the lighthouse and a small dwelling. It was completed, and the light, powered by sixteen whale-oil lamps, first shone on January 10, 1791, following its dedication by Marquis de Lafayette. Over the next century, many issues plagued the building and light-keepers, from cold winters and rogue waves icing over the pathways, to a poorly constructed top of the lighthouse, which was re-constructed due to safety concerns. In 1891, the station’s old stone light-keeper’s house was demolished, and upon its foundation a two-story wood double dwelling was constructed. A square brick oil house was also built at the same time along with a flight of steps at the landing. Portland Head Lighthouse was extinguished from June 1942 through June 1945 to avoid aiding German submarines, which did not work as planned. In 1945, the USS Eagle PE-56 just miles off the coast, was sunk by a German submarine (though previously thought to have been sunk by a boiler explosion), only 13 of the 62 crew survived. The lighthouse is now owned by the town, but the US Coast Guard retains control of the light and fog signals.

Ram Island Ledge Lighthouse // 1905

Ram Island, about a mile offshore from Portland Head near the entrance to Portland Harbor in Maine, is surrounded by dangerous ledges. For as long as ships have been navigating Portland Harbor, they have crashed into the rocky shore, losing supplies and lives. Because of this, a Congressional act on June 28, 1902, authorized the construction of a lighthouse and fog signal on Ram Island Ledge, to work together with the Portland Head Light to guide ships through the treacherous channel. The next year, the federal government purchased Ram Ledge from two Cape Elizabeth families for $500, to erect a new lighthouse. Before the lighthouse could be constructed, at least two ships, the Glenrosa and the Cora & Lillian schooner sunk in the bay. As the ledge was underwater for much of the year, a stone tower was required. Granite from Vinalhaven was shipped in and a crew of 25 men built the tower which was complete in 1905. The iconic double flash of light has guided sailors ever since. The lighthouse was manned by multiple keepers until the late 1958, when an underwater power cable was laid between Portland Head and Ram Island Ledge, allowing the ledge lighthouse to be automated. In 2008, the structure was deemed “excess to the needs of the United States Coast Guard” and auctioned off. After a bidding war, a local doctor from Maine purchased it for an estimated $190,000.

Cape Elizabeth Town Hall // 1900

The town of Cape Elizabeth, Maine was originally a part of Portland (named Falmouth at the time) until the citizens there petitioned for and obtained their own government in 1765. Commercial and industrial growth in the north end of the town, nearest the harbor (now South Portland), was in sharp contrast to the continuing rural character of the southern tip of the Cape. In 1895, the two sections agreed to separate, and from that date forward the southern end of the original town became the present town of Cape Elizabeth. Shortly after the separation of South Portland, funding for a new town hall was appropriated, and the town hired Portland-based architect Frederick A. Tompson to design the new building to mark the start of the new town. The Town Hall building was constructed in 1900 and is an excellent example of Colonial Revival architecture with its hipped roof with cupola, classic central portico, and entry with Federal Revival sidelights with a fanlight above.