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).

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.

David Calhoun House // 1915

I normally am not a fan of dark houses, but I really like this one, but some of the amazing detail is harder to see due to the singular, dark paint color. This home in Cape Elizabeth was built in 1915, during the housing boom in the early 20th century when the formerly sleepy farming town saw massive development as it became a summer resort and bedroom community of Portland. Owner David A. Calhoun hired the Portland firm of Miller & Mayo to design this home, and they pulled out all the stops for a modest budget. Calhoun moved to Maine in the 1880s and became a founding member of the plumbing and heating firm of Willey & Calhoun, quickly making a name for himself. The two-story home has a shingled exterior, a cross-gambrel roof and a shed dormer on the front facade. The main entry door is flanked on either side by small windows. The house is a great blending of Colonial Revival and Shingle styles.