Day 76 – 23rd September (Portland)

Up earlier than usual to attend our guided walking tour. The weather was far better than yesterday – bright sunshine, but a chilly wind, expected to get much stronger as the day wore on, due to the presence of Hurricane Fiona making its way up the coast.

This was led by Dugan, and proved to be absolutely fascinating. He himself was tremendous value – a very dry sense of humour for an American, which he employed to great effect, and his knowledge about all things Portland was very extensive.

Like so many towns in this part of the world, it has burned down more than once. The last one in 1866 destroyed around 40% of the city, and was started accidentally by, so the story goes, a boy with a firecracker on 4th July. Up until the Chicago fire 5 years later, this was the biggest fire in North America. It actually led to a law being enacted forcing new buildings to be made of brick, stone or metal from that point on, and some of the standards imposed carry through to building standards in the USA today.

The previous three times were due to acts of war. The English forces, for example, deliberately set fire to the town in 1775 to quell an insurrection from anti-loyalists. This act hardened anti-English sentiment which carried over into the American Revolutionary War of Independence from 1776 to 1783.

City Hall. This has burned down at least three times on this spot

We then entered the First Parish Church, one of the oldest in North America. It has a very interesting history; more details at Well worth your time.

Front of the church
A weather vane which shows the indentation of a musket bullet from the 1776 war
The plain church interior
Church organ
A cannonball which hit the church incorporated into the chandelier fitting
A 35 lb English cannonball which was found nearby after redevelopment work

Next was Monument Square, displaying a woman signifying victory, with soldiers and sailors looking out to the side over their brethren.

Right across the street was the oldest house in Portland, built in 1785.

This was owned by Peleg Wadsworth, the grandfather of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who lived in this house. It has been a museum for more than 120 years.

Next up was a statue of John Ford, a Portland resident and a legendary Hollywood director, who is the only person to have won 6 Oscars.

The 6 blocks of granite represent his Oscars

He was actually of Irish immigrant stock, named John Feeney, but changed his name as the Irish were looked down upon.

Dugan took us to other parts of the city, explaining that in its day, it was the leading fish cannery city. Lobster was of course also part of the cannery products, but it was considered by locals as only fit for consumption by prisoners. However, once wealthy Americans further south discovered canned lobster and got a taste for it, the lobster market boomed. Women were the main workers in this industry, and were summoned to work by ship’s whistle when the catch was in.

The cannery industry died a death, to be replaced by sugar. There was a very tight and lucrative tie-up between Portland and the Caribbean, involving not only sugar and molasses, but slaves as well. One man, John Bundy Brown, became fabulously rich, and there are still many properties owned by his descendants today. The molasses, of course, was used to make rum, another major export of Portland at the time.

Portland grew at a phenomenal rate after the 1866 fire, and much of what is now the waterfront area is reclaimed land.

Wharf Street

In the picture above, the buildings on the left were businesses built up during the boom years. The buildings on the right didn’t exist – the boats were able to come right up to the right hand side of the wharf and unload directly into the premises on the left.

This area became almost redundant, squalid and dangerous during the 1920s and 30s, so a bunch of entrepreneurs bought up the properties very cheaply and turned them into businesses, whilst also launching a marketing campaign re-branding this area as the Old Port. Over time, it worked, and the town eventually became a tourist magnet and the foodie capital it is today. Tourism is now the town’s biggest earner.

Another reason for building the town out this way was so that the wharfs and the railways could become tightly integrated. The train trucks could go right up alongside the ships and load/unload in a very efficient way. The final train tracks were pulled up in the late 1970s.

Portland had a very small Chinatown once. The first immigrants arrived in the late 19th century, and the last Chinese business closed in Monument Square in 1979.

The final visit was down on the waterfront itself.

Despite the downtrodden appearance, these are all viable fishing related businesses
This is the back of the fish market

The tides here vary anything from 5 to 12 feet. The record would have meant that the water would have been over our heads at this place.

That was the end of a really interesting, full-on walking tour.

Time for lunch, then. We dropped into a pizza restaurant close by recommended by Dugan, and shared a massive pizza, accompanied by a glass of wine (no, we didn’t share that). Neither Jean nor I are particular pizza fans, but it was excellent.

I’d had my eye on a walk along the eastern promenade, part of which we had seen at Fort Allen Park yesterday, and this was the perfect place to start it from. So off we went.

A mural on the waterfront
Yuk! Shows how big Portland was, though, back in the day
This whole area is Casco Bay
An oft repeated situation hereabouts that the Europeans ruined
Short stretch of narrow gauge railway

We walked along this path to its end, which unfortunately was right on the edge of Interstate-295 and passed a water treatment plant. The early bit was nice, though, but the wind necessitated hat and gloves for me.

From here, we walked back into town along Washington Street, which just so happened to pass a gin distillery…… This particular gin, Hardshore, had taken our fancy at Evo’s restaurant, so we stopped by to purchase a bottle and sample a G&T in glorious sunshine.

The distillery at work
Very nice they were too

On the way back from here, we spotted another mural that had been pointed out on the bus tour. It’s a representation of what Fort Allen Park might have looked like in the early 20th century.

Portland is also a stop on the cruise circuit, and today the Celebrity Summit was in town.

Quite a bit of the city remains cobbled, purely for tourist authentication.

Looks great, but hell to drive and walk on

So that was pretty much it for the day. We walked back to the hotel, where dinner consisted of crisps, cheese, biscuits and other bits and pieces we’d accumulated over the weeks we’ve had the car, as neither of us were particularly hungry after the monster pizza at lunchtime.

A really interesting, varied and tiring day.

We leave Portland tomorrow for North Conway, New Hampshire. I think that the terrain might be getting somewhat lumpier over the next few days. Hopefully you’ll tune in to find out.

4 responses to “Day 76 – 23rd September (Portland)”

  1. Thank you Chris for such an interesting and comprehensive description of Portland; you obviously listened to Dugan!

    1. Thanks, Wendy – I certainly did! He himself was an interesting character and I would like to have known a bit more about him. It’s a fascinating place.

  2. the gin and tonics looked very inviting so tonight i have decided to have a gin and tonic i normally drink guiness and after James party last weekend im still sobering up its a very strange sight seeing all your boys completely drunk
    anyway it looked a very interesting place

    1. It’s a fascinating place.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: