A marketing photo shows the north end of the privately-owned House Island in Casco Bay. Credit: Courtesy of House Island

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PORTLAND, Maine — A private island in Casco Bay once used as a federal quarantine facility during the last pandemic 100 years ago is now being marketed as a virus-free safe zone for wealthy tourists from New York and Washington, D.C., where they can do most anything — as long as it’s legal.

Portland entrepreneur Noah Gordon bought 12 acres on the north end of House Island in November for $4.5 million. He hoped to rent it as a luxury wedding and events venue. But with COVID-19 raging, he’s now offering it as a high-priced pandemic playground for those who can afford it.

The weekly rental price for the north end is $250,000 per week, plus expenses, according to a June press release.

It states staff at the island will follow health protocols ensuring a “safe haven bubble of privacy, safety and security where guests can socialize, party and play.”

“It’s not that safety is the new luxury. Safety is luxury,” Gordon said.

The island’s website states, “You can be wheels up on a jet out of New York or D.C., land in Portland and arrive on island with your first cocktail in hand in less than two hours. New Yorkers can get to House Island faster than they can get to the Hamptons, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.”

House Island sits just offshore, between South Portland and Peaks Island. It consists of two distinct lobes connected by a narrow isthmus. The southern half is larger, at nearly 16 acres, and is owned by Stefan Scarks, of Fortland LLC. In March, Portland’s Zoning Board of Appeals approved a conditional permit for a 21-site campground there, which includes the remains of the pre-Civil War Fort Scammell.

MaineBiz magazine reported that Gordon spoke in favor of his neighbor’s plan.

Gordon’s end of the island boasts five beaches and three buildings for visitor accommodation. The five-bedroom Cappy’s Lodge and three-bedroom Christina’s World, were both built in 1908 and can sleep a total of 32 guests. A third building, the Sunshine Cottage, sleeps 14.

In 2015, Portland designated the island a local historic district because of the fort at the south end and the north’s connection to immigration.

It was the site of the city’s inspection and quarantine station between 1907 and 1937. Known as the “Ellis Island of the North,” it was the main port of entry for European immigrants coming to New England. During its 30 years in operation — including the influenza pandemic of 1918 — its quarantine facility served as an alternative to the heavily used facilities in Boston and New York.

Real estate agent Dylan Eckardt of the upscale boutique agency Nest Seekers is marketing the island for Gordon. Vanity Fair magazine has called Eckardt a “party boy, and real-estate agent to the stars” in addition to “the man who ate Montauk” for his aggressive, high-end marketing of the once blue-collar town.

“That f—-ing place is rad,” Eckardt said. “There’s nothing like it on the east coast, in the northern hemisphere. You can do what you want to do. I don’t care if you want to bring the f—-ing Rolling Stones and rock out there.”

He went on to tout the island’s privacy.

“If you want to go to the Hamptons and be seen while pretending to be hiding, that’s one thing,” Eckardt said. “But when you just want to get away and take your top off and run free, then you rent House Island — and everything I touch turns to sold, anyway.”

The House Island website makes it clear that the island is self-contained with its own water supply from the mainland and independent sources of power. It also has excellent cell phone reception, three helicopter landing sites and is close to area hospitals.

“Transportation via boat and ambulance is 15 minutes, or just a few minutes by helicopter,” it states.

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Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.