PORTLAND, Maine — From a historic Irish neighborhood to a crumbling mansion to little-seen 19th century railroad culverts, the 2021 list of Places in Peril highlights some of Greater Portland’s most threatened landmarks.
Greater Portland Landmarks revealed its sixth list Thursday night during an annual meeting.
The occasional tally, first tabulated in 2012, draws attention to community-defining, historically-significant places around the city threatened by development or neglect.
“These properties help define greater Portland. In every case, the sites we’ve identified contribute to our community identity and help us interpret the stories of people who shaped the places we love,” said Landmarks Executive Director Sarah Hansen.
In placing them on the list, Landmarks seeks to build community awareness about the importance of such places while focusing public attention on their significance in both statewide and local history.
Out of 30 properties included in previous lists, Landmarks considers seven now permanently conserved or adapted and repurposed. The organization also reports seven more on their way to such status.
The rest remain imperiled.
Here’s the 2021 list.
Fort Williams Park, Cape Elizabeth
Built in the 1850s for businessman John Goddard, this crumbling, Italianate, stone skeleton looms over Fort Williams Park from its rocky perch atop a seaside hill. It’s long been an iconic part structure and former playground for imaginative children.
By the 20th century, the mansion was part of the Fort Williams active military installation, housing non-commissioned officers. The mansion — and fort — were both abandoned in the 1960s and the local fire department burned the mansion’s rotting interior in 1981.
The building ruins were fenced off for safety in 2009 and little maintenance has taken place since then.
The 2021 draft park master plan proposes removing the side and rear walls, stabilizing just the front facade. While there is still local support for saving the mansion, funding is needed.
Historic Resources in Bayside Neighborhood
Bayside is home to many of the earliest homes in Portland. While other Portland neighborhoods experienced extensive losses during the Great Fire of 1866, most of western Bayside was left untouched by the flames.
However, during the mid-20th century Urban Renewal movement, Portland’s Slum Clearance and Redevelopment Authority targeted the mostly immigrant neighborhood. In 1958 the Authority demolished well over 100 dwellings and small businesses in what’s now called East Bayside. Another 54 dwelling units were razed for the Bayside Park project, which now includes Fox Field and Kennedy Park public housing.
Bayside continues to experience increased development pressures — particularly those places associated with the Armenian-American and Chinese-American communities in the early 20th century.
Landmarks contends preserving what’s left of historic Bayside is essential to understanding the city’s complete, multi-ethnic history.
Gorham’s Corner Neighborhood
Gorham’s Corner is where Danforth, York, Pleasant, Union, and Fore Streets all meet. In the 19th and early 20th century, it was primarily an Irish neighborhood.
Named for early resident William Gorham, a grocer, it was a working-class area. Known for its saloons and tenements, it was long thought of as an unsavory part of town.
Urban Renewal demolitions, beginning in the 1970s, reduced much of the historic neighborhood to parking lots, particularly west of Center Street. Only a handful of historic buildings remain and their future is uncertain as development pressures continue.
Congress Street, Portland
Mechanics’ Hall was designed by Portland architect Thomas J. Sparrow 170 years ago for the Maine Charitable Mechanics’ Association. It still houses their library and serves as a communal gathering space for Portland’s creative community.
It’s a well-preserved example of mid-19th century Italianate architecture and is one of the few surviving buildings designed by Sparrow. But the building is threatened by its leaky roof, which has let the weather in for decades.
The Mechanics’ Association has always lacked funds to properly address the problem and it’s reaching a critical stage where it could do serious harm to the building’s structure.
Mountain Division Railroad Culverts
Westbrook & Windham
The Portland and Ogdensburg Railroad was chartered in 1867 and construction started in 1869. For almost 100 years its engines and cars rolled west through New Hampshire and Vermont.
Passenger service on the scenic run ended in 1958, and freight trains stopped rolling after Guilford Transportation (now Pan Am Railways) acquired it in the 1980s.
But the line’s historic and functional stone culverts remain. However, inactivity along the railroad corridor has led to deteriorating condition of many of them.
Landmarks said survey work is desperately needed to identify the culverts’ current condition, especially if the line is to ever to become active again.