Fort Gorges Preservation Plan
The City of Portland and the Friends of Fort Gorges have partnered to reduce hazards at the Fort as well as create a Preservation Plan to ensure that the Fort remains a vital public space for generations to come. The restoration of this historic structure can be broken into roughly three phases: a Hazard Mitigation Phase, a Preservation Phase, and a Restoration and Improvement Phase.
Fort Gorges, constructed between 1858-1864, occupies a prime location at the entrance to Portland Harbor. Named for Sir Fernando Gorges, the colonial proprietor of Maine, it was sited atop Hog Island Ledge to complement a network of other fortifications safeguarding one of the most important commercial harbors on the East Coast of the United States. Its distinctive semi-octagonal form and granite walls, built of local granite, make it both a visual and historic landmark. Fort Gorges was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 in recognition of its military and engineering significance and designated a local landmark in 1990.
The Fort was last actively used in World War II and had suffered from decades of deferred maintenance before being acquired by the City of Portland in 1960. Since then, the harsh marine environment has caused further damage, now rapidly accelerating. Water seeping through the roof structures has caused cracking and deterioration of brick vaults, which increase each winter. The site is accessible only by boat, making supervision and maintenance difficult while also raising concerns for vandalism and public safety. In 2013, Greater Portland Landmarks included Fort Gorges at the top of its “Places in Peril,” noting that “the scale, lack of access, and need for maintenance and investment create challenges to its preservation.”
Despite years of neglect, Fort Gorges remains a significant resource for the City and the region. Just a short boat ride from the Ferry Terminal or paddle from East End Beach, it offers an intimate sense of history and remarkable views of Casco Bay. It also has the clear potential for being a unique venue for a variety of programs and events. Public interest and support for the Fort, evidenced by recent print and broadcast media, is growing. Visitation is increasing, despite the fact that it’s on an at-your-own-risk basis.
Work on the Hazard Mitigation project started on Monday, October 24, 2016 with the repair of a stairway that leads to the second story roof of the Fort. The Parks, Recreation and Facilities Department funded this project so that public access to the top level of the Fort could be maintained. After this initial smaller project was completed, the Army Corps of Engineers commenced with their portion of the hazard mitigation project in the spring of 2017 to install a series of railings and gates throughout the fort to increase safety for the many casual visitors to the Fort. Through making these repairs, the City brought the structure up to a standard where groups and individuals will be able to utilize the Fort for historical tours, musical and theater performances, and other public events.
The second phase, the Preservation Plan, consists of evaluation and strengthening the structure so that the fort will be a safer place to visit and remain open to the public for years to come. Funding for the Preservation Plan will be provided by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Friends of Fort Gorges.
Following the completion of the Preservation Plan, the City of Portland and Friends of Fort Gorges will commence a more comprehensive Restoration and Improvement Phase that will involve public input on future uses and activities at the Fort, which will guide the direction of the restoration work and potential future amenities such as an improved pier, restored indoor spaces, and restrooms.
The Fort is a historical treasure that has been enjoyed by generations of casual day-users. The collaboration between the City of Portland and the Friends of Fort Gorges will serve to preserve this precious resource for generations to come.