By: Abby Nelson, Staff Writer
Historic Fort Gorges, located at the entrance of Casco Bay on Hog Island Edge, is in need of restoration. Greater Portland Landmarks gave Fort Gorges the top spot on its “Places in Peril” list in 2013. In February, Floridian contractor, Mike Dugay, pitched an idea to the Friends of Fort Gorges to repurpose the fort by renovating it into shops, restaurants or a hotel.
The Friends of Fort Gorges, along with members of the community, responded to Dugay’s idea with concern. The Friends of Fort Gorges is an organization devoted to the fort’s restoration with the goal of making it a safe place for future generations to enjoy. They feared that the commercialization of the fort would lead to significant structural changes and the loss of freedom to roam around one of Portland’s oldest pieces of history.
“We want to be able to look out from the Eastern Promenade with our coffee from Hilltop and see Fort Gorges,” said Hannah Peterson, a local historian. “Our cultural history should be accessible.”
Peterson said that the city of Portland has burned down four times, making Fort Gorges one of Portland’s oldest structures. It survived the fires due to its separation from the mainland. The fort is accessible only by boat.
In early September, the Portland Parks Conservancy and the Portland Parks Commission held a public meeting to discuss the Fort’s future. At this meeting, the city of Portland and the Friends of Fort Gorges made it clear that if Fort Gorges were to be renovated, no major structural changes would be made to its historical appearance. General public access would still be a priority.
In 2016, the city of Portland and the Friends of Fort Gorges put a preservation plan in place to begin safety renovations from the fall into the spring of 2017. A group of Army Corp Engineers went out to the fort to install railings and gates, making it a safer place to visit. However, no physical repairs were made to the forts decaying structure. The City of Portland, the Friends of Fort Gorges, and the public as well, now have to decide what Fort Gorges future looks like.
The construction for the former U.S. military fort was originally proposed in 1812; however, it wasn’t built for another half century. It was designed with the purpose to assist the nearby Fort Frebel of South Portland and Fort Scammel, located on the neighboring House Island, in protecting the Portland area. There are 56 gun emplacements on the south, east, and west facades. The grassy rooftops offer beautiful views of Casco Bay and the city of Portland.
Due to the invention of the rifle cannon during the Civil War, which had the power to destroy its granite walls, Fort Gorges was deemed out-of-date by the time it was completed. For this reason, no troops were stationed there nor were any battles fought on its grounds.
The fort was eventually put into use during World War II as storage space for anti-submarine equipment such as mines, cables, and nets. This also marks the last time the fort was actively used for military purposes. The City of Portland acquired the property in 1960. In 1973, it earned a spot in the National Register of Historic Places.
It is clear that whatever is decided, the fortified island in Casco Bay will remain an important part of Portland’s history and its future.