Places in Peril

Historic Fire Stations | Greater Portland

Significance

Communities in greater Portland have long histories of firefighting operations. Portland is one of the oldest departments in America, establishing the first engine company in 1768. Many stations in the area were designed as large open spaces that didn’t accommodate quarters for full time fire personnel, but served other community needs. In some neighborhoods and towns, fire stations have served as voting stations or town offices, functioning as the civic heart of their communities.

Threat

Most fire stations in greater Portland were built during a different age of firefighting. Consolidation, changes in firefighting technology, and a need for accommodations for staff are challenges threatening some surviving stations. Many have narrow doors or short bays unable to accommodate new equipment, requiring some departments to close, relocate or demolish stations and build larger buildings.

  • In South Portland the fire station at 360 Main St. will be demolished for several reasons: mold, lack of sufficient living space, insufficient bay width and little ability to expand the building to accommodate new equipment. The new replacement station will also result in the closure of the engine house in Thornton Heights (1939).

  • In Portland, an October 2017 study recommended closing or replacing stations in East Deering (1957), North Deering (1966), Riverton (1971), Rosemont (1951), and Central Station on Congress Street (1924/5). The Bramhall Station on Congress Street (1964) was also recommended for a major remodel or closure. 

Opportunity

As the Portland Fire Department approaches its 240th year of service we encourage the department and surrounding communities to look closely at the legacy reflected in our community stations. Already, several Fire Stations have been sold and repurposed into functional commercial space. In Westbrook, Discover Downtown Westbrook recently presented a plan to the city to turn a vacant fire station into an artist space and a visitor’s center. We challenge community leaders to consider alternatives to demolishing these buildings that continue to serve as neighborhood anchors.

Historic Coastal Communities | Greater Portland

Significance

Many of Greater Portland’s most treasured prehistoric and historic sites sit along the coast and its intersecting rivers and streams—areas at high risk because of rising sea levels. These sites include historic seaside communities, residential neighborhoods, wharves, forts, lighthouses and 2,000 documented shell middens that contain valuable information and prehistoric cultural artifacts. The waterfront in the greater Portland region has been inhabited for thousands of years, and through the development of natural and maritime resource economies, people have dramatically shaped its geography. Infill projects in Portland expanded the peninsula on the north and south to accommodate rail service and industrial uses in the 19th century. In South Portland, Ferry Village’s mud flats were filled during World War II for the construction of massive shipyards.

Threat

Greater Portland communities are already experiencing recurrent flooding, erosion and increasingly intense storms—threats that are projected to increase as the Gulf of Maine warms and expands. The continued damage and destruction of local historic landmarks and sites could be detrimental to Greater Portland’s personality and sense of collective history. The loss of archaeological sites would be both academically and culturally devastating. Information about Maine’s prehistory and early colonialism could wash away, and Indigenous communities lose more fragments of their ancestors’ landscapes. If this occurs, Greater Portland will face substantial revenue losses because our regional economy depends so heavily on historic districts, properties, and parks to attract tourism, new residents, and new businesses.

Opportunity

As concerns about climate change mount, historic preservation and the conservation of existing resources are key to developing a strategy of resiliency, risk management and adaptation. Through collaboration and broad public engagement, we will raise awareness of the issue and work together with key partners to develop proactive and sustainable solutions. Landmarks’ goal over the next year is to develop a Climate Change Impact overview report and analysis to explore solutions that mitigate these risks. While climate change cannot be reversed, much can be done to protect our communities, and we look forward to devising creative solutions to mitigate threats and protect endangered landmarks.

Deering Farmhouse c.1807 | 23 Brighton Avenue, Portland

Significance

This house, built in 1807, is the last remaining structure of the more than 200-acre James Deering Estate (1803) and is believed to be the last Federal period farmhouse within the City of Portland. James Deering, known as the, “merchant prince of Portland,” was one of the original founders of the Atlantic & St. Lawrence Railroad. Six acres of his estate were purchased by Portland Junior College in 1947; unfortunately, the Deering mansion and barn were demolished. Upon the college’s merger with University of Southern Maine, the house became the Alumni Office.

Threat

While the building is in good condition, it was last extensively renovated in the 1970s and is currently vacant. The University's 2019 campus master plan proposes to use the site as the location for a new graduate school and would require relocation or demolition of the farmhouse. The building was recently determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, but has no current local protection from demolition or alterations.

Opportunity

The key location of the farmhouse on the campus represents an opportunity for continued use for education or administration purposes. Now that the building has been determined eligible for the National Register, historic rehabilitation tax credits can be used for upgrades. Landmarks looks forward to working with the University of Southern Maine to explore practical options for rehabilitation and reuse.

Gorham Academy c.1806 | School Street, Gorham

Significance

Gorham Academy is one of the first six academies incorporated in what was then the District of Maine by the General Court of Massachusetts. Designed in 1806 by Samuel Elder in the Federal style it quickly became a symbol of pride in the community, and today it is a focal point on the University of Southern Maine Gorham Campus. The character-defining features of the building are still intact, including the classically detailed portico and pediment, four Doric columns supporting a second floor balcony, and fanlight above the central second-floor door. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

Threat

Although the 213-year-old building houses studios for the Art Department, it is plagued by deferred maintenance. The building is not in a prominent location on campus and is easily overlooked -- as evidenced by an overwhelming addition proposed for the rear in the 2019 University of Southern Maine Campus Master Plan.

Opportunity

The Gorham Academy is a significant building in the town of Gorham. As it is currently on the National Register of Historic Places, tax credits could be used to offset the cost of rehabilitation. We are pleased to learn that USM has initiated a planning process looking at the rehabilitation needs of the building; Landmarks looks forward to working with the Gorham community and the University of Southern Maine to ensure this important community landmark lives long into the future.