House Island

Casco Bay, Portland, Maine  |  Nominated to Places in Peril in 2012

The Issue

House Island is one of the most important historic landmark sites and cultural landscapes in the City of Portland. Its location at the center of the harbor, its significance in national and local history, and its importance to both the built and natural environment make it a top priority to preserve. House Island’s Fort Scammell protected Portland Harbor from the War of 1812 through the Civil War. Three residential-scale buildings on the northern half of House Island were known as “the Ellis Island of the North”, serving as a federal immigration quarantine station from 1907-1937.  A local family, who saved the fort from demolition, stewarded the island for nearly 60 years until it was listed for sale in 2012 without protective conservation or preservation easements for the island or buildings. 

Our Position

Named to our Places in Peril in 2012 the island and its historic resources were unprotected by local or federal historic designations. A local historic district provides a formal means to preserve the existing historic buildings, structures and landscape features. It does not prevent new development. Rather, it provides a means to review and manage change, including any new construction, to ensure that it is compatible and sensitive in design, scale and quality of materials to what is already there. Local historic district designation also provides long-term protection for the historic resources on the island, protections that transcend the ownership of the land. On January 5, 2015 the House Island was designated a local historic district by the Portland City Council.  


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