Peaks Island Amusement District

1880-1930 | Island Avenue, Peaks Island, Portland  | Nominated to Places in Peril in 2017

SIGNIFICANCE

Peaks Island in the late 19th century was famous for its summer entertainment and earned the nickname “Coney Island of Maine.” Entertainment on Peaks Island has a long history, beginning with a picnic grove that visitors accessed by rowboat during the 1850s. In the 1880s, the Brackett family transformed a portion of the Peaks Island shoreline into an amusement park, later known as Greenwood Gardens, that featured an open-air roller rink later converted to a playhouse and later a dance hall, merry-go-round, bandstand, beerhaus, Ferris wheel, midway, and observation tower. Just outside Greenwood Gardens’ entrance was a bowling alley and a shooting gallery.  Uphill from the amusement park, small gothic-style cottages were built on former camp sites along Adams Street and Oakland Avenue.

The growth in tourism was spurred in part by the growth of steamship travel and rising leisure time among the American middle class.  Visitors traveled from New York and Boston to partake in the island’s many shows or to stay in one of several seaside resort hotels. By the 1920s island vacations began to decline as automobile touring grew in popularity. A series of devastating fires in 1918, 1934, and 1936 destroyed many of the area hotels and entertainment facilities at Greenwood Gardens. The dance hall, bowling alley, shooting gallery, some landscape features, and private cottages are all that remain.

THREAT

Currently, much of the Amusement District has not been formally documented and holds no preservation protections. As the demand grows for higher density and water frontage, significant changes threaten this area’s integrity.

In 2016, a proposal to rezone the Island Business Zone would have raised height limits from 35 to 47 feet and increased the allowable residential density. A public outcry against this proposal ensued, because the zoning change threatened to significantly change the character of the side of the island facing Portland Harbor. While the rezoning request was rejected, it highlighted the lack of documentation or protection of the Island’s extant historic amusement resources and nearby cottages associated with its recreational popularity at the turn of the 20th century.

OPPORTUNITY

Peaks Island is a unique community that faces multiple opportunities to protect its history and character, but is also subject to development pressures. We encourage:

1.       Documenting Peaks Island’s historic resources as a way to understand what remains and raise awareness about its significance. As Portland prepares to reconsider its zoning city-wide, the identification and documentation of significant historic properties will likely shape future rezoning efforts.

2.       Galvanizing residents to participate in the city’s rezoning initiative.

3.       Working with island historians and residents to sponsor educational programs that increase awareness of the island’s historic resources and options to conserve/preserve them as a means of retaining the islands’ valued character;

4.       Considering a local historic district designation that would protect this unique aspect of the island.

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