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Portland Before the Fire


Middle Street, Portland Maine 1864Portland Maine has a long history first settled by Europeans in 1632. During the first 60 years of settlement the town was destroyed twice in attacks as part of the war with the native population. In 1690, the entire settlement was destroyed and whole population killed or fled south. The area was not resettled until 1715.

The town flourished until the revolution, in 1775 the town, then called Falmouth, was burned by Capt. Mowat of the Royal Navy. Again the people rebuilt and flourished.

By the mid-1860's, the now city of Portland boomed with a naturally deep ice free harbor, and the shortest rail link to Montreal, which was established in 1853. The Civil War had taken its toll on the population, but by 1866, the war had ended and soliers returned home.

Sketch of the City of Portland

from News Paper Account of the fire

Portland is situated on a peninsula at the western extremity of Casco Bay, and it is one hundred and five miles from Boston. The present population is about thirty-five thousand. The city was regularly laid out and handsomely built, particularly its more modern portions, which were noted for their elegant buildings. It was lighted with gas and well supplied with water. We speak of the city as something that was, for this calamity seems to have well nigh destroyed it. Many of the streets were planted with elm and other shade trees. The principal public buildings were the Exchange, an elegant structure, with handsome colonnade and dome, containing the Post Office, Custom House, and United Slates Court rooms; the City Hall, built of brick: the old Custom House, of granite, and twenty-four churches. Its public school system was one of the best in the country, and the school buildings were structures of substantial elegance. There were also numerous private schools and an academy. The Athenaeum, incorporated in 1827, had a library of over six thousand volumes. The Natural History Society had a valuable collection of minerals, specimens, etc. The natural advantages of the city were very great, and had been improved by a wealthy and cultivated population, until it was known as one of the most beautiful places in the whole country. All its elegance of public and private buildings has been swept away, and there remains a barren waste of ashes and ruins. It was an important entrepct[sp] of Canadian and domestic commerce, while it exported in large quantities ice, lumber, fish, and provisions. Manufactures had lately attracted much capital to the spot. Ship building was extensively carried on. The enterprise and public spirit of its citizens are notorious, and we cannot but hope that it will in a reasonably short time sur-mount the present misfortune, rebuilding the city as beautiful as before.

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Explore the resources on the General History of Portland