Port of Portland
Review and History

The Port of Portland is the seat of Cumberland County in southwestern Maine. The largest city in the State, the Port of Portland overlooks Casco Bay and the many islands it contains. Located just 38 kilometers northeast of Kennebunkport Harbor and 77 kilometers northeast of the Port of Portsmouth in New Hampshire, the Port of Portland is one of New England's most important seaports. In 2000, over 64 thousand people called the Port of Portland home, and over 243 thousand lived in the metropolitan area.

Commercial fishing is important to the local economy, and the Port of Portland has a ship modernization and repair facility. The Port of Portland is the largest city in Maine, and it is the State's major economic center. Today, the local economy is shifting toward the service sector, yet it still had important fishing, agricultural, financial, and manufacturing sectors. The Port of Portland enjoys a relatively low unemployment rate in the United States, and the area boasts higher incomes that most of the other cities in the State.

Port History

Europeans first entered the Fore River area in the 1600s, and the settlers fished and traded goods with their homelands. Richard Tucker and George Cleeve, both from England, settled the area in 1633. In 1676, the village was raided by the local indigenous peoples, and the French and Indians attacked the town again in 1690. In 1786, the British bombed and burned the Port of Portland. When the town was rebuilt, it was named after Dorsetshire, England's Isle of Portland.

The abundant forests offered wood for the hulls and masts of sailing ships, and the infant Port of Portland was soon a prosperous seaport. The Port of Portland was the capital of the new State of Maine from 1820 until 1831. In 1866, an Independence Day celebration ended in a terrible fire that destroyed much of the city center. From the latter 19th Century, the Port of Portland's traditional industries of shipping and fishing began to be complemented by manufacturing.

In the middle 19th Century, the Port of Portland became Montreal's ice-free port as well as a railway hub and seaport for the United States' East Coast. As the port grew, abandoned ships were hauled into the Fore Street Berths, filled with sand and stone, and a new seaport district was created that is today's Commercial Street.

With railroad connections to both Canada and the Eastern United States, vessels brought goods and passengers from around the world, and the Port of Portland became a busy trade center and vacation destination. Commercial fishing also brought wealth from the rich fishing grounds of the North Atlantic, the Gulf of Maine, and George's Bank.

After World War I, Canada began to develop ports of its own, and the Port of Portland began to decline somewhat. However, commercial fishing and passenger traffic remained high. By World War II, shipbuilding was an important industry in the Port of Portland. After the war, cargo volumes fell, as they did in many ports.

By the 1960s, the introduction of containerized cargoes led to further decreases in cargo volumes for the Port of Portland as the newer larger vessels moved to larger ports to the south. By this time, the shipbuilding industry in the Port of Portland also began to decline. However, commercial fishing continued to be a major contributor to the local economy.

In the late 1970s, a European company chose the Port of Portland as a home port for an international ferry service, and a new pipeline to move crude oil to Canadian refineries started a renaissance for the Port of Portland. A new ship repair facility was launched by Bath Iron Works at the abandoned Maine State Pier, and the facility employed hundreds of workers.

Inspired by the returning commerce, the City of Portland began to invest in the Port of Portland's waterfront. Over the next 20 years, the fishing community gained a new municipal pier, and the United States' first public display fish auction was created. Piers were rebuilt, and the island ferry service got a new modern terminal. The Old Port District came alive after being ignored for many years.

As the Port of Portland's waterfront area became more valuable, struggles grew between developers and port users. Condominiums pushed out marine industries, and yachts took the place of fishing boats. Finally, Port of Portland residents were asked to decide the extent of maritime traffic at the waterfront. In the end, restrictive zoning protected the traditional marine industries of cargo-handling and fishing in the 1990s.

In 1917, the State's Legislature created a State Harbor Commission to study the feasibility of building a public pier in the Port of Portland. After their study, the Commission argued that the Port of Portland needed a new publicly-owned and operated waterfront terminal. In 1919, the Legislature created a permanent state board, the Directors of the City's Department of Transportation and Waterfront, and asked the voters of the State of Maine to decide whether a new public pier should be built at the Port of Portland. The voters agreed, and the Portland State Pier Site District was created.

The Maine State Pier was completed in 1922 at the head of the 10.7-meter deep, 549-meter wide ship channel. The pier can accommodate the largest vessels in the Port of Portland, and it is near the Port of Portland's freight yards and major highways, making it accessible to inland transportation networks. It is also near the city's business district and the Grand Trunk Railway passenger station.

Today, t he Port of Portland is at the eastern end of the Portland-Montreal oil pipeline, and it is an important port for petroleum as well as for coastal and foreign commerce. The Port of Portland is home to a wide variety of manufacturers that make semiconductors, stainless steel, printed matter, pulp and paper, footwear, electronics, and food products.

The Port of Portland's waterfront thrives. The Port of Portland handles over 200 thousand international passengers a year, and the fishing industry has enjoyed some of its biggest landings. Container and bulk cargo exceed that of the Port of Boston, and the Port of Portland has become the second biggest oil port on the United States' East Coast. With a waterfront of less than five kilometers, city leaders must balance the busy working port with other public demands that include open space and private development.

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