Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Gateway to Vacationland

Gateway to Vacationland: The Making of Portland, Maine

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 304
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Gateway to Vacationland
    Book Description:

    Situated on a peninsula jutting into picturesque Casco Bay, Portland has long been admired for its geographical setting—the “beautiful city by the sea,” as native son Henry Wadsworth Longfellow called it. At the same time, Portland’s deep, icefree port has made it an ideal site for the development of coastal commerce and industry. Much of the city’s history, John F. Bauman shows, has been defined by the effort to reconcile the competing interests generated by these attributes—to balance the imperatives of economic growth with a desire to preserve Portland’s natural beauty. Caught in the crossfire of British and French imperial ambitions throughout the colonial era, Portland emerged as a prosperous shipbuilding center and locus of trade in the decades following the American Revolution. During the nineteenth century it became a busy railroad hub and winter port for Canadian grain until a devastating fire in 1866 reduced much of the city to ruins. Civic leaders responded by reinventing Portland as a tourist destination, building new hotels, parks, and promenades, and proclaiming it the “Gateway to Vacationland.” After losing its grain trade in the 1920s and suffering through the Great Depression, Portland withered in the years following World War II as it wrestled with the problems of deindustrialization, suburbanization, and an aging downtown. Efforts at urban renewal met with limited success until the 1980s, when a concerted plan of historic preservation and the restoration of the Old Port not only revived the tourist trade but eventually established Portland as one of America’s “most livable cities.”

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-192-2
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Maps and Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. List of Acronyms
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. INTRODUCTION: Of Longfellow, Portland, and long, long thoughts on the “beautiful town seated by the sea”
    (pp. 1-8)

    Come now, join an 1893 delegation of the Portland Board of Trade high atop the Observatory on Munjoy Hill. Look leftward, please, over Casco Bay and then just to the right toward Commercial Street see the vast Grand Trunk Railroad yards, the roundhouse, and the giant grain elevator. Those steamships—the one loading Canadian winter wheat and tied by great hawsers to the Grand Trunk pier, the others anchored at rest in the harbor—fly flags from England, Germany, Belgium, and Brazil and arrive from ports such as Liverpool, Bremen, Antwerp.

    Portlanders, such as the Board of Trade members gathered...

  7. CHAPTER ONE From Beleaguered Outpost to Booming Port City, 1632–1860
    (pp. 9-42)

    “In all of New England there is no pleasanter town than Portland, in the State of Maine.” Thus begins Samuel Longfellow’sLife of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It is an appropriate opening for a book about Samuel’s father, Henry Wadsworth, which includes the poet’s diaries, where Longfellow ceaselessly extols the spectacular beauty of his birthplace and island-studded Casco Bay. He describes Portland as the “beautiful city by the sea,” where foaming waves crash against Portland Head and where, from the Western Promenade, the sun sets brilliantly over distant snowcapped Mount Washington. Free of sandbars, safe for the largest vessels at all...

  8. CHAPTER TWO Civil War, the Great Fire, and Reshaping Portland’s Urban Image
    (pp. 43-71)

    In 1855, with its deep, ice-free harbor, its bay studded with furled and unfurled white sails, its rail link to Canada secured, and early tourist arrivals from Philadelphia, Boston, and Montreal, Portland readied itself to compete with Boston for commercial supremacy. John Alfred Poor’s vision of his city supplanting Boston as the center of New England commerce actually seemed believable. That would not happen, however. Ultimately, it was Longfellow’s beguiling boyhood dream of the “beautiful town,” of Deering Woods, and of “Spanish Sailors,” and the “magic of the sea,” that would forever resonate, while Poor’s vision faded.

    Social, economic, and...

  9. CHAPTER THREE James Phinney Baxter’s City, 1882–1896
    (pp. 72-100)

    Portland never became a New England mill town. Instead, by 1880, Portland—within sight of Thoreau’s Maine woods, and the rugged, wave-battered, pine-tree-studded Maine coastline hallowed in Longfellow’s poems and in young Winslow Homer’s art—enshrined itself as the antidote to industrialism, a tree-lined, beautiful place lauded by its boosters as the “healthiest city.”

    South of Portland, York Harbor and the Kennebunks had for decades attracted summer visitors, and in the 1870s wealthy Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and Canadian rusticators (along with Mainers from Augusta and Lewiston) discovered Boothbay Harbor, Camden, and Bar Harbor and commenced the reshaping of Maine...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR City Growth, City Problems, City Beautiful, 1893–1915
    (pp. 101-139)

    A tourist on a sunny day in 1890 atop the Observatory on Munjoy Hill, gazing out over sparkling, sail-studded Casco Bay, might easily have basked in the beauty of the place. Prevailing southwesterly winds whisked away the relatively little sulfurous smoke from the Portland Company foundry. Bayside alone suffered the noxious stench wafting at low tide from the Back Cove’s polluted flats and emanating all day from the cove’s tannery, slaughterhouse, and stoneware manufactory.

    Like all late nineteenth-century American cities, Portland exhibited the growth pains attending urban industrialization. Beneath the stunning hilltop vistas lurked many of the same urban problems...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE The Sunrise Gateway in Depression and War
    (pp. 140-171)

    In 1915—still headquartered at 34 Exchange Street—the Portland Board of Trade changed its name to the Chamber of Commerce of Maine. Simultaneously, it unveiled a vigorous new campaign to rebrand Portland as “The Sunrise Gateway.” The phrase captured the essence of the city which each morning officially welcomed the sun to America (and, thus, still boasted being the American port city closest to Europe). In addition, the chamber extolled Portland’s role as the gateway to the splendors of vacationland Maine. “For half a century or more Portland had been the recognized capital of America’s Summer Playground,” blustered the...

  12. CHAPTER SIX Postwar Portland, 1943–1965
    (pp. 172-198)

    Maine’s Portland-born state historian Earle G. Shettleworth Jr. tells the story of a Portland merchant who in the 1950s sold books from a small, shabby Victorian storefront on Exchange Street. Nearby sat a clump of three or four moldering, half-vacant Italianate piles, their sills rotting and cornices sagging. Once stately, the buildings veritably begged to be rehabilitated. Interested in rescuing Portland’s post-1866 fire architectural heritage, the old bookseller visited a prominent Portland realtor. “Oh,” said the realtor, “you can have the whole bunch for $3,000 or $4,000 apiece, but why would you want them?”

    After 1945, brutal social and economic...

  13. CHAPTER SEVEN The Gateway Reborn, 1965–1985
    (pp. 199-229)

    The currents of radical change that unraveled American culture in the 1960s transformed Portland politics and society, giving voice to Irish, Italian, and Armenian constituents rarely heard in the city’s Yankee past. Yet the sinews of Portland’s past as a city with a rich maritime history, a city that honored its Longfellow legacy of ocean-splashed beauty, and a city long wedded to both commerce and tourism, ultimately held tight. Indeed, in a postindustrial era, it grew stronger.

    Most Portlanders would have found such a prospect unimaginable in the early 1960s. The new decade did begin hopefully, as a new young...

  14. CONCLUSION: Service City, Tourist City, Modern Portland
    (pp. 230-236)

    By 1987, Portland had redefined itself as a modern service-oriented city, one whose now exquisitely preserved residential and commercial architecture, complete with a working waterfront, had restored the city to its nineteenth- and early twentieth-century stature as a tourist destination. If it was no longer a gateway city in the nineteenth-century sense—a conduit for Canadian wheat and a hub of railroad transportation and coastal and international steamship commerce—it remained a gateway for cruise ships and for tourists intrigued by its reputation for hospitality and excellent restaurants. Indeed, tourists visiting the city by the sea in 2011 could choose...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 237-276)
  16. Index
    (pp. 277-285)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 286-286)