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Congress Street Walking Tour Introduction

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History of Congress Street
619 Congress Street
Congress Street forms the commercial and transportation spine of the Portland peninsula, and first appeared on a map in 1823. Following the Revolutionary War, Portland began a period of rapid growth and development as a shipping center. The British bombardment destroyed the city’s Old Port area, but the limited range of the artillery spared Congress Street. When post-Revolutionary building began, much of it occurred along the “safer” reaches of Congress Street, where many stately homes appeared. The Wadsworth-Longfellow house, 1786, was one of the earliest. During the early nineteenth century, more homes in the Federal style were built on Congress Street becoming an impressive residential section of the city. The Portland Observatory, 1807, stands on Munjoy Hill as a reminder of the active Portland harbor of the 1800’s. The transition from residential to commercial uses along Congress Street was accelerated by the Great Fire of 1866, which consumed numerous residences from the City Hall to Washington Avenue. The rebuilding of city hall in impressive Renaissance Revival style and the spread of Victorian commercial buildings firmly established the street’s civic importance. Steadfastly remaining the commercial center of the city, new offices replaced older commercial buildings. The first skyscraper, the Fidelity Trust Company Building, was finished in 1910. Fine department stores and hotels were added in characteristic styles. Congress Street was designated a historic district by the City in 2009.

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