History of the Old Port Area
Attracted by the deep, sheltered harbor, English settlers first established themselves on the Portland peninsula in 1632, making it one of the nation’s oldest seaports. After the Revolution, Portland became a successful commercial port. Lumber was exported to the West Indies, exchanged for molasses and manufactured into rum to be sold in markets along the Atlantic coast. Later, a combination of new local industries, coastal steamships, and railroads linking the city to Canada and the West, continued the harbor’s pre-eminence. Large shipping and mercantile companies were established in Portland, especially in the Old Port area. In 1866 fire swept through the city burning much of the business core centered in the Old Port. Recovery was extraordinarily rapid, and by the early 1870s the area had been rebuilt in grand Victorian style, demonstrating the city’s economic resilience. Once again Portland thrived as a major commercial center shipping large quantities of lumber, grain, livestock, and other cargoes. Thanks to historic preservation efforts and repurposing, many of the splendid buildings erected during the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth century, can still be seen. The City of Portland has dedicated itself to maintaining the area as a working harbor, full of the sights, sounds, and smells of the sea.
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