Partnership boosts effort to restore Fort Gorges in Portland harbor

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PORTLAND — The future of Fort Gorges will get renewed focus when the Historic Preservation Board on Wednesday reviews plans by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to repair hazards at the Civil War-era structure.

The plans are the beginning of public and private efforts to restore the fort on Hog Island in Casco Bay, city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said Monday.

“The Army Corps hopes to begin work in the spring of 2017. Addressing these hazardous conditions is the first step toward making the fort more accessible to the public,” Grondin said in a news release.

The Corps of Engineers is ready to use its Defense Environmental Restoration Program for Formerly Used Defense Sites for fort repairs, Grondin said. The city, meanwhile, applied for and received a more than $20,000 Maine Historic Preservation Commission grant to partially fund a master plan for restoration and use of the fort.

Last August, Friends of Fort Gorges Executive Director Paul Drinan estimated a feasibility study and master plan could cost as much as $250,000. On Monday, he welcomed the initial funding.

“We’re so pleased that the city of Portland is on board with this project. Thousands of people appreciate the fort every year, either in person or from afar, and this is our first, and perhaps last, best chance to preserve this unique historical gem for future generations,” Drinan said.

Grondin said a master plan committee will be formed “in the near future,” with the intent of hosting a public forum in April or May.

Named for Sir Fernandino Gorges, the colonial proprietor of Maine, the fort was the last of three built to protect Portland harbor, along with Fort Scammell on House Island and Fort Preble in South Portland. Construction began in 1858 and was completed in 1865.

The fort was never fully garrisoned, and advances in naval weaponry made it obsolete for almost any use but storage. Weather, water and vandalism have done more damage to the fort than any shots fired.

Fort Gorges is a local historic landmark and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places after it was acquired by the city in 1960.

The Corps of Engineers plan will specifically address areas where there are “fall hazards,” such as missing steps or floors, discarded cables or open holes to cisterns below the parade ground. A doorway and five window openings will also be closed off, railings will be installed on some staircases, and access to areas – including the fort’s magazine – will be blocked by new gates.

The Friends of Fort Gorges formed in 2001. The group sought to install a new flagpole after the attacks on 9/11. The Friends later went through a period of dormancy and lost its nonprofit status. Drinan was named executive director in 2014, and nonprofit status was regained last year.

Drinan said architect Pamela Hawkes of city-based Scattergood Design and engineer Alfred Hodson of city-based Resurgence Engineering & Preservation have already provided expertise for the feasibility study and master plan.

“I love seeing the craftsmanship that went into the construction of these forts. I love to see some of subtle signs of human presence out there,” Hodson said last summer.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Friends of Fort Gorges Executive Director Paul Drinan examines damage at the fort in Portland Harbor last August. The Friends, city and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are moving forward with repairs and a master plan for restoration.

Repairs, including new stairs, railings and gates, will be made to Fort Gorges in Portland Harbor, seen last August.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will block access to some areas of Fort Gorges while city officials and the Friends of Fort Gorges create a master plan for renovations to the Civil War-era fort in Portland harbor.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.