Walking guides tout history, architecture of 4 Portland neighborhoods

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PORTLAND — With new self-guided walking tours, Greater Portland Landmarks hopes to introduce families to some of the city’s most historically important and architecturally significant neighborhoods.

The guides are available for an introductory price of $7.95 and can be purchased at the Portland Observatory on Munjoy Hill or the Landmarks office at 93 High St.

The packet of guides focus on four easily accessible areas of the city: the Old Port, India Street, State Street and Congress Street from Congress Square to City Hall.

Kate Lewis, the director of development at Landmarks, said the organization began thinking about creating more family- and child-oriented walking tours during its 50th anniversary celebrations four years ago.

“We had just successfully published ‘The City Is a Classroom’ workbook for third-graders, which was a huge and popular success (and) we wanted to make our old tours more family- and child-oriented and modernize them with refreshed graphics that appealed to a wider audience,” Lewis said.

Using the new guides, she said, “We hope that people can become familiar with several centuries of Portland’s history through its architecture, public gathering areas and streetscapes.”

Lewis said the guides contain questions about how architecture “reflects the lives of the people who dwelled and worked here. We also hope that people will have a better understanding of architectural styles and types and be able to apply critical thinking to any streetscape in any city.”

The goal is for users of the guides to think about issues such as how neighborhoods evolve, what specific neighborhoods represent and what stories they tell about the city’s history and people.

Overall, Lewis said, the new walking tours are designed to be “useful and interesting (for) visitors and locals of all ages.”

The India Street walk includes a stop on the Portland Freedom Trail, which is dedicated to honoring the Underground Railroad and abolitionist movement that was active from approximately 1829-1866.

The walk runs the length of the street, from Commercial to Congress, and includes some side streets.

The State Street walk also covers parts of Spring Street and other side streets, and the Old Port walk includes Middle and Exchange streets, as well as Boothby Square.

Lewis said the self-guided tours are key to Landmark’s mission of working to “preserve and revitalize greater Portland’s legacy of historic buildings, neighborhoods, landscapes, and parks.”

“Learning by doing is an effective way to retain information on our history and culture,” she added.

Alessa Wylie, manager of education programs at Landmarks, said “We’re always looking for ways to make history more engaging. Walking through neighborhoods gives the opportunity to really look around and to make connections that will help (people) remember what they are seeing.”

Wylie said she’s partial to the India Street walk because it has “such variety of places: houses, businesses, places of worship, a school and the Eastern Cemetery. You can (really) see how things are so interconnected in that neighborhood. It’s just a great story.”

And, she said, “I’ve discovered that no matter how many times I’ve walked a walk, I always see something new when I walk it with others. Everyone sees different things and sharing the experience is a large part of the fun.”

Lewis said the India Street walk was included in the new guide because it’s the latest district to get a historic designation and it also “reflects diverse industry, history, and cultures.”

“Both the Old Port and Congress Street tours convey important information about two of the areas that see the most heavy foot traffic in Portland,” she said. “And the State Street neighborhood reflects three centuries of historic architecture within a three-block radius that tell stories about different types of people who lived and worked in Portland.”

Lewis said early sales of the guides have been steady and the reaction to them has been positive.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

India Street in Portland is one of the four historic neighborhoods featured in new self-guided walking tours offered by Greater Portland Landmarks. The tours are specifically designed to be family friendly.

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