Portland, Maine. The city in 1929
Portland is the largest city and most important seaport of Maine. It is located on Casco Bay, 110 miles northeast of Boston. The city is situated on a peninsula three miles long and a mile wide, as well as another peninsula to the east, and some mainland territory and islands. The quality and style of architecture in Portland is in large part due to the succession of well-known 19th-century architects who worked to design federal style buildings, Victorian mansions and gothic cottages. Though English colonists settled the area by the 1630s, much of the city's historic architecture is from the Victorian era. That is because in 1866 a raging fire broke out and destroyed most of Portland's commercial buildings, many of its churches and countless homes.
The downtown of Portland comprehends the Arts District, the Back Cove and the Old Port. The Arts District covers a large part of upper Congress Street towards the West End. There are many art galleries, theaters, museums, schools, apartments, commercial establishments and the College of Art. Back Cove is a neighborhood off of Portland's peninsula and takes its name from the estuary basin on the northern side of the city. The Back Cove basin is nearly circular and about one mile in diameter. A loop trail runs around the circumference of the cove. Being tidal, Back Cove dries out to mud flats at low tide and is not commercially navigable. The Old Port is located on the southeast side of the Portland peninsula. This place is known for its cobblestone streets, 19th century brick buildings and fishing piers. The district has many boutiques, restaurants and bars. The suburb of South Portland is home to the famous Maine Mall—the largest American commercial, retail, and office complex north of Boston.
The Deering Center is another important district, and can be roughly divided in East Deering, Deering Highlands, North Deering and Parkside. East Deering is an economically diverse place, featuring both public housing and more expensive single family homes. Much of the neighborhood has views of Casco Bay. Deering Highlands is a residential neighborhood placed on a hill and was developed in the late 19th Century. This district still maintains its original historical character, including numerous examples of architecture. North Deering is home to some of the oldest houses in the city, because the neighborhood was spared all the fires that plagued much of the rest of the city in the past. In North Deering has an agriculture and lumber based economy. Parkside is a neighborhood located immediately around Deering Oaks, an historic park officially established in 1879. The homes in the neighborhood are primarily triple decker buildings and soon after its founding became home to much of the Italian and Irish immigrant populations. The neighborhood is known for prostitution.
The East End is a neighborhood on the far eastern end of Portland's peninsula. It is closely linked with Munjoy Hill and the Eastern Promenade. The Eastern Promenade is a historic promenade, public park and recreation area that includes recreational facilities. Munjoy Hill has a large Irish and Italian American population. Being densely settled, it is almost exclusively residential and due to the shape of the peninsula it is isolated from the major commuter routes.
Libbytown and Stroudwater make the southwest part of the city. Libbytown is residential and settled by Irish Catholic immigrants. Stroudwater is home to several historic structures, including the oldest standing publicly accessible building and the Tate House and Museum, which was built in 1755. Stroudwater was founded as a hamlet, which, with power generated by the Stroudwater River and Fore Rivers, is an important producer of masts for the Royal Navy.
The West End is located on the western side of Portland's peninsula and includes many Victorian-style well-preserved historical homes. Five city parks, two hospitals and Portland's primary cemetery from 1829-1852, are located in this neighborhood as well. The West End News is the local weekly newspaper, which includes news and information pertaining to the neighborhood and the whole city. The West End includes the Western Promenade, a public park and recreation area neighborhood. Developed between 1836 and the early 20th century, it is one Portland's oldest preserved spaces. The Western Promenade occupies land overlooking a bluff on the west side of the Portland peninsula. The park is over 18 acres in size, and basically linear in shape. The park provides views to the west which include the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The bluff has a network of trails and most of its steep slope is wooded.
With its leafy streets and grand homes, the West End reads like a beautifully illustrated textbook on American Victorian architecture. After the 1866 fire, Portland's wealthy citizens began rapidly building homes in this then-underdeveloped section of the city. Almost overnight, some of the United States' best residential architects of the time became the authors of Western Promenade. The architects’ works include dramatic high Victorian gothic structures, eclectic and asymmetrical Queen Anne style homes, nostalgia-fueled stick style buildings, along with cubical Italianate villas topped with a central cupola.
Portland has a humid coastal climate, with rather cold, snowy winters, and warm, occasionally almost hot, summers. The breezes off the Atlantic Ocean are refreshing and enjoyable when temperatures peak. Average summer highs in Portland are usually in the 60s, while night temperatures can fall as low as the 43s on spring nights. With the spring thaw, Portland warms up quickly, and it certainly has four full seasons. The temperatures in the spring gradually climb from March through May; by the time summer is in bloom, the landscape is transformed from snow and ice to lush green that blankets the city. Portland has 80 to 120 clear days per year free of fog or other precipitation. The percentage of possible sunshine is about 60%.
Although Maine in 1928 was predominantly rural, the state's largest city, Portland, contained more than 70,000 inhabitants. Portland serves a variety of economic functions. The harbor is the primary ice-free winter seaport for Canadian exports and is closer to Europe than any other transatlantic port in the United States. Roads, radios, telephones, and theaters provides new vectors for urban culture. Two-thirds of Maine's farm families own automobiles and rural delivery broaden their consumer reach.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Portland passed through rapid urban and economic development. Portland's prosperous citizens fortunes were fueled by the shipping industries. The city developed as a commercial port and began to grow rapidly, becoming a leading wholesale distribution point for northern New England as well as an important retail center, catering mostly to pedestrian shoppers. Industries received a boost after outdoor outfitters opened in nearby Freeport in 1917.
Tourism increased during that period. Often, Portland was the launching pad for travel adventures along Maine's rugged coast or to the state's wooded lakes. The city welcomed the new economy of the 1920s, which brought low-priced mass-produced automobiles and new electrical appliances like radios, washing machines, and vacuum cleaners. On the other hand, Portland provided commercial services for the surrounding country and hosted canneries for fish, fruit, and vegetables or mills for various wood products.