After the War of 1812, several fortifications were proposed to protect Portland’s harbor. The largest of these was Fort Gorges (pronounced gorgeous). The D-shaped granite fortress, modeled after Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, was constructed from 1858 to 1864. By the time of its completion, the Civil War-era design was completely obsolete, as its cannon holds were far too small for modern guns. After a failed modernization attempt in the 1870s, the fort sat empty and unused for nearly 100 years. A purpose was found for it briefly during World War II, when submarine mines were stored inside, but after the war, it was again abandoned.
The City of Portland acquired the fort from the federal government in 1960 and transformed it into a public park. The city’s website states the fort is “open for exploring at your own risk.” Despite the fort’s park status, the city in no way maintains it, so it still feels very abandoned and rustic. Flashlights are necessary to explore the inside of the powder holds, which are very dark even during the day. A stone stairway takes visitors up to the second and third floors of the fort, which have fantastic views of downtown Portland, Portland Harbor, and at least three lighthouses.
Know Before You Go
The city provides no way to access the park, so you must either take your own boat, kayak, or charter/rent one. Even with the protection of Casco Bay, the harbor can get very rough, so make sure to check the ocean report and weather before embarking.
If taking your own powerboat, please do not enter the coves at or near low tide as they contain healthy, sensitive eelgrass beds which need to be preserved.
The city limits visiting hours to 6:30 am to 10:00 pm and there is no cost to enter. There are no restrooms or amenities on the island.
Guided tours are available by contacting the nonprofit dedicated to preserving the fort. More information may be found at www.friendsoffortgorges.org.