Maine’s biggest city has been practically leveled on several separate occasions. Yet in true New England fashion, it’s always bounced right back. Today, the city is beloved by tourists, foodies, and boaters of every stripe. Read on for 25 facts about the Forest City.
1. Hear the name “Portland,” and you probably think about a certain city out in Oregon. That place was founded by a pair of New Englanders—Boston’s Asa Lovejoy and Francis Pettygrove from Portland, Maine. Each man wanted to name the spot after his hometown. So, they settled this matter the right way—via coin toss. Pettygrove won two out of three flips and that was that.
2. Roughly 40 percent of all Maine residents live in the greater Portland metropolitan area.
3. It’s situated on the Portland peninsula near Maine’s southernmost border. Originally, this outcrop was peopled by the Wabanaki, who called it Machigonne, or “Great Neck.” English settlers would later rechristen it “Casco” in 1633 and then “Falmouth Neck” in 1658 [PDF].
4. In 1675, what’s now the Portland area was set ablaze during a Native American raid. The assault came during King Philip’s War, a conflict between natives and settlers that raged on from 1675 to 1676. An even bigger attack was launched in May 1690. This time, the perpetrators were a combination of French and indigenous forces, who also burned the settlement to the ground.
5. Portland as we know it started out as part of a bigger metropolis. Dubbed “Old Falmouth” by historians, it was created in the aftermath of the 1690 raid. Within this urban hub were modern-day Portland, Westbrook, Cape Elizabeth, South Portland, and the current city of Falmouth. On October 18, 1775, the region was once again besieged. As part of Britain’s retaliation against the colonies following the Battles of Lexington and Concord, Royal Navy cannons bombarded Old Falmouth.
6. In 1786, Portland finally broke away from Old Falmouth for good, earning independent township status on July 4. Ironically, given the date, it was named after the British Isle of Portland.
7. No transatlantic port in the U.S. is closer to Europe than Portland. According to the city’s official website, it’s also America’s 20th-largest fishing port.
Acclaimed poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and author Stephen King were both born in Portland. King still maintains a residence in his native state; he and his wife Tabitha divide their time between Florida and the city of Bangor.
9. Another famous native is five-time Olympic medalist Ian Crocker. A born-and-raised Portlander, the swimmer attended Cheverus Jesuit High School. His resume includes multiple Pan Pacific championships and two gold medals—the latest of which came in 2003, after Crocker became the first man to ever swim the 100-meter butterfly in under 51 seconds.
10. Let’s just say that Portland doesn’t have the most original nickname. Informally, it’s called “Forest City,” an alias that’s also used by Cleveland, Ohio and London, Ontario. In Portland’s case, the moniker can be traced back to a burial site. During the 1850s, the government-funded Forest City Cemetery was established. Before long, people began referring to all of Portland as “Forest City” and the name stuck.
11. The suburb of South Portland is home to the famous Maine Mall—the largest American commercial, retail, and office complex north of Boston. When it’s closed, only about 23,000 people can be found in South Portland. But when the mall’s open, that number jumps to anywhere between 60,000 and 80,000.
12. Like Bigfoot? Check out the International Cryptozoology Museum. Founder Loren Coleman ranks among the planet’s leading Sasquatch experts. In 2003, he established this unique museum inside of a Portland house he’d purchased. Visitors can see stuffed jackalopes, yeti footprint casts, and a fully-furred Bigfoot model.
Portland was Maine’s first state capital. For seven years, it retained the title; a two-story building on the corner of Myrtle and Congress streets served as the statehouse. But in 1827, the more centrally-located Augusta was officially designated the new capital. The legislature would use the Portland-based statehouse until 1832, when the one in Augusta was completed.
14. Every year, downtown Portland salutes the beginning of summer with the annual Old Port Festival. Established in 1973, it’s now the largest one-day festival in Maine. Originally, it was always thrown on the first Sunday of June, but in 2010, this date was changed to the second Sunday—which historically has gotten less rain. Drop on by for some live music, street performers, and local cuisine.
15. Billed as “America’s first all-display fresh seafood auction,” the Portland Fish Exchange has been doing business since 1986. On a daily basis, fishermen present their latest catch and entertain offers from seafood wholesalers and processors.
16. The Civil War came to Maine’s doorstep in 1863. The Battle of Portland Harbor—a conflict that was started by a group of undercover Confederates—took place on June 27. Led by Lieutenant Charles Read, the southerners decided to sneak into Portland's Casco Bay and steal a federal cutter, the USRC Caleb Cushing. But before long, news reached federal authorities, who sent four Union ships out to capture them. A heated ammunition exchange ensued, with Uncle Sam ultimately coming out on top. Read was forced to surrender and imprisoned.
17. Portland was ravaged by yet another fire on July 4, 1866. That day of celebration turned into a nightmare when fireworks triggered an inferno. In total, 1800 buildings were destroyed, leaving 4000 people homeless. To prevent history from repeating itself, the city set up a fire alarm signal system the very next year.
18. Attention, gum chewers: The first factory that was ever built specifically to manufacture this treat was constructed in Portland by businessman John Curtis. His company, Curtis & Son, set up the facility way back in 1850.
19. Where is the so-called “Italian sandwich” really from? Maine, of course. An early forerunner of subs and hoagies, these were created by Giovanni Amato, a Portland baker, in 1902. The story goes that some of Amato’s customers persuaded him to create massive sandwiches by cutting loaves of bread lengthwise. In Portland, a standard “Italian” sammie comes with boiled ham, sliced tomatoes, olives, onions, green peppers, and American cheese. This is coated with a mixture of salt, oil, and more pepper. Mangia!
20. Former mayor Neal Dow (1804-1897) is regarded as the father of Prohibition. At age 23, he co-founded the Maine Temperance Society, beginning a lifelong crusade against liquor. As mayor, Dow used his political clout to help turn Maine into America’s first dry state in 1851. Four years later, it was discovered that he’d quietly allowed the city to buy $1600 worth of “medical and mechanical alcohol.” Angry protesters surrounded City Hall on June 2, 1855. Dow ordered the militia to shoot, killing one protester and injuring seven more. Everything went downhill from there. A year after the incident, Dow lost his re-election bid and Maine repealed its anti-booze laws.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Despite having a population of just 60,000, Portland boasts an impressive 17 microbreweries—the most per capita of any city in the U.S., according to a recent analysis by the Brewers Association. Clearly, Prohibition never stood a chance there.
22. Here’s our obligatory, Maine lobster-related fact: In 2009, Portlanders joined forces to assemble the world’s biggest lobster roll. A 61-foot, 9 1/2-inch marvel, it contained 4 gallons of Miracle Whip and 48 pounds of lobster meat. However, just last year, the record was shattered by two groups out of Canada, who both constructed rolls that were more than 70 feet in length. (A heated feud over which roll had actually broken the record ensued.)
23. In 2013, Portland became the first East Coast city in the U.S. to legalize recreational marijuana—at least nominally. That November, around 70 percent of voters supported a groundbreaking referendum on pot possession. The measure allows residents aged 21 and older to carry as much as 2.5 ounces. But be warned: Portlanders still aren’t allowed to purchase the drug, sell it, or smoke it in a public area. Furthermore, as Maine Attorney General Janet Mills pointed out, the referendum “does not override state or federal laws” against weed.
24. They may play in Boston, but the Red Sox are wildly popular throughout New England. As a nod to the organization, the minor-league Portland Sea Dogs use a 37-foot replica of Fenway’s “Green Monster” wall in their own outfield. Fans call it the Maine Monster—or should we say “monstaah”?
25. To honor the city's long history of overcoming adversity, its flag and city seal show a Phoenix rising from the ashes. Also included on both is the Latin word resurgam, which means “I shall rise again.”