Off the shores of South Portland sits an island that was inhabited with a purpose that never fully came to fruition. Fort Gorges is only accessible by boat which is why not many people even know of its existence. Despite its military roots, the island never even saw combat or troops - and now it sits, abandoned, as an eerie reminder of what could have been.

The fort was built following one of America's bloodiest wars, and it was one of many that were created with the same purpose in mind. Today, those eager to visit the fort must find their own form of transportation to reach the park - so, is it worth the trip? Probably.

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The History Of Fort Gorges

The history of this unique fort follows the War of 1812, when many forts were built in order to protect the harbor in Portland, Maine. While several others joined this one, Fort Gorges was the largest of out them all - which makes its abandonment that much more interesting. The fort bears a striking resemblance to that of North Carolina's Fort Sumter, and that's because the design was borrowed when building Fort Gorges. Its construction was finally completed in 1864 after taking six full years to finish.

  • Fun Fact: The fort's name is pronounced 'gorgeous,' which is an interesting contradiction to its abandoned and ghost-town-like nature today.

With the completion of the fort following the Civil War, there weren't too many opportunities or reasons for it to be in use. This continued to be a reality after it was discovered that the cannon holds at the fort were far too small to fit modern weapons, which led to the long-term downfall of Fort Gorges, as a whole. With no way to use modern weapons and a failed attempt at modernizing the cannon hold during the 1870s, it was obvious that this fort would eventually fall into disuse - except for the fact that it was never able to be used, period.

Eventually, the fort found a short-lived purpose as a temporary storage facility during World War II. The military used it to store submarine mines and after the war ended, once again, the fort was forgotten. Following one century of disuse, the fort would, once again, be abandoned for another century.

Turning The Ghost Fort Into A Park

It wasn't until 1960 - a full century later - when the City of Portland decided to turn the abandoned fort into a public park. While the choice once again gave this small island a purpose, the problem was that no public transportation was ever arranged to get visitors to and from the island itself.

Therefore, while the fort was opened to the public during this decade, visitors were left to their own devices when it came to sailing from the mainland. When it was opened as a park, the City of Portland also placed a disclaimer on it, saying that visitors could 'visit at their own risk.' While there's nothing inherently dangerous about the island, it does require a visitor to have their own method of water transport and the fort itself is centuries old, which means the occasional crumbling wall.

What To Know When Visiting Fort Gorges

Visiting the fort is quite an experience as not a single thing has changed since its creation. The entire island feels antique and rustic, as it would have during the late 1800s, with architecture and military holds to match. It's advised that visitors bring flashlights with them since there was obviously no electricity supplied to and from the island, nor are there lights inside any of the powder holds, which remain pitch black even in broad daylight. While the abandoned fort is old and has seen better days, it still provides incredible views of the city of Portland as well as downtown, and, on a clear day, visitors can see at least three lighthouses in the distance.

These views can be seen from the upper second and third floors of the fort, and the stairs are in well enough shape.

  • Getting to Fort Gorges: This is the tricky part. While the city provides no transportation to and from the fort, visitors are free to kayak, canoe, or take their own boats to the island. The best way to do this is to wait until low tide when kayaking or canoeing so that the shore of both the island and the mainland can be easily reached. The patch of sand in the back of the fort also functions as a landing pad for various watercraft.
  • Note: Casco Bay does experience choppy water on windy and inclement weather days, so this is something visitors should always be aware of.

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