March 16, 2013

India Street neighborhood takes the long view

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – India Street was once the center of the city. The neighborhood around it was home to immigrants, businesses and robust international trade.

click image to enlarge

Hugh Nazor, founder of the India Street Neighborhood Association, says after Franklin Arterial was built in the 1960s and severed the neighborhood from the Old Port, "this little pocket here continually bled residents. ... the whole place went downhill."

Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer

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This photo, taken after the Great Fire of 1866, shows the area that is now the corner of Middle and India streets looking toward Congress Street.

Archival image courtesy of Maine Historic Preservation Commission

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TODAY'S MEETING

WHO: Sustain Southern Maine

WHEN: 12:30-5:30 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Maine Jewish Museum, 267 Congress St., Portland

Jack Amato remembers weighing dough in his family's bakery on India Street in the 1940s, when the vibrant, bustling community was known as Little Italy.

"In the summer, all the Italian people had gardens, especially on Newbury Street. A lot of the Italian people grew all the vegetables down there," said Amato, 73, whose grandfather opened the first Amato's bakery and sandwich shop on India Street in 1902.

Over the years, a series of events has reduced the 15-block neighborhood to a shadow of its former self, cut off from downtown by a major roadway and overshadowed by a resurgent Munjoy Hill.

Planners and residents are looking to change that, beginning with a neighborhood meeting Saturday.

The India Street neighborhood was selected recently by Sustain Southern Maine as one of nine Centers of Opportunity – an initiative funded with a $1.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Sustain Southern Maine is a regional coalition that works to help communities guide development to strengthen local economies, environments and neighborhoods.

Saturday's meeting is a first step toward a draft India Street neighborhood plan, to be completed by December. A final report is due out in February.

The end product will include a map with recommended residential, commercial and mixed-use zones and building heights, said Sustain Southern Maine spokeswoman Carol Morris.

"It's completely up to the (city) to use it, adopt it or put in on a shelf someplace," Morris said.

Saturday's meeting, scheduled from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the Maine Jewish Museum, at 267 Congress St., will give residents, businesses and visitors a chance to provide input about the future of the neighborhood and learn about its history and architecture.

"It's probably the best place for someone who is interested in the future of India Street to get their words in early," Morris said.

NEIGHBORHOOD IN TRANSITION

City officials have described India Street as a neighborhood in transition.

Construction is under way on the Bay House condominiums at Middle, Hancock and Newbury streets -- the former site of the Village Cafe Restaurant.

A condo project on Hampshire Street and a mixed-use development on India Street have been approved by the Planning Board, but their futures are uncertain.

In many ways, India Street has always been in transition, overcoming tragedies including three fires that wiped out the neighborhood.

In 1690, French and Indian forces overtook Fort Loyal, a wooden structure that stood near the intersection of India and Fore streets.

They drove out the colonists and torched the neighborhood, which consisted of a few buildings and residents, said Earle Shettleworth, the state historian.

In 1775, a British fleet fighting the colonial rebellion bombarded the city, which was part of Falmouth at the time, and destroyed most of the buildings around India Street.

Portland was incorporated in 1786, and the next 25 years brought dramatic growth to the India Street area, Shettleworth said.

In the mid-1800s, Portland Co. was making railroad cars for the Atlantic and St. Lawrence Railroad, which connected Portland to Montreal. The neighborhood's waterfront was dominated by a vast rail yard, a passenger depot and towering grain elevators that moved grain from train cars onto ships.

One lone brick section of the old Grand Trunk Station still stands, near the corner of India and Fore streets.

Steamships arrived at the foot of India Street carrying waves of European immigrants, as well as European textiles and other goods that were off-loaded and taken to Montreal via the Grand Trunk rail, Shettleworth said.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

History and architecture will be among the topics of Saturday's meeting about the future of the India Street neighborhood in Portland. Today, the community includes businesses such as Coffee By Design and Amato's on India Street, as well as St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church on Federal Street.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

History and architecture will be among the topics of Saturday's meeting about the future of the India Street neighborhood in Portland. Today, the community includes businesses such as Coffee By Design and Amato's on India Street, as well as St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church on Federal Street.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge



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