House Island in Casco Bay was sold last week to an anonymous Portland businessman who plans to live on the island in the summer and provide the public with limited access.

The 24-acre island, which has five beaches, three cottages, two piers and one very old fort, was on the market for two years. It was most recently listed for $4.35 million.

John Scribner, a real estate broker with LandVest Inc. of Portland, said the island was sold on Friday. He would not identity the buyer or disclose the price. That information will become public this week when Maine Listing Service is updated and the new deed is registered at the Cumberland County Registry of Deeds.

The previous owner was Harold Cushing Jr., whose family had owned the island since 1954. Cushing had operated House Island Lobster Bakes and Tours, a business based on Portland’s waterfront that offered groups catered lobster bakes and tours of the island. Public access was otherwise prohibited.

The island’s main attraction is Fort Scammel, a granite fort built in 1808 on the island’s western end to defend Portland Harbor’s main shipping channel.

Of all the forts in Casco Bay, Fort Scammel is the only one to have been involved in battle. In 1813, soldiers the fort shot at British privateers lurking outside the harbor.

Most of the fort is located underground, where deep passageways and narrow granite staircases lead to cavernous chambers that are like an “underground cathedral,” writes Harry Gratwick in his book “Forts of Maine.”

From 1907 to 1937, House Island was the site for an immigration quarantine station and was known as the “Ellis Island of the North.”

Three cottages, all built in 1907, remain on the island.

The island is adjacent to Whitehead Passage, between Peaks and Cushing islands, and offers unobstructed views of Portland’s East End Beach from one side and the open ocean from the other.

When Cushing put the island on the market, he said he wanted a buyer who could preserve public access.

Scribner said the new owner will not be running a business on the island. However, the owner wants to make the fort available to the pubic on a limited basis and is now trying to figure out a workable plan.

The owner is “very sensitive” to the island’s history, Scribner said. “He wants to share that with the community. He just doesn’t know how yet.”

Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

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