Robert Dodd points to a miniature balloon hangar on a scale model he has built of Fort Williams as it was before the end of World War II. Sean Murphy / The Forecaster

CAPE ELIZABETH — These days, social media is full of stories about people keeping busy at home during the isolation brought on by the coronavirus pandemic – knitting sweaters, baking sourdough bread for the first time, even home improvements.

But for Robert Dodd, the past 10 months have been dedicated to a special project memorializing a popular park back when it was still a commissioned U.S. Army base. Dodd, a member of the Cape Elizabeth Historical Preservation Society, has built a scale replica of Fort Williams, now known as Fort Williams Park. The model depicts the fort, as accurately as Dodd has been able to determine, during the period from 1918-1945, the end of World War I through the end of World War II.

“If you’re ever looking for something to do during a pandemic, this is a great project,” he joked as he showed off his creation this week.

The model is built in 1:450 scale; the project is mounted on a 6-foot square piece of plywood, depicting an area that in real life is about 2,700 feet wide at its widest. Tiny trucks that don’t appear to be more than half an inch long from bumper to bumper dot the miniature landscape, which includes trees, grass, water and pavement.

For anyone who has been to the park recently, parts of the model will certainly look familiar: Shore Road runs along the nearest edge and Portland Head Light is clearly visible on the shore toward the model’s far side.

Some things, however, will not be familiar, at least to younger generations. One notable difference is to the lower right of the model’s center, where Dodd has built a collection of structures: garages, storehouses, small residential houses, guardhouses, a barracks for noncommissioned officers and a hangar for observation balloons used during World War I. There’s even a bakery.

“This is all fields now,” Dodd said, gesturing to the area.

Robert Dodd points to depictions of Fort Williams’ former gun batteries, many of which have been buried and now simply resemble hills. The small white dots to the lower right are tents where enlisted men might have slept. Sean Murphy / The Forecaster

Dodd, who is a a retired cancer research organization president and newspaper editor, said he first dreamt up the project while helping the society digitally copy and catalog photographs of the fort dating back to the era.

“I just started thinking, ‘Wow, there’s a lot over there that I didn’t know about, and I bet a lot of other people don’t know about,'” he said.

He discussed the idea with Jim Rowe, the society’s president, who gave his blessing. That was back in February, when Dodd was imagining a group effort with other society members.

Then the pandemic hit, leaving him to work on it largely on his own, in the garage of his home on Locksley Road, just minutes away from the park. He said he worked on it for half an hour at a time, tinkering with it, spending about 15 hours per week until the model was finished in early December.

Most of it was made out of common modeling materials, but there was one cutting-edge twist: Dodd’s son Conor, 31, who works for Ford Motor Co. in Michigan as a software engineer, had left a 3D printer at the family home. When his father told him about trouble finding buildings or gun batteries in the scale he needed, Conor created files that allowed his father to make plastic versions of buildings, cars and other small objects himself.

“I work on 3D models of cars,” Conor said. “A gun or a building would take me five minutes to do.”

On this scale model of Fort Williams circa 1918-1945, a truck, less than an inch long, trundles along an access road off Shore Road. Sean Murphy / The Forecaster

This week, Conor also looked over his father’s creation and said he had fond memories of going to the park as a child. Much of his father’s work, he said, puts a whole new perspective on things he used to dismiss out of hand. As an example, he pointed to a small gray building that represents what at the time was a balloon gas generator building. The building is no longer standing today, but the building’s original concrete slab is, though Conor said he never knew its historical significance.

“Growing up, you just dismissed it as a thing of concrete that they put picnic tables on,” he said.

Robert Dodd said there are lots of things like that in the park today, such as flat hills near the lighthouse that are gun batteries that were buried after being decommissioned when the fort closed in 1962.

Rowe said he and Dodd plan to put the model on display when the society moves to its new location in the old Spurwink School building off Scott Dyer Road next to Thomas Memorial Library. Right now, Rowe said, the society occupies a few rooms at the Cape Elizabeth Police Station, but there’s only room to store items, not to display them. Once the school building is renovated to get it up to building codes, Rowe said, the new location will also serve as a local museum.

“I envision Bob’s model to be the focal point in the museum,” he said.

Rowe called Dodd’s model “a true work of art” and said he was amazed to see what Dodd had accomplished in 10 months of isolation.

“This is certainly one of the most positive uses of COVID time that I’m aware of,” he said.

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