More than a century and a half after Fort Gorges was built in Casco Bay during the Civil War, an effort is under way to secure the base – architecturally speaking.

“We have a $250,000 cash match on the table from the City of Portland and see this as a big opportunity to save Fort Gorges for future generations,” said Paul Drinan, executive director of Friends of Fort Gorges. “There are structural issues that should have been addressed years ago. If the community steps forward, this could save the fort. If we don’t succeed in this cash match, the future of the fort is in question.”

That was the motivation behind Fortation, a hybrid in-person and online fundraiser that brought 49 people to the island Aug. 15 while hundreds of others watched on Facebook Live.

Sets by percussionists Brian Shankar Adler and Mike Effenberger, accordion player Terrence Karn, contemporary dancer Shae Gwydir and soprano Devin Dukes showed off the fort’s acoustic and stage-like potential.

Mary Allen Lindemann of Coffee by Design, one of the event sponsors, was blown away as Dukes sang operatic and Broadway-style tunes from the second floor of the circular stone fort.

“But I can imagine every genre in this space,” she said. “Every performer who sees it wants to do something. Can you imagine live Shakespeare in this space?”

“The accoustic are stunning,” said James Noel Hoban of Portland. “You can stand almost anywhere and hear your voice reflected off the structure.”

Drinan said that Friends of Fort Gorges see Fortation as a “steppingstone,” adding that he’d love to see the city host school tours or a summer performance series.

Although people have gathered at Fort Gorges for decades for all sorts of purposes, as a Portland park, any gathering of more than 24 people legally requires a permit. And Fortation was its first city-permitted event.

“We hope it opens the door for more legal events to help us create models for economic sustainability,” Drinan said. “Educational outings. Experiential learning. Corporate events. All of these things are appropriate for the space and will help generate the funds required to save the fort.”

Of course, the fort would need to be preserved structurally. The island would need to be accessible by more than just a private boat or water taxi. And a restroom would be key.

“The city inherited it in the 1960s from the federal government and decided in the early years that less was more and left it as stabilized ruin,” said Aaron Frederick, Friends of Fort Gorges vice president. “Settling is slowly breaking the structure in half. But to experience the fort is to know it, and to know it is to love it.”

Fortation was meant to give more people the chance to visit the fort, both in person and virtually, to raise community interest.

“I grew up on the Eastern Prom looking at Fort Gorges my entire life and have never been on it,” said Linda Greene of Portland. An hour later, she declared the fort “absolutely fabulous.”

She was among the few dozen attendees who purchased $150 tickets for an afternoon that included a round-trip water taxi, a catered lunch and entertainment.

Echoing the sentiment of several other attendees, Kelly McCormack of South Portland described Fortation as a “once-in-a-lifetime thing.”

“This is an important piece of the Portland skyline and history,” said Sarah Halpin of Windham. “I swam Peaks to Portland years ago and swam by and thought I’d love to be on this island.”

Daniel Noel, who had kayaked to the fort with his wife weeks earlier, brought his mother Susan Boulles to Fortation. “We’ve got our headlamps and are ready to explore,” she said.

Ed Gardner, past president of Greater Portland Landmarks, said, “I’ve been boating around this fort for decades, and it was always this mystical, magical place where we never set foot.”

Friends of Fort Gorges are setting out to change that. Their website, friendsoffortgorges.org, features stunning drone photography, bookings for history tours and, of course, the opportunity to donate online.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at [email protected]


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