Fort Williams Park’s Goddard Mansion, which was built in the 1850s, is on Greater Portland Landmarks’ Places in Peril list this year. Drew Johnson / The Forecaster

Goddard Mansion at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth has landed both on this year’s Greater Portland Landmarks’ Places in Peril list and on the town’s list of recommended improvements for the park.

“It kind of was just abandoned until the town acquired it in 1962,” said Sarah Hansen, executive director of Greater Portland Landmarks. “The town didn’t really do anything with it, and then in 1981, they had a controlled fire and burned the interior of the building. They essentially gutted it.”

Revitalizing the remains of the 170-year-old mansion is among 80 recommendations of an updated 10-year master plan for Fort Williams Park approved earlier this month by the Cape Elizabeth Town Council.

Goddard Mansion is currently fenced off to the public due to safety concerns. Drew Johnson, The Forecaster

The Places in Peril list is created annually to “raise awareness about the different kinds of resources and the different kinds of challenges and opportunities facing a lot of our historic spaces,” Hansen said. In addition to the Goddard Mansion, other sites on this year’s list include Mechanics’ Hall and the Gorham’s Corner Neighborhood, both in Portland.

The mansion, which was built in the 1850s by Scottish architect Charles Alexander, was purchased by the federal government in 1900 and served as military housing through the 1920s, Hansen said.

The building is now fenced off because it is unsafe to enter.

“It’s at this point, something has to be done,” said Kathy Raftice, director of Cape Elizabeth community services and Fort Williams Park. “We’re trying to make it as user-friendly and stable as possible so that it is safe for people to walk through it.”

There is a model that the Fort Williams Park Committee recommends the town follow.

“The concept for what we recommend would be using the precedent of a beautiful stone church in Bermuda,” said Todd Richardson of Richardson & Association Landscape Architects, which assisted the park committee in making its master plan recommendations.

The “Unfinished Church” in St. George’s, Bermuda is just what one would expect: unfinished. While the stone walls, pillars and arches of the church are intact, a roof was never completed, and the structure essentially serves as ruins that tourists can walk through.

“Rather than it just being kind of an artifact that you look at,” Richardson said, the changes at Goddard Mansion “would allow people to actually get up close and experience parts of it in a way that’s quite different” than its current, fenced-off state.

The inside of Goddard Mansion is being taken over by wildlife. Drew Johnson, The Forecaster

The recommendation includes removing portions of the back and side walls.

Hansen said while the recommendation of that model is “fascinating,” it concerns Greater Portland Landmarks.

“It’s really disappointing to us that they would want to remove so much of the building and just leave the façade,” she said. “They’re still going to have to invest in stabilization and maintenance, and we think it would be a much more interesting and authentic experience if people could have the whole house or whole building to experience.”

Other park committee recommendations include setting up a picnic area on the backside of the mansion, replacing the surrounding asphalt with a lawn, and installing a vegetated buffer along the property line.

It is going to take some time before any of these recommendations are implemented, Raftice said, noting it is a 10-year plan.

“We’re glad that the community is having conversations,” Hansen said. “We’re looking forward to being a part of those conversations.”

In addition to changes to Goddard Mansion, other notable recommendations in the Fort Williams master plan include increasing safety around Powers Road, improvements to Ship Cove, and repairing and preserving the Battery Keyes. Some of the recommendations would cost $1 million each.

“We’ve listened to so many people, and so many people were a part of the research,” Raftice said. “It was a long process, a very detailed process, that the committee really put a lot of time into, and I think they’ve come up with some wonderful recommendations.”

The plan, developed by the Fort Williams Park Committee with the assistance of Richardson & Associates Landscape Architects, was approved by the Cape Elizabeth Town Council earlier this month.

The goal of the plan is to prioritize and enhance the park for year-round use, enhance safe access and circulation, and “preserve, protect, promote and enhance the park’s natural, scenic and historic resources,” according to the 67-page document.

 

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