Fishing shacks on Fishermans Point in South Portland were swept into Casco Bay during a powerful storm Saturday. Photos by Ben Tero @bterophoto

SOUTH PORTLAND — As a kid growing up near Willard Beach, Russ Lunt remembers jumping off Fisherman’s Point at high tide and swimming in the open ocean.

He recalls warm summer nights when neighbors lit bonfires on the rocky outcrop beside Willard Beach and the cluster of old fishing shacks perched at the water’s edge, where local fishermen stored their gear and worked on lobster traps. His Great Uncle Earl Lunt was one of them.

As an adult, Lunt was part of a public works crew that repaired the wooden stairway that ran from the historic shacks to the beach, and he attended a few weddings on the point with spectacular views of Casco Bay as the backdrop.

So Lunt was heartbroken as he watched the rooftops of the two remaining fishing shacks sink into Simonton Cove during last Saturday’s historic winter wind and rainstorm.

“It was like a big gut punch,” said Lunt, 65. “It was like a piece of my childhood and local history got washed away.”

Lunt is among thousands of South Portland residents and others who are mourning the loss of a treasured Maine landmark that represented both the city’s fishing heritage and the modern challenges of sea level rise that could influence a plan to replace the beloved buildings.


News stories, photos and videos posted on social media have triggered an outpouring of memories and interest in rebuilding the recently repainted shacks, which were shredded in last weekend’s pounding surf, powerful winds and record high tide.

The South Portland Historical Society has responded with an online fundraiser that has brought nearly $3,000 in donations from as far away as Florida and Texas, and pledges from saddened artists and others who are planning to sell paintings or hold yoga classes to raise more.

Some of the donors are people who grew up in South Portland and moved away, but they still have fond memories of the fishing shacks, said Kathy DiPhilippo, the society’s executive director. Others have come to appreciate the shacks more recently, after getting engaged on the point or walking their dogs on Willard Beach.

People watch the crashing surf at Willard Beach on Saturday as debris from the iconic fishing shacks washes up onto Myrtle Lane. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“It’s so painful to see the photos and videos of the fishing shacks being destroyed,” DiPhilippo said. “Their recent history is just as important to people as their past history. They haven’t been used since the 1970s, but the love for them hasn’t stopped.”


The shacks on Fisherman’s Point call to mind “Motif Number 1,” the famous red fishing shack in Rockport, Massachusetts, that artists have dubbed “the most painted building in America.” Built in the 1840s, that shack was destroyed in the Blizzard of 1978 and replaced with a replica that attracts visitors to this day.


Similar to the Rockport fishing shack, many artists and photographers were drawn to capture the shacks on Fisherman’s Point, whether at sunrise or sunset, or with sea smoke rolling across Casco Bay, or with Portland Head Light in the distance, caught with a long camera lens.

Steve Bradford of Lisbon Falls is one artist who will miss the fishing shacks. He produced a series of assembled art pieces in 2011-12 that featured his black-and-white images of the shacks framed in antique or found objects such as cellar windows, bureau drawers and driftwood. At the time, he lived in Portland, having moved back from California in 2002.

“I used to walk my dog on Willard Beach almost every day,” said Bradford, 75. “We saw (the shacks) in all sorts of weather. The shacks were shackier then. I loved them more when they were a little more ramshackle. They represented Maine to me and the reason we moved back here.”

Arthur Bolton Sr. and his son George Bolton in front of the fishing shacks at Fisherman’s Point, South Portland, 1959. Photo courtesy of South Portland Historical Society

The fishing shacks have been kept up over the years. The city repaired and repainted them last fall as part of an ongoing effort to preserve them as a historic landmark, DiPhilippo said. The historical society also prepared for the possibility that the shacks might be damaged or destroyed in a storm.

Last year, the society hired SMRT architects and engineers of Portland to produce architectural drawings of each building. The firm donated its time and has offered to convert the drawings into construction plans free of charge, she said, and several carpenters have volunteered to help rebuild the shacks.

How much it might cost remains to be seen. DiPhilippo plans to raise the money from donors, so no tax dollars would be used. The new shacks would be built to look like the old, she said, but with modern materials and according to engineering standards that would help them weather future storms.


The project also would need local and state permits, she said.

“I’ve been very clear with people,” DiPhilippo said. “There’s no guarantee this is going to go forward, and we may have to refund everything (to donors), but a lot of people want to do something.”


The rustic buildings dated back to the late 1800s, when about a dozen fishing schooners were anchored in Simonton Cove and several shacks lined Willard Beach. They weren’t fancy, built from scrap wood to store equipment, buoys and other tools of the trade.

Most of the shacks were moved to Fisherman’s Point in the early 1880s, DiPhilippo said, when the city was part of Cape Elizabeth, after Dr. Charles H. Burr purchased land along the beach and pressed to have them removed from his waterfront view.

South Portland was incorporated in 1898 and acquired Fisherman’s Point by eminent domain in 1907, she said, after which fishermen were allowed to keep their shacks on the city property for a small fee.


Two of five remaining shacks were destroyed in a storm in February 1978. And while many say three remaining shacks were washed away in last weekend’s storm, two of them actually were connected with a fully open interior, DiPhilippo said.

Saturday’s storm struck only three days after a similar storm hit the region, battering the coast with waves up to 20 feet, wind gusts up to 60 mph, at least 2 inches of rain and record high tides.

Fishing shacks at Fisherman’s Point, South Portland, undated but possibly circa 1930. South Portland Historical Society/Woodbury Collection

A preliminary measure of high tide in Portland Harbor peaked at 14.57 feet, exceeding the previous record high tide of 14.17 feet set on Feb. 7, 1978, according to the National Weather Service in Gray.

Concern that ocean storms are becoming more fierce and frequent because of climate change has some questioning whether it makes sense to replace the shacks where they stood.

DiPhilippo said she understands that storms are getting worse, “but there’s no guarantee any structure’s going to last if you build it near the ocean.”

If the replacement shacks only last 10 or 20 years, she said, “that’s 10 or 20 years that you have the joy of seeing them, as opposed to going to Willard Beach and feeling sad because they’re gone.”

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