Richard Holt of South Portland, the last commercial fisherman to work out of the fishing shacks on Fisherman’s Point, studies aerial photographs of Willard Beach in 1976 and 1986, two of many documents he has about the beach and the beloved fishing shacks. Drew Johnson / The Forecaster

Richard Holt combs through piles of folders and photo albums on his dining room table. Each page and image tells a story of South Portland’s Willard Beach, including those of the beloved historic fishing shacks on Fisherman’s Point, the last of which were swept away into Simonton Cove during a ferocious storm and record-breaking high tide on Saturday.

The historic fishing shacks at Fisherman’s Point in South Portland in October 2023, shortly after they had been repainted. Mikayla Patel / The Forecaster

Holt, who lives on Willard Street, was the last commercial fisherman to use the five shacks, storing his equipment there from 1976 to 1986. He was there when the February Blizzard of 1978 hit.

“I felt the shack rise up and fall,” Holt said, as a huge wave crashed on shore. He and a fellow fisherman in the shack knew it was time to go. When they returned, two of the five were gone.

Holt knew it was only a matter of time until the remaining shacks would succumb to nature. SMRT Architects and Engineers volunteered their time a few years ago to analyze and document the last three fishing shacks to ensure that if one day they needed to be rebuilt they would be historically accurate, but Holt took his own measurements.

“I did it as accurately as I could with a tape measure,” he said. “I just thought someone should document this before they disappear.”

The top of the shacks are visible after they were swept into Simonton Cove Saturday. Contributed / Photo by Russ Lunt

He and other members of the Willard Neighborhood Association conducted maintenance on the shacks in 1991 and 1999. The latter project “was like a good old-fashioned barn raising,” he said, pointing out photographs of dozens of neighbors fixing up the shacks.


More recently, just last fall, the shacks were repaired and repainted as part of an ongoing preservation effort.

The shacks have been the setting for weddings, proposals and countless photographs over the decades. South Portland teenagers notoriously used the shacks, too: some residents told The Forecaster this week that the shacks were where they had their first beers and first kisses. Holt would know, having once caught a teenager with a beer in one of the shacks before he chased them away, he said.

So many memories 

Russ Lunt said he “practically lived on Willard Beach,” growing up in the 1960s and 70s. Before then, his great uncle, Earl Lunt, owned and operated a lobster boat from the shacks for many years, he said, and his parents were big fans of Willard Beach in the 1950s.

“I was there at least three to six days a week, almost year-round,” Lunt wrote in an email to The Forecaster. “When it was nice and warm we would go swimming at the point, which is to the right of the shacks. Countless times we would jump off from the flat deck surrounding the shacks and off from the very sturdy steps leading down to the beach.”

Richard Holt has a number of relics of the fishing shacks at his home on Willard Street, including an old bilge pump he found in one of the shacks. Drew Johnson / The Forecaster

Later, he attended weddings at Fisherman’s Point and has simply used the area as a pretty, quiet place to sit and talk with friends.


“Those shacks were so much of my childhood, teens and my whole life,” he said.

Elizabeth Harvey has a photograph she took of the shacks on Jan. 13, 2012 – exactly 12 years to the day before the shacks were swept into the sea.

An old friend and lobsterman, Leland Merrill, always corrected her when she talked about the fishing “shacks,” she wrote in an email to The Forecaster: “’They’re fish houses not shacks!’” She made a point of titling her 2012 photograph “Willard Beach Fish Houses” in his honor.

Scratch Bakery in Willard Square posted online Saturday that the fishing shacks “were so inherently woven into the fabric” of the community. “It’s a place, and a feeling. To stand on the point with the shacks or to see them at a distance from the beach was to anchor yourself in both the past and present. In the first days of the bakery and every day since to see them on walks, in pictures and in special moments brought to life this very special place.” A painting of the shacks hangs in the bakery’s kitchen.

Julie Newcomb and her family moved to Myrtle Avenue near the beach in 1967.

“I felt safe there with the shacks looming in the distance from the beach like soldiers protecting us from the wind and waves,” Newcomb wrote to The Forecaster.


As children, Newcomb and her friends would make the trek from Fisherman’s Point along the coastline to Portland Head Light. Climbing over rocks most of the way, the trip took hours, and they had to be wary of high tide potentially hindering their ability to return.

“We would climb quickly to avoid the high tide on the way back and were always relieved to see the shacks as we knew we were getting closer to home,” Newcomb said.

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

She continued making memories from her teens through her adulthood until her family moved late last year.

“Leaving Willard Beach and my family home recently was extremely hard, but I always had the shacks to go back to, so I thought,” she said. “It feels like a close friend has passed and brings me to tears … The fishing shacks were the one focal point that I would look for to bring me peace and comfort.”

South Portland artist Julie Bernier also said the loss of the fishing shacks “felt like a close friend had passed away, a friend I didn’t realize was so important to me until she was gone.”

On Saturday morning, as the storm hit, Bernier felt inclined to create a painting of the shacks.


“I had no idea they were in peril as I painted,” she wrote in an email to The Forecaster. Then, she went to post her work on social media.

A poster of a painting of the fishing shacks at Willard Beach by Julie Bernier. Half of the purchase price for this and three other posters will go toward rebuilding or rehabilitating Willard Beach and the shacks. Contributed / Julie Bernier

“That’s when I found out they had slipped into the sea, just before I posted the photo of the painting,” she said. “It was just so shocking to see the video of them falling into the ocean and being swallowed. I was tearful and sad the rest of the day.”

Fundraising efforts 

Throughout 2024, Bernier will donate half of the sales of prints of four of her fishing shacks paintings to local fundraising efforts to rehabilitate Willard Beach and rebuild the shacks, if that’s the route the community takes.

“We are all feeling this loss in our ways, whether we were born and raised here or had the good fortune to become residents along the way,” she said. “It’s a very special place and those old buildings had a soul and a heartbeat to many of us.”

As of Tuesday, Bernier had sold 180 posters, equal to a $2,000 donation, she said. To purchase Bernier’s work, go to


The South Portland Historical Society is leading a fundraising effort to rebuild the shacks, which were first built in the 1800s.

“The society has also been putting together a list of carpenters who have volunteered their time to help rebuild the shacks,” Kathy DiPhilippo, executive director of the historical society, wrote in an email to The Forecaster.

“It is not a given that the rebuilding of the shacks will happen,” she said. “Although many people want the shacks to be rebuilt, we’ll still need to go through the process of approval from the city and possibly other authorities. But we are committed to going down this path to try to help the community get their beloved shacks back up on Fisherman’s Point.”

Donations can be made at

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

According to DiPhilippo and the historical society, there were as many as 10 to 15 fishing schooners based out of Simonton Cove in the 1870-80s, and Willard was a working beach. The shacks were originally located on the beach but were moved to the point in the late 1800s.

There may also be a dispute as to how many shacks were swept into Simonton Cove on Saturday: two of the three shacks remaining were connected, DiPhilippo said. So, some could argue only two shacks were claimed by Saturday’s storm.


“While the others were lost over the years to storms, these last two shacks have been the ones that have stubbornly held on, and which our community treasured and cared for,” DiPhilippo said.

“The shacks were a symbol of South Portland’s long fishing history, which dates back to the early 1700s,” wrote City Manager Scott Morelli and Mayor Misha Pride in a letter to community members the day after the shacks succumbed to the sea. “It’s moving to see our community sharing photos, art and memories of them, and connecting with each other over this tremendous shared loss.”

Morelli and Pride said it will take time to decide what to do in the wake of that loss.

“Over the next several days, city staff will continue storm cleanup and damage assessment. Once this critical process is complete, we will begin discussions about the future of the fishing shacks and other recovery efforts,” they said.

“Certainly, it is a hard reality that the extreme weather event that caused this hole in our community is not a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon, but a twice-in-one-week occurrence (with the last big storm still in the rearview mirror).”

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

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