Michael Knight, co-owner of Smiling Hill Farm, at the hay fields in February. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The owners of Smiling Hill Farm weren’t terribly surprised when they learned recently that their 500-acre property – which lies in the path of the proposed Gorham Connector turnpike spur – is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

Founded in 1720, the diversified dairy farm and lumber yard in Westbrook and Scarborough has been operated by 13 generations of the Knight family.

The Knights were shocked, however, when they found out that the Maine Turnpike Authority’s consultant and the Maine Historic Preservation Commission had determined nearly three years ago that the farm was officially eligible for the national register. Since then, as the authority has promoted the Gorham Connector, it has never publicly disclosed the farm’s historic standing or the potential impact it could have on the controversial highway project.

Warren Knight said he’s “flabbergasted” that the authority withheld the information when repeatedly seeking public support for the project, which would run from Maine Turnpike Exit 45 in South Portland, through Westbrook and Scarborough, to the Gorham Bypass at Route 114 in Gorham.

“To me, withholding that information is something a private developer would do to get preferential treatment in the review process,” said Knight, one of six siblings with a stake in the farm.

“As a state agency, the Maine Turnpike Authority should operate to a higher standard,” Knight continued. “The communities have to be provided with all the information (the authority has) so they can make an informed decision.”


Peter Mills, the turnpike authority’s executive director, said his agency planned to address the farm’s national register eligibility in its application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers later this year.

In the works since 1988, the connector project is featured on the authority’s website, was the subject of a memorandum of agreement signed by officials in the four communities in 2022, and was described in detail at a packed gym meeting in Gorham in March. The farm’s eligibility for the national register never came up.

The Maine Turnpike Authority’s proposed route for the Gorham Connector linking the Gorham Bypass and turnpike Exit 45 in South Portland.

Being eligible for or listed on the national register doesn’t automatically block development of the 304-year-old farm, according to preservation experts. But it does allow the Knight family to request a seat at the table when the Army Corps of Engineers reviews the authority’s application for a critical environmental permit. And it could give the federal agency fodder to force the authority to alter its preferred route for the 5-mile, four-lane spur.

The Knight family plans to request “consulting party” status for the permit review process with guidance from Greater Portland Landmarks, a nonprofit preservation organization that also will be seeking consulting party status.

“It gets you a foothold into the process to either avoid or mitigate the impacts of the project,” said Julie Larry, an architectural historian working as a consultant with Landmarks.

When a project is reviewed by the Army Corps, being eligible for the national register has the same value as actually being listed, said Kirk Mohney, state historic preservation officer with the Maine Historic Preservation Commission. Permit applicants must show what actions have been or would be taken to avoid, minimize or mitigate adverse effects to historic properties, including physical, visual, auditory and other environmental impacts.


“Ultimately, the decision to protect the property lies with the Corps,” Mohney said, and the federal agency could require changes to the preferred connector route.

The project also needs a permit from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.


Concern about the farm’s historic importance comes as opposition to the connector grows and the authority struggles with leadership challenges.

A private Facebook group, Protect Smiling Hill Farm, has more than 4,500 members and is urging people to speak against the project at local council meetings. Many members question the authority’s approach and whether the connector will reduce or worsen suburban sprawl and the commuter traffic congestion that the project is meant to address.

“(You’re) stealing peoples land to build a highway for people who could care less about we Mainers (who) live here,” one member commented. “We want our farms and wooded area and we don’t need a highway.”


The authority has spent at least $4.5 million acquiring land needed to build the connector, which is expected to cost well over $200 million to complete. The preferred route would negatively affect 65% to 70% fewer parcels and 50% fewer buildings than other widening or route options, turnpike representatives said in March. They also said the connector isn’t a “done deal” because it still needs state and federal environmental permits, but they predicted construction could begin by late 2025.

Mills, the authority’s longtime director, disputes that the connector would impact any historically relevant parts of the farm. The authority needs 47.3 acres, or nearly 10% of the farm, to build the connector as proposed, including a 32.5-acre strip on the north side of County Road and 14.4 acres on the south side.

“It has not been used historically for farming,” Mills said this week of the land needed on the north side. “It is a woodlot not suitable for farming.”

Mills said the authority has already taken steps to avoid impacts on Red Brook, a tributary to Clarks Pond in South Portland that begins in a wetland area north of County Road in Scarborough and is active habitat for brook trout.

“There are a lot of environmental issues,” said Mills, who announced last week that he is stepping down in September. “There are many things that go into an application.”

Preservation experts say no law requires developers to disclose a project’s impact on historic properties outside the usual review process, so the authority wasn’t obligated to inform the Knights or the affected communities otherwise.


“But I would have hoped they would have shared this information with the public,” Larry said. “I was surprised that it had never arisen in any public conversations. They knew what they were going to do several years ago and this was going to be an area of impact.”

Mills met with Larry and other members of Landmark’s advocacy committee in May, and the Knight family learned later that month that the farm had officially been deemed eligible for the national register.


In early 2021, the turnpike authority hired Kleinfelder, an international engineering firm with an office in Augusta, to do an architectural survey of the connector project. The survey is required to ensure public and private development complies with the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

Kleinfelder surveyed 29 older properties along the connector route, which the authority only made public in February. It found seven resources or structures at the farm at 781 County Road (Route 22) in Westbrook that were eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, including a barn, milk house and farmhouse.

The Knight family was never contacted during the seven-month survey, which made Warren Knight question its validity. However, the study was a reconnaissance-level review, or a windshield survey, according to Larry, who has done similar surveys for the Maine Department of Transportation, Central Maine Power Co. and various telecommunications companies. She said a more in-depth assessment would be done for an actual application to the national register, which the Knight family plans to pursue.


Kleinfelder submitted its survey report to the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, which determined in September 2021 that the entire farm – including land and buildings across County Road that were part of the original farm complex – was eligible for the national register.

“That landscape has been worked as a farm for centuries,” said Mohney, the state historic preservation officer. “Our interest includes the land. We’re not just focused on the buildings.”

Larry said that when Mills met with Landmark’s advocacy committee in May, he made it clear that the authority didn’t consider the land sought for the connector to have historic or agricultural value.

It frustrates Warren Knight that Mills considers any part of Smiling Hill Farm to be separate from the family’s diversified agricultural enterprises.

“It’s active farmland,” Knight said. “We’re haying it. I have video proof, and he’s saying it’s unused land that we don’t need.”

The authority’s lack of transparency about the farm’s historic standing has triggered concern among the four municipalities that signed the memorandum of agreement initially supporting the connector project.


“We didn’t have any specifics,” said Nicholas McGee, Scarborough’s Town Council chairman. “The council is going to let the Maine Turnpike Authority go through its public process. Our goal is to have a public meeting in the near future to gather input from the community.”

Then the council will issue a statement on whether it will support the Gorham Connector going forward, McGee said.

“It definitely raises some flags,” said Westbrook City Councilor Michael Shaughnessy. “A farm is more than just its buildings. Everything should have been on the table.”

Shaughnessy said he’s especially concerned because he believes the authority has failed to demonstrate strong public support or need for the connector. His future support for the project isn’t guaranteed.

“Just because I voted for the memorandum of agreement doesn’t mean I’ll be for the project when all the information is available,” he said.

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