In Maine, some want to rebuild washed-out fishing cabins

In Maine, some want to rebuild washed-out fishing cabins

“It was heartbreaking. These were like the canaries in the coal mine,” said Murphy, 70, noting that life along the New England coast had changed forever.

They stood there, just above the water’s edge, Since the late nineteenth century, He survived A tribute to the region’s rich fishing history. They survived a severe blizzard in 1978, which destroyed two other huts in the group.

But they couldn’t hold on Big waves this month and a record high tide of 14.57 feet, according to the National Weather Service in Portland Harbor.

The wooden monuments were broken into pieces, scattered along the beach and front yards, and collected by residents as souvenirs.

Within hours, people were mourning the loss and sharing Memories Online, an effort launched by the South Portland Historical Society and area artists and business owners to Raise money to rebuild the huts where they were.

Fishing huts at Fishermen’s Point, ships on the horizon.South Portland Historical Society

“They were so loved,” said Cathy DiFilippo, the association’s executive director. “It is strange to see this point devoid of anything because it looks as if it has been stripped of its identity.”

Set against the backdrop of Casco Bay, Portland lighting in the distance, and sailboats dotting the water, the cottages were proud symbols of the city’s maritime heritage. Fishermen haven’t used it for years, But they attracted visitors from near and far.

With the huts as their focal point, artists and photographers sought to capture the beauty of the winding coastline and the billowing smoke of the sea. Beachgoers searched for sea glass, and teens lounged on nearby rocks. Couples married on the dot and took photos with the huts as a backdrop.

Sea smoke billowed across Casco Bay in front of fishing huts.Elizabeth Benz

Emma Tremblay spent most of her formative years wandering the area around Willard Beach, often ending up in shacks. She was a curious child, and would crawl around the rocky outcrop they were resting on, looking under the structures To find out what was nesting in their crevices at low tide. In her teenage years, she and her friends ended their outings there to talk about life and their place in the world.

I left Maine for college She now lives in North Andover, but returned a few summers ago to get married in front of the cottages.

“I felt like I wanted them to see another meaningful chapter,” Tremblay, 29, said via email. “I felt like part of our childhood was swept away that day,” I told my friends I grew up with.

South Portland native Michelle Erskine captured the now-famous video that showed the demise of fishing shacks. She drove through the city with her husband and daughter during the storm to see how the city was holding up. When they reached the beach shortly after noon, only Cope Bolton’s hut was still standing. Less than two minutes after the recording began, her partner followed her into the ocean.

The landscape looked barren and unfamiliar.

“It’s absolutely amazing to see something that’s been there for so long. Winter is not what it used to be. Things are changing,” said Erskine, 47. This is the kind of change you hope you never see, you know?”

A fishing cabin floats away in Casco Bay during a storm in South Portland on January 13, 2024. Susan Young/Associated Press

This emotional connection was the driving force behind the plans to replace it. but even if Thousands of dollars have been donated to the cause, and some see the endeavor as hopeless in the face of the growing threat of rising sea levels.

Off the coast of Maine, sea levels are 8 inches higher than they were in 1950, according to SeaLevelRise.org, and are rising by as much as an inch every six years. With that in mind, some residents suggested another tribute, such as a memorial. But the nostalgia for cottages is strong.

Katherine Beckford, the artist who chaired the Willard Beach master plan committee, said she supports rebuilding the cottages because of their historic location. Status and meaning of society.

“I felt like I was watching a family member drown in the sea,” Bickford, 60, wrote in an email. “I realize it won’t last forever, but rebuilding will be a symbol of our resilience and our ability to work together as a community.”

Fish Houses at Fishermen’s Point, Willard Beach, South Portland.Woodbury Collection, South Portland Historical Society

Although the historical society prepared for this scenario two years ago, as architects and engineers from a local company volunteered their expertise and created architectural drawings of the huts that could be used as a blueprint for future rebuilding, DeFilippo found it difficult to understand that the huts were washed away at the same time. It was just repaired and repainted last fall.

The huts were built somewhat haphazardly by local fishermen using scrap materials and once lined Willard Beach – which was primarily used to store their gear – before being moved to the south end in Hunters Point in the early 1880s, DeFilippo said. The point was acquired by eminent domain several years after South Portland’s founding in 1898, but fishermen were allowed to continue using the shacks for a fee. But she said it had not been used for this purpose in about 50 years.

While discussing what to do next, DeFilippo directed people to “Clue No. 1,” a small red fishing shack in Rockport that was “snatched from its shaky foundation” and dumped into the ocean during a massive blizzard in 1978, according to Globe archives. Considered “one of the most painted and photographed scenes in New England”, a replica soon sprung up in its place, where it still stands on Bradley Wharf.

The little red fishing hut known as Motif No. 1 in Rockport.John Tolomacki/Global Staff

Fishing huts in South Portland also appear to have fallen due to foundation failure, she said.

DeFilippo said there is no guarantee the huts can be rebuilt, but there appears to be a groundswell of support for the effort. She added that carpenters have volunteered to help, and the project will be funded entirely by donations. But the success of the plan depends on obtaining the necessary approvals and permits.

“I feel the same way when you hear about hurricanes coming and losing homes, and why are you rebuilding so close to the beach? This is really not the same thing,” she said. “Instead of going down to that beach next summer or year after year after year, looking at those The point, feeling that sense of loss… I just feel like, boy, this is donated money and donated labor. Why can’t we bring them back?”

Photos of fishing shacks repaired years ago in South Portland.Richard Holt

Richard Holt, one of the last commercial fishermen to use the huts, knew this day would come.

Holt, 71, is known as the leading expert on the cottages and their history, having amassed a vast collection of documents, records and photographs.

“I know what the ocean can do,” he said. “It was bound to happen sooner or later.”

An article written about Richard Holt and his efforts to preserve hunting lodges.Richard Holt

After spending two years in Alaska as an engineer on a seismic ship, Holt returned home in 1976. He purchased a He started a small boat fishing for lobster, using fishing huts to store his vessel and lines, and sometimes drying his traps on the dock.

During the blizzard of 1978, Holt went with a friend to collect what was stored in the shacks, thinking it would be lost to the storm. While they were inside, one of the huts was lifted off the edge by a strong wave before collapsing again. The two looked at each other and quickly left.

Holt stopped using the cottages in 1986, but continued to help the neighborhood association repair them, and said he tried to warn officials that they were in danger, urging them to consider the need for a breakwater on the beach.

but He said they did not take him seriously at all.

“Whatever is rebuilt has to be different,” he said, and equipped to deal with climate change. “These 100-year storms, which happen every five years now, look like that.”

Pieces of wood washed ashore by the storm from fishing huts. Pamela Cragin attempted to create a symbolic fishing hut from the debris surrounding the point of sea level rise. It had to dig through a foot and a half of sand to reach the last historic storm in 1978.Pamela Cragin

On the Sunday after the storm, South Portland Mayor Mischa Pride took a long walk on the beach, a scene he called “completely unreal and tragic.” He spoke with residents clearing up their backyards, and was astonished to discover that there was “no real impression” that the shacks had ever existed at Fisherman’s Point.

For now, city officials will let residents take the lead on any project — at least So it becomes clearer what can be done. Pride said he understands the importance of the shacks but his main concern is “more about these people who might lose their homes if we don’t do something” after the storm. The city has scheduled a community meeting next month to primarily discuss climate resilience in Willard Beach.

“If we don’t do enough to mitigate climate change or increase Willard Beach’s resilience, we will flood more homes and that could result in loss of life,” he said.

Murphy used to watch the sunrise over the huts every morning. Now he can’t even bring himself to look in that direction, to see “what isn’t there anymore.”

That needs to change, he said.

“We can’t just say, ‘We’re beaten.’ He said, ‘We’re better than that.'” He said, “We have to move forward at all costs to build these huts in a way that will withstand the time there and bring back the symbol of South Portland.”

Fishing shacks in South Portland before they collapse into the ocean.Catherine Pickford

Shannon Larson can be reached at shannon.larson@globe.com. follow her @shannonlarson98.

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