South Portland may never be able to rebuild its famous fishing shacks

South Portland may never be able to rebuild its famous fishing shacks

The top of the huts can be seen after they were swept into Simonton Bay on 13 January. Contributed/Photo by Ross Lunt

The emotional outpouring of rebuilding South Portland’s historic fishing shacks may not be enough to revive the lost structures.

A month after the three shacks were swept into the ocean during a powerful January storm, officials say the city can’t rebuild the shacks in the same spot at Fisherman’s Point because they are located in flood zones and federal coastal lands, and doing so would put the city at risk of losing insurance. Against floods.

But no firm decisions have been made yet, and the historical society is holding out hope that the city can find a way to make it happen.

“These buildings have stood in this place for generations and have been very special to our community,” City Manager Scott Morelli said in a statement. “Although it is clear that we cannot replace them exactly as they were, the city is eager to learn more and explore our options further.”

The fishing lodges — often called the city’s most photographed area — were destroyed in the Jan. 13 storm that caused extensive damage along Maine’s southern coast. Pictures and videos of the moment the huts slid into the sea spread widely across the Internet, sparking a wave of sadness among many in the region.

Kathy Chapman was one of many people who went to Willard Beach to see the devastation for herself. Normally a joyful place full of people and dogs, the beach that day was like a funeral, solemn and sad, she said last week during a city workshop on coastal resilience. Grieving people walked slowly along the beach while pieces of huts washed ashore, she said.

“It wasn’t just the loss of fishing huts,” she said. “It was grief over the loss of our innocence about climate change. We were shocked in the gut by the reality of what is really happening.”

Scenic ‘Fishing Shacks’ in Simonton Bay, photographed in January 2018. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Implications of flood insurance

Almost immediately after the storm, people started talking about rebuilding the shacks and started donating money to make it happen.

While last week’s workshop focused on storm damage and coastal resilience, the most emotional moments came when people discussed whether the fishing huts at Fisherman’s Point could be rebuilt. Residents have asked the city to find a way to rebuild it, but city officials say any structure there would have to meet local, state and federal standards. This includes height, setback, flood resistance and height designation requirements, according to Barb Skelton, the city’s code enforcement director.

If the shacks were rebuilt as they were, South Portland’s participation in the National Flood Insurance Program would likely be suspended, said Sue Baker, coordinator of Maine’s floodplain management program. This means 105 neighboring property owners will not be able to renew their flood insurance and new policies will not be allowed.

A complex set of rules and regulations must be considered to determine whether the shacks can be rebuilt, Skelton said. But first, more information is needed from a surveyor to confirm property boundaries, shoreline and floodplain boundaries. If the survey shows that the huts will not meet the required setbacks, they will need to be moved to a compatible site.

City spokesman Chara Dee said the results of the survey will be presented to the public and the City Council, but a timeline has not been set for that process.


The rustic buildings date back to the late 1800s, when they once lined Willard Beach. They were built from scrap lumber and were used to store equipment, buoys and other tools of the trade. Most of the cottages were moved to Fisherman’s Point in the early 1880s.

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

Two of the five remaining huts were destroyed in a storm in February 1978. While many say three huts were swept away by a storm last month, two of them were actually connected with a completely open interior.

The city has preserved fishing huts over the years. It was repaired and painted last fall as part of ongoing efforts to preserve it as a local landmark.

The South Portland Historical Society prepared for the possibility of the cottages being damaged or destroyed in a storm by hiring architects and engineers to produce architectural drawings of each building. These drawings could be used to build replicas of the structures, said Cathy DiFilippo, executive director of the South Portland Historical Society.

“The huts on the point give identity to the point itself,” she said. “They give an identity to South Portland.”

DeFilippo hopes the city will find a way to allow replicas to be built where the huts once stood. The Historical Society received more than $15,000 in donations to rebuild it at no cost to taxpayers.

DeFilippo has lived in South Portland for 50 years, and said it’s still strange to see this point without the fishing shacks.

“If you’re from here, it’s part of your community and part of your identity,” she said. “It’s the background of your life.”

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