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History of Portland, Maine

Portland, the largest city and most important seaport of Maine, is located on Casco Bay, 110 miles northeast of Boston. Its excellent harbor is closer to Europe than any other transatlantic port in the United States. Portland is situated on a peninsula three miles long and a mile wide, as well as another peninsula to the east, (formerly the independent city of Deering) and some mainland territory and islands. Portland was first settled in 1632, but suffered from Indian raids in 1675 and 1690. The white population was wiped out in the raid of 1690. Major Samuel Moody established a port in 1716 called Falmouth Neck, which thrived and grew. During the War of Independence, the British bombarded and burned Portland, but it was rebuilt in 1786. Maine gained independence from Massachusetts in 1820 and Portland became Maine's capital, retaining that position until 1831. On July 4, 1866, Portland was again destroyed by fire, and again the city was rebuilt. Portland's shipping activity declined after World War I, but later revived. The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born in Portland in 1807, in what is now called the Wadsworth-Longfellow House, which had been built around 1785 by his grandfather, General Peleg Wadsworth. The Maine Historical Society maintains the house as a museum. Cyrus H.K. Curtis was born in Portland in 1850, and left at the age of 16 to seek his fortune. Having achieved wealth in publishing, he was able, after a fire severely damaged the Portland City Hall in 1908, to offer a grand organ to be placed in the new city hall. His two provisos were that it be built by the Austin Organ Company of Hartford and that it be a memorial to Hermann Kotzschmar. Kotzschmar, a German immigrant who was for 47 years the organist at the First Parish Church Unitarian Universalist in Portland, had been a close friend of the Curtis family when he first came to Portland in 1849, so much so that the publisher's full name was Cyrus Hermann Kotzschmar Curtis. The Kotzschmar Memorial Organ remains a feature of the Portland City Hall to this day. Maine General Hospital opened in 1874 with 40 beds. The Maine Eye and Ear Infirmary followed in 1890, and Children's Hospital in 1908. In 1951, the three merged to become Maine Medical Center. The Catholic Diocese of Portland opened Queen's Hospital in 1918 to care for victims of the flu epidemic of 1918. It was run by the Sisters of Mercy and later became Mercy Hospital. The Portland Museum of Art was founded in 1882 and is the largest public art museum in Maine. It is housed in three buildings, including the McClellan House, built in 1801 in Federal Period style. The Maine College of Art, founded in 1882 as an adjunct of the museum of art, is the oldest arts educational institution in Maine.