Portland’s Historic Preservation Board has given its blessing to a 21-site campground on the southern side of House Island, where Fort Scammell is located.

Built in 1808, the fort was the only one on Maine’s coast to see action during the War of 1812. In 2015, the Portland City Council unanimously granted historic status to the island, which limits the type of development allowed. The Historic Preservation Board first heard the campground proposal in July and finally voted in favor of the project Wednesday.

“A fort is a very important historic resource, and it had to be approached with care,” said Deb Andrews, the city’s historic preservation program manager. “I think the developers have done an extraordinary job in developing a thoughtful proposal. One of the real strengths of this proposal is that it’s a light touch on the land, and most of what is being introduced is reversible.”

The developers are Stefan Scarks, a member of the family that owns half of House Island, and Travis Bullard. They have not yet submitted a site plan application to the city, so it is still unclear whether the project will also require approval from the Planning Board.

Called “Fortland,” the campground will consist of 21 sites with temporary structures – yurts and canvas tents. The plans also include tents for staff, a seasonal dock and wharf, a solar array, a community building, a bathroom shed and two small wooden buildings for storage and a water pump. There will also be signage to share the history of the fort with guests.

“We propose to build a campground that celebrates the history of the site through an immersive, educational experience that is truly unique,” developer Stefan Scarks wrote in a July memo to the board. “We have designed a campground that we feel is very much in harmony with the island and its topographic and historical features.”

Fort Scammell was built on the western side of the island to defend Portland Harbor. It is the only Casco Bay fort to have been involved in battle. In 1813, soldiers at Fort Scammell shot at British privateers who were stealing a private sloop. After the war, two Portland fishing families used the island for much of the 1800s to process cod and other groundfish. In the early 1900s, three buildings on the northern half of House Island were known as “the Ellis Island of the North” because they served as a federal immigration quarantine station, according to Greater Portland Landmarks.

Later, the island was owned for more than 50 years by the Cushing family. It went on the market in 2012, and the two halves of the island have changed hands multiple times in the years since. Greater Portland Landmarks put the island on its “Places in Peril” list in 2012, citing its architectural, cultural and historical significance. The historic status granted in 2015 restricted the types of development allowed on the island and increased scrutiny during any planning and application process.

Today, the Scarks family owns the southern half of the island, which includes Fort Scammell and the proposed campground. The northeastern half of the island is owned by Christina and Vincent Mona of Florida. The Monas rent that property for solar-powered weddings and corporate retreats.

The campground proposal has been under review for more than six months. In that time, the developers tweaked their plans to make the campground less visible from the water and other islands. The board has heard concern from historians who would rather leave the fort untouched, but a representative of the Friends of Fort Gorges spoke in support at the final meeting Wednesday. The board also generally praised the proposal, and the vote to grant Fortland a certificate of appropriateness was unanimous, 6-0, with one member missing.

Board member Scott Benson noted the campground would allow guests to explore a unique landmark that has long been difficult for the public to access.

“They’re ruins,” Benson said. “We don’t really get to experience ruins very often in this country.”

The developers told the board they hope to have a “soft start” this summer and be fully operational by spring 2019.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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