The top of the shacks are visible after they were swept into Simonton Cove on Jan. 13. Contributed / Photo by Russ Lunt

The emotional outpouring to rebuild South Portland’s historic fishing shacks may not be enough to resurrect the lost structures.

A month after the three shacks were washed into the ocean during a strong January storm, officials say the city cannot rebuild the shacks in the same spot on Fisherman’s Point because they stood in federal flood and shoreland zones and doing so would put the city at risk of losing flood insurance.

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

“Those buildings stood in that spot for generations and were very special to our community,” City Manager Scott Morelli said in a statement. “While it’s clear that we can’t replace them exactly as they were, the city is eager to learn more and further explore our options.”

The fishing shacks – often called the most photographed spot in the city – were destroyed in the Jan. 13 storm that caused extensive damage along the southern coast of Maine. Photos and videos of the moment the shacks slipped into the sea circulated widely online, setting off a wave of grief for many in the area.

Cathy Chapman was one of many people who went to Willard Beach to see the destruction herself. Usually 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 resiliency. Grieving people walked slowly along the beach as pieces of the shacks washed ashore, she said.


“It wasn’t just the loss of the fishing shacks,” she said. “It was the grief of the loss of our innocence over climate change. We got hit in the gut with the reality of what is really going on.” 

The scenic “fishing shacks” on Simonton Cove, photographed in January 2018. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer


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

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

If the shacks were rebuilt as they were, South Portland likely would be suspended from the National Flood Insurance Program, said Sue Baker, the Maine Floodplain Management Program coordinator. That would mean 105 neighboring property owners could not renew flood insurance and no new policies would be allowed.

Skelton said that a complex set of rules and regulations needs to be considered to determine if the shacks could be rebuilt. But first, more information from a surveyor is needed to confirm property lines and shoreline and flood plain limits, she said. If a survey shows the shacks would not meet required setbacks, they would need to be relocated to a compliant site.


The results of the survey will be presented to the public and City Council, but a timeline for that process has not been determined, city spokesperson Shara Dee said.


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

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

Two of the five remaining shacks were destroyed in a storm in February 1978. While many say three shacks were washed away in last month’s storm, two of them actually were connected with a fully open interior.

The city kept up the fishing shacks over the years. They were repaired and painted last fall as part of an ongoing effort to preserve them as a local landmark.

The South Portland Historical Society prepared for the possibility that the shacks might be damaged or destroyed in a storm by hiring architects and engineers to produce architectural drawings of each building. Those drawings could be used to build replicas of the structures, said Kathy DiPhilippo, executive director of the South Portland Historical Society.


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

DiPhilippo hopes the city finds a way to allow replicas to be built where the shacks once stood. The historical society has received more than $15,000 in donations to rebuild them at no cost to taxpayers.

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

“If you’re from here, it’s a part of your community and part of who you are,” she said. “It’s the backdrop of your life.”

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