A visit to Portland wouldn't be complete without a walk along Commercial Street. In the summer months, you'll hear the seagulls and smell the warm ocean breeze - all the while enjoying the energy of this serene but bustling area.
A View of the Water & the City
Commercial Street, running on the edge of the city's downtown district and butting against the water, is Portland's bustling, historic passageway: boutiques, restaurants and bars line the street and invite visitors to experience the true meaning of "vacationland.” All year-round, the smell of the ocean coaxes tourists to the edge of the city to explore the wharves and view the Atlantic from a bench near the water. Ships come in and out, and lobstermen and other nautical types dock and undock their boats along the edge of this winding, seaside locale.
One of the Ten Best Streets in the United States
In 2008, Commercial Street was named "one of the ten best streets in the United States” by the American Planning Association. This is no surprise, as the street is slightly European in feel: cobblestone passageways aplenty merge with the street and its combination of old charm with new architecture make it unique. One can feel the history in the street's quintessentially New England convenience (and sandwich) shops, selling Maine treats, and its staples, such as DiMillo's on the Water
Restaurant, offering the state's famous seafood. The fact that the seafood can be consumed by the water's edge adds to the allure of Commercial Street. One has the sense that everything happens close by: the catches are brought in, sorted through on the wharves; fishermen fish from the docks and one can hear the horns of ferries leaving and entering the port.
An Authentic Working Waterfront Still Lives On
Commercial Street was once exclusively for the commercial of the fishing industry, but today office buildings and other businesses have encouraged business of many kinds. In 1987, a five-year moratorium was even placed on the non-marine developments appearing rapidly, as residents wished to keep Commercial Street primarily focused on the industries of the sea. The self-reliant energy of the street, (and the city itself), is communicated mostly through its working waterfront and abundance of wharves—and this nautical self-reliance is held dear to this day by residents of the city as it communicates the essence of the state's undying connection to the ocean and its economic—and spiritual—offerings.
Architecture - The Core of What Makes Portland Beautiful
The architecture of the street is primarily from the late 19th and 20th centuries and is protected by the National Register of Historic Places; the area was added to the register in 1974. Thus its history is encapsulated in such buildings as the Customs House, a convergence of Renaissance Revival and Second Empire architectural styles, built in 1872. Though the original Customs House was destroyed in Portland's famous Great Fire of 1866, it was rebuilt shortly after, (the fire destroyed 1,800 other buildings in the city).
The Thomas Block building, constructed in 1865, is now an office building: brick and expansive, spanning the edge of the street's ocean-facing side. It is a pleasant complement to the tremendous Customs House, a soft façade that houses not just offices but local businesses and restaurants.
By Heather Clarke