Portland, Maine is better than ever. I suppose there might be some dyed-in-the-wool native Mainers who would disagree and harken back to some memory they’re holding onto from yesteryear, but in my lifetime Portland has never looked so good. The abundance of culture is astounding—music, art, food… It’s more prevalent than years past and the quality is on par with (if not actually better than) much larger cities. But as much as I love getting back to my native state and seeing what newness Portland has to offer, I also appreciate Portland for how much it hasn’t changed.
As quickly as Portland continues to evolve, The Custom House Wharf is the best example of what hasn’t budged one bit. This has always been a commercial, working waterfront. Ferryboats going out, ferryboats coming in. Trawlers going out, trawlers coming in. Lobster boats going out, lobster boats coming in.It doesn’t stop. There is constant activity along the waterline, but somehow time stands still on Custom House Wharf. Every building looks as though it’s been there forever and might possibly fall down tomorrow.
Whenever I can I like to stroll the wharf and breathe in the salt water and the slightly foul stench of bait and whatever sea life is being processed behind closed doors. It is a spot unlike any other in town. Most of downtown Portland has been very well preserved, and the brick buildings appear as they always have—and they look to stand another century or more—but here on the wharf you wonder how it’s lasted this long without a renovation. The wooden façades are grey and raw, stripped bare by the constant, salty sea breeze that renders everything to its greyest and brownest core. There are hints of yellow where newer pieces of plywood have been used as patchwork, slowly mellowing with the weather.
There are a few places to poke your head into—one of the best fish markets in town, and a diner, as well as a comedy club. But most of the buildings are private and they are as nondescript as the barren wood they are constructed from. There is a rough and ugly beauty to this piece of Portland that’s a reminder of what the city was literally and figuratively built on. It’s living history, and it continues to be a fantastic contrast to all the things that are changing everywhere else in town.
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Guide to the Northeast Brett Klein lives in Connecticut and works in New York, but prefers small town life and his home state of Maine. Any chance to get rural is a mental vacation. Follow Klein on Tumblr at The Coast is Clear. His curatorial collection of Americana, rural life, other artists and ephemera can be seen on Tumblr at Tons of Land.