Shortly after I took this truly horrible photo, I was sitting just across the street in the delightful Porthole Restaurant and Pub eating a lobster roll. I talked with the lady behind the bar about things to do in Portland, Maine… and how sad I was that on the one full day I got to spend here the rain was coming in an endless downpour.
I’d left my camera in the car—I didn’t want to get it damaged in the rain. So with umbrella in one hand and phone in the other, I’d done my best to snap Portland, Maine. Smart phone cameras have come a long way, but there’s only so much you can do with 5 megapixels and a tiny sensor (yes, I am blaming my tools). All my photos were terrible, but I still want to tell you the story of one or two of the things I saw.
And the building above is one of them. It used to belong to the Grand Trunk Railway. Yes, that’s railway not railroad because this was an Anglo-Canadian company. With its headquarters in London, the Grand Trunk Railway operated primarily in Quebec and Ontario but also had extensive lines throughout New England and Michigan.
The Grand Trunk Railway was founded in 1852 and, growing rapidly throughout Canada, became a powerhouse for national development and unification. It was an important contributing factor in Canadian Confederation in 1867.
So why was there a Grand Trunk headquarters here, in Portland, Maine in the USA? Portland was the southern terminus of the key Grand Trunk line running from Montréal to the coast. Portland apparently sold itself to the Grand Trunk Railway as being the most northerly port on the Atlantic which was ice-free year round. Unsurprisingly, then, this building also housed offices for transatlantic shipping companies Cunard and White Star-Dominion.
Passenger service between Montréal and Portland ended in the mid 60s and the terminus demolished. This office building, built in 1903, currently sits abandoned in one corner of a vacant lot. At the end of 2012, the Portland Press Herald ran an article on the poor state of several historic sites in the city:
The Grand Trunk railroad office building also has been poorly maintained, the group [Greater Portland Landmarks] said. … some prospective buyers have been interested in the property, but it has a complicated ownership structure and further delays in selling it could leave it damaged beyond saving.