City Hall Turns 100 Today; Rebuilt on the Site of the Great Fire of 1908


By Carol McCracken (Post # 1,200)

Portland’s city hall turns 100 years old today. While no formal celebration has been scheduled to mark the occasion, the city has issued a press release marking the occasion.

Constructed after the Great Fire of 1908, the current city hall building is the third to stand on the site with the previous two lost to fires. It’s built of granite from North Jay, Maine. the Beaux Arts style structure was designed by the noted New York City architectural frim Carrere & Hastings. John Calvin Stevens’ local architectural firm oversaw the construction, with the laying of the cornerstone in 1909 and followed three years later with an elaborate dedication ceremony August 22, 1912. The design of the building was inspired by the New York City Hall built 1803-1812.

City hall is four stories hgh with a full basement and fills almost the entire block bounded by Chestnut Congress and Myrtle Streets and Cumberland Avenue. The tower is about 200 feet tall and can be seen from everywhere in the city. Portland city hall is considered one of the city’s most distinguished architectural landmarks.

The Great Fire of 1908 started at 2:23 am, January 24, 1908, destroying city hall and causing extensive damage in the downtown. The fire was not contained until after 10 am and is believed to have started in the operating room of the city electrician. Dozens of other fires reaching as far as Maple Street were started by flying cinders and brands fanned by a howling northwest storm. The “million dollar blaze” was the worst in the state since the Great Portland Conflagration of 1866, when the city’s business and residential sections were almost completely wiped out by a fire believed to have been ignited by 4th of July fireworks. The Portland Fire Department went to great lengths to try and save city hall and the fact that there were no fatalities is remarkable as there were more than seven hundred people attending an event in the auditorium when the first began……….nearly all records, dating back to the 1700s when Portland was the Town of Falmouth, in the clerk’s and Mayor’s office were saved…..