For those of you not familiar with the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath, the sponsor for this House Island tour, I urge you
to investigate this outstanding facility
further. As excerpted from the museum website, ‘Maine Maritime Museum offers a myriad of opportunities to explore Maine’s maritime heritage and culture and to experience
the mystique of Maine.’ Whether local or ‘from away’ do yourself a favor and make the drive to Bath to check out the facility – you’ll be pleased having taken the
I was also pleased to learn of the recent merger of the Maine Maritime Museum with the Portland Harbor Museum along with their collections. Check the museum website to learn more about this merger and to investigate upcoming events.
From the Maine Maritime Museum Website...
The museum arranged the tour to be about four hours total from departure and return to Portland Harbor. I found everything to be organized and well implemented. Attendees
were to be at Long Wharf, a Portland pier where multiple excursion boats are berthed, at 1100 hours for an 1130 departure on the vessel Chippewa with Captain Hal Cushing.
The tour was to be divided into four groups offering varied levels of activity to accommodate all levels of participation. Although this wasn’t an especially difficult site to traverse, it did involve some uphill terrain, navigating stairs and possibly some climbing around the fort and excavations. The arrangement worked well for all ages I found. Group 1 was under the expert auspices of Joel W. Eastman, a Professor of History at the University of Southern Maine and author of a number of articles and books on state and local history. Group 2, the group I joined, was ably led by Kenneth E. Thompson Jr., another expert local historian and author of multiple books related to Maine history. Group 3 was led by Captain Hal Cushing, who no doubt is expert in all things related to the twenty-four-acre House Island along with the Group 4 leader, his sister, Karen Cushing Lannon. House Island has been owned by their family since 1954… The first two groups would entail full tours of the entire fort. Groups 3 and 4 with Hal and Karen would tour the major features of Fort Scammell. Should you have an interest in learning more about their island home and many functions they host, please check out the House Island website…
Chippewa, Berthed in Portland Harbor...Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, 1/500 second at f/8, ISO 200 at 70mm, EF 70~200mm at f2.8L, handheld
As the departure time drew near I was surprised with the turnout the tour had generated. There were many people nearby the ramp listening to instructions. Captain Hal
gave his obligatory safety talk to the group, indicated how many could be seated on the upper observation deck and other pertinent information as the Maine Maritime
Museum staff finalized their checklists and getting everyone registered. I’m not certain of the count, but somebody mentioned the tour would max out at
seventy-five attendees. I believe the tour was full – quite impressive…
Captain Hal Providing Pre-boarding Instructions...Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, 1/1000 second at f/6.3, ISO 200 at 200mm, EF 70~200mm f2.8L, handheld
It was a nice day and the traffic was active as the Captain maneuvered Chippewa into the channel. I found a spot on the port side and checked the camera to make certain I
was ready for whatever we may observe on the way out… it’s not a lengthy trip but the time was extended somewhat by traffic before getting into open water. This was anticipated
in planning and everyone was simply enjoying the day. The Captain narrated over the speaker system and pointed out a few sights along the way. A short time later he announced
we were approaching House Island…
Schooner Underway - Portland Harbor...Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, 1/1000 second at f/6.3, ISO 200 at 200mm, EF 70~200mm at f2.8L, handheld
Once the boat was docked and everybody unloaded, the group moved up to a large canopy used for events and functions. Seeing everyone
together represented an impressive count and the four groups began to form to begin the tour. Ken had indicated he thought House Island was the
best scenic spot in Portland. Looking around I had little doubt he was close to the mark. The island was indeed beautiful and rich with
history of Portland and the State of Maine.
A few people ending up with Ken’s Group 2 asked about taking a short break before heading off to explore to re-gear, drink or eat something. Ken agreed and while our group stayed around the canopy he showed copies of the books he’d written and talked about various topics. I found this quite interesting and made note of the titles for future reference. When Ken stated we would meet back at this location before departing I saw an opportunity to leave my camera bag behind. We would never be far from the canopy if something was required so I lightened the load and ended up with just a single camera/lens combination and a few things in my pockets…
Forming Tour Groups - House Island...
Mark R. Thompson, Regional Director, Maine Maritime MuseumCanon EOS 1Ds Mark III, 1/1000 second at f/6.3, ISO 320 at 135mm, EF 70~200mm f2.8L, handheld
Ken was pointing out and discussing multiple subjects as the group went up the hill towards Fort Scammell. I’ll add a note here pursuant to the research I did working on this article. Fort Scammell was
named for Alexander Scammell (1747-1781) of Massachusetts. He was an officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolution and was killed while commanding a provisional regiment of light
infantry at the siege of Yorktown. I urge you to read further about this officer, a true revolutionary patriot... His name is spelled interchangeably with one ‘L’, Scammel, or two, Scammell. As
far as I can tell both are acceptable. I used the second spelling in this account because it appears to be more common and was used in the information Joel Eastman handed out. I figured if he
listed the name as such this was qualification enough for me. However, I did observe the framed site plan of the fort Joel presented to Captain Cushing from the 1800’s noted, ‘Fort Scammel on House Island’.
In a clarification later, Ken indicated ‘Alexander Scammell’ spelled his name as such. The army noted it incorrectly early on, but by the 1860’s the name appeared with the double L on all the engineering drawings...
I was lagging behind the group as Ken continued his narration as we walked – there were simply too many interesting subjects and scenes to photograph along the way. I was surrounded by much of interest and desirable subjects. Before we enter the battlements I’m going to post a template of scenic shots from House Island…
View from House Island...Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, 1/640 second at f/9, ISO 320 at 70mm, EF 70~200mm at f2.8L, handheld
I’d considered how best to handle the history of the fort in this article, the actual purpose of the tour. I wished to provide a photographic record of the
visit, not necessarily provide a history lesson. However, the fortifications protecting Portland Harbor were fairly extensive and this information
is interesting indeed. Interesting enough in my view that a short presentation may be relevant to anyone taking time to investigate this
article… I decided to keep it simple. The following information on the evolution of Fort Scammell was prepared by Joel W. Eastman and has been
excerpted from a handout we received for the tour.
Interior View - Fort Scammell on House Island...Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, 1/125 second at f/4.5, ISO 1000 at 70mm, EF 70~200mm f2.8L, handheld with Flash
We stopped at the gun battery for a time and Ken used this period to introduce the various elements of the fort we would be touring. Before leaving the canopy area he made certain there were enough flashlights
available to illuminate the passageways we would be traversing on the tour. The gun battery is near a sallyport, as Ken noted a term adapted from 'sally forth',
which we would use to enter the interior fort areas… He also discussed the additions to the
fortifications as the fort evolved. We learned the 1808 section remains his favorite and that he’s been performing excavations around this area over the past years. I gathered he spent a good deal of time on House Island...
Fort Preble View from the Gun Battery...Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, 1/640 second at f/9, ISO 320 at 70mm, EF 70~200mm at f2.8L, handheld
The group broke out the flashlights and followed Ken into the dark tunnels and passageways. I mounted a flash to take some exposures. This was definitely a tripod worthy task to obtain sharp images, but I did have an opportunity to experiment
in lowlight (or no light) conditions. This was a bit challenging because you’d exit a passage into the harsh sunlight of an exterior gun emplacement. Looking around at the fort I could well imagine the treasure expended
to provide the labor, materials and services required for this construction, especially during the days of sail…
I’d read that Canon’s flagship professional camera, the EOS 1Ds Mark III, the model I had with me, can take a photograph in dark or near dark conditions. What I found was it would produce an image in near darkness with certain limitations. Some light is required to obtain a focus lock and in order to handhold effectively, the ISO had to be close to maximum or the shutter speed was way too slow. Obviously this is a tripod and cable release situation and one normally wouldn’t shoot without lighting anyway. I’ll post a few shots of the interior brick magazines and other details. What’s interesting is these were photographed in utter blackness with a flashlight to obtain a focus lock and a Canon speedlight to illuminate the scene…
Through a Tunnel - Fort Scammell on House Island...Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, 1/125 second at f/6.3, ISO 1000 at 70mm, EF 70~200mm f2.8L, handheld with Flash
When we arrived at the 1808 section of the fort Ken went into detail of the investigations being performed around the area. He’d been excavating this portion and pointed out the top of a masonry wall, indicating the structure went in-ground approximately sixteen feet below grade from the
elevation we were now viewing. He also stated he’s willing to take on volunteers to continue the work if anyone had an interest. There's no backhoes or other excavation equipment on the island as far as I could tell - this represents a good deal of hand excavation...
1808 Fort Excavation...Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, 1/640 second at f/9, ISO 400 at 70mm, EF 70~200mm at f2.8L, handheld
All the groups appeared to be converging in the same area about this time. As we examined a gun emplacement, Joel and Group 1 arrived on the berm above us so I took a few exposures. As we left the gun platform Hal and his group were coming in from the other side.
Rodman guns were American Civil War-era smoothbore Columbiads designed by Thomas Jackson Rodman, (1815-1871) West Point class of 1841. These weapons were the primary ordnance employed at seacoast fortifications. Rodman developed new technologies allowing a hollow casting method as opposed to the traditional solid cast, that resulted in production of cast iron ordinance that was much stronger than preceding weapons. Upon adoption of his methods by the U.S. government in 1859, Rodman was assigned command of the U.S. Arsenal in Watertown, Massachusetts. Promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1867 and later placed in command of the Rock Island Arsenal, he died at his post in 1871, his health broken from continuous years of hard service. The heavy Rodman guns, intended to be mounted in seacoast fortifications, were built in 8, 10, 13, 15 & 20-inch bores and designed to broadcast both shot and shell. The guns were identical in design with a curving soda bottle shape and differed only in bore size.
Dr. Joel W. Eastman Displaying 15-inch Rodman Gun Photograph - Fort Scammell...Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, 1/800 second at f/7.1, ISO 400 at 150mm, EF 70~200mm f2.8L, handheld
The afternoon was advancing quickly and soon enough Ken indicated it was time to return to the canopy area, the designated rendezvous point, to meet the other groups and re-board for the mainland return.
The balance of the people returned on a staggered timeline but soon all we gathered. We sat around the tables enjoying a drink and for those who carried it along, lunch. I re-packed my camera bag and took a walk around the residence as I waited.
Interior Fort View...Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, 1/640 second at f/9, ISO 400 at 70mm, EF 70~200mm at f2.8L, handheld
The tour was over… Once Chippewa was tied up at the pier it didn’t take long for everyone to be on their way. It had been an interesting and informative day… |
I’m certain I can speak for all us in thanking our excellent tour guides and the Maine Maritime Museum for making our visit to House Island possible.