Peaks Island, Maine

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Vintage postcard depicting Gem Theater, boardwalk, and the Peaks Island House hotel on Peaks Island, Maine
Photo of ferry landing and Welch Street on Peaks Island, Maine

Peaks Island is the most populous island in Casco Bay, Maine. It is part of the city of Portland and is approximately 3 miles (4.8 km) from downtown. The island became a popular summer destination in the late 19th century, when it was known as the Coney Island of Maine, home to hotels, cottages, theaters, and amusement parks.[1]

While small, the island hosts a variety of businesses including an ice cream parlor, restaurant, markets, kayak rentals, golf cart rentals, and art galleries, The Fifth Maine Regiment Museum and the Umbrella Cover Museum, among others.[2]

Notable visitors and places[edit]

Hollywood film director John Ford was known as "The Mayor of Peaks Island" because of his great affinity for the island. He vacationed there from boyhood through the early 1960s, worked as an usher at the Gem Theater and was a deckhand on the Casco Bay Lines ferries in his youth. Ford's relatives still live on the island.[citation needed]

Besides the Gem, which featured famous performers including the Barrymore family, two other summer theaters were located on the island. One, the Pavilion, opened in 1887, is said to be the first summer theater in the country. The Greenwood Garden Amusement Park sported the Greenwood Garden Playhouse.

George M. Cohan tried his productions out at the island's theaters before taking them to Broadway. Circa 1908, D.W. Griffith was torn between continuing to appear in plays produced at the island's playhouses as he frequently did or heading to Hollywood. Jean Stapleton's first professional appearance in the summer of 1941 was in a production at Greenwood Garden. Martin Landau also made his professional stage debut in a 1951 production of "Detective Story" at Greenwood Garden where for several seasons he was a resident cast member.

Most of the hotels were lost to fires over the years. The Gem Theater was destroyed by fire on September 7, 1934. 17 buildings burned to the ground on June 2, 1936, including the new Union House Hotel. The only original hotel structure remaining on the island is the Avenue House, which has been converted into condominiums.

During World War II, the island was home to a large military defense installation, including the largest structure, Battery Steele, which housed two 16 inch (406 mm) guns. When Battery Steele's guns were first tested, windows on the opposite side of the island shattered.[3]

Battery Steele housed two 16-inch (406 mm) guns

Population[edit]

According to the 2000 census, Peaks Island is home to 843 year-round residents, with a summer population that swells to an estimated 2,000-4,000, with many day-trippers.[4] The island is served by Casco Bay Lines and is home to its own elementary school, library, and police station.

Secession efforts[edit]

There have been at least six significant movements for Peaks to secede from the city of Portland: in 1883, 1922, 1948, 1955, 1992, and another effort in the period 2004 to 2011.[5] The most recent effort grew out of a revaluation of all properties in the municipality, when average property taxes on Peaks Island increased by over 200 percent.[6] Shortly thereafter, a group of island residents organized a committee to investigate seceding from Portland and forming a separate town.[7] A successful petition drive put the issue to an island-wide vote on June 13, 2006.[8] Of a total of 683 votes, over 57 percent were in favor of further exploring secession.[9][10]

The Portland City Council unanimously opposed secession.[11] The council and the secession group, after arguing over whether to hold talks in public or private, failed to negotiate terms.[12][13] In February 2007 the secession group obtained sponsorship for legislation in the Maine State Legislature to incorporate the Town of Peaks Island, subject to a successful referendum.[14][15][16] After vigorous debate, the bill was narrowly tabled, "dead" in committee as of May 14, 2007.[17]

As a result of the secession fight and the urging of state legislators, the Portland City Council agreed to create a seven-member Peaks Island Council for direct liaison.[18] But in 2010 most members of the Peaks Island Council resigned, expressing frustration about Portland's perceived unwillingness to work with them.[19] With only write-in candidates taking the vacant seats the Council ceased to fulfill its function.[20] Ongoing discussions between the Council's former Chair and city officials about establishing some degree of autonomy, such as creating a village corporation within the city, proved unproductive.[21]

As a result of a change in the Maine legislature from Democratic to Republican control the secession effort regained momentum, with a new bill providing for a January 2012 island-wide vote on secession introduced in 2011.[22] However, hearings showed an apparent lack of consensus among the islanders.[23] The State and Local Government Committee rejected the bill, on the ground that the secession leaders had not followed the legal process: they would need to start over with signature gathering and another referendum.[24]

Golf Cart Taxi Incident[edit]

Beginning in the summer of 2009, 17-year-old Matt Rand, a summer resident of the island, offered rides to residents and tourists in his family's electric golf cart. Because Rand did not charge a fare and was compensated only in tips, he could legally operate without a taxi license or costly liability insurance.[25] The Peaks Island Transportation System found itself losing business to a competitor with less overhead, and took its complaints to the Portland City Council. On August 16, 2010, the Council voted 5-3 in favor of amending the city's taxi definition to include tip-only services, which effectively put Rand out of business.[26] The situation was covered extensively by TV, print, online media outlets in Maine, and on national talk radio.[25] Ousted from his golf cart taxi service, Rand returned to school at Tufts University. The Peaks Island taxi subsequently adopted his tips-only business model.[27]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Morgenson, Max (July 25, 2010), Peak your interest: Island beauty and fun 15 minutes from Portland ... if the Umbrella Cover Museum isn't enough, The Sun Journal (Lewiston, Maine) 
  2. ^ "Peaks Island Businesses and Services". Peaks Island Organizations. Fifth Maine Regiment Museum. 2013-05-28. Retrieved 26 May 2013. 
  3. ^ The Seductions of Fall , The New York Times, 2004-09-10. Accessed 2009-02-21.
  4. ^ "Peaks Island". Island Institute. Retrieved 2014-01-23. 
  5. ^ MzcIsaac, Erico (February 26, 2011). "Secession Talk on Peaks Island is Nothing New". Heritage in Maine. Retrieved 25 April 2012. 
  6. ^ Home is Where the Heartburn Is , Portland Press Herald, 2004-04-07. Accessed 2009-05-31.
  7. ^ Website of Peaks Island Independence Committee (IIC), accessed 2009-05-31.
  8. ^ Minutes of the Portland City Council, April 19, 2006, accessed 2009-05-31.
  9. ^ Peaks Votes to Secede, The Bollard, 2006-06-13. Accessed 2009-05-31.
  10. ^ "Peaks Independence committee takes on a new role after island secession vote", Island Times, July 2006.
  11. ^ Minutes of the Portland City Council, June 19, 2006, accessed 2009-05-31.
  12. ^ "Peaks secession negotiations at a stalemate", Island Times, August 2006.
  13. ^ Secession Meeting Turns Nasty, WMTW, 2006-07-21. Accessed 2009-05-31.
  14. ^ Peaks Island's future a "crapshoot" , The Bollard, 2007-02-11. Accessed 2009-02-24.
  15. ^ Bill would authorize Peaks vote , Portland Press Herald, 2007-04-25. Accessed 2009-05-31.
  16. ^ An Act To Authorize Peaks Island, House Island, Pumpkin Knob and Catnip Island To Secede from the City of Portland, accessed 2009-05-31.
  17. ^ Tyler, David, Peaks Secession Movement Encounters Choppy Water at the Legislature Working Waterfront, June, 2007.
  18. ^ Minutes of the Portland City Council, Special Meeting, May 21, 2007, accessed 2009-05-31.
  19. ^ Billings, Randy,Legislative Hearing slated for Peaks Island Secession Bill The Forecaster, April 5, 2011
  20. ^ Bucklin, Kate, Peaks Island Officially Has No Councillors The Forecaster, Nov. 02, 2010,
  21. ^ Murphy, Edward, Peaks' bid for more autonomy met cooly Portland Press Herald, Sept 9, 2010.
  22. ^ Murphy, Edward, Peaks Secession Bill Timeline Stirs Debate, Portland Press Herald 7 March 2011.
  23. ^ Billings, Randy (2011-02-22). "Peaks Island residents pack anti-secession meeting". News. The Forecaster. Retrieved 26 May 2013. 
  24. ^ Bell, Tom, Legislative Panel rejects Peaks Island Secession Portland Press Herald, April 14, 2011
  25. ^ a b Tom Bell (August 20, 2010). "Council: Peaks golf cart 'taxi' must be licensed and insured". Portland Press Herald. Retrieved 2014-01-23. 
  26. ^ Associated Press (August 17, 2010). "Portland regulates 19-year-old’s golf cart ‘taxi’ business venture". Bangor Daily News. Retrieved 2014-01-23. 
  27. ^ Peaks Island Taxi Service business listing
  • Notable Items section: Clough, Leon S., editor; Peaks Island 1776–1976 Bicentennial Directory

External links[edit]


Coordinates: 43°39′25″N 70°11′46″W / 43.65694°N 70.19611°W / 43.65694; -70.19611