Peaks Island History
Peaks Island is a small island lying about 3 miles east of Portland, Maine, accessible by a 15 minute ferry ride. The year round population is around 1100. Summer residents total nearly 4000. In addition, the island is a popular destination for day trippers. The harbor side (Forest City) is the village section of the island where most of the year round homes, shops, restaurants, churches, school, health center, post office, police and fire departments are located. The Trefethen-Evergreen section is largely a summer colony. The interior and back-shore are heavily forested with just a few homes. Most of this area is city or state parkland.
Peaks Island was a favored by the Abnaki Indians who summered here for generations. Until recently shell middens left by them were clearly visible along the back-shore. A few European settlers maintained fishing shacks as early as the mid 1600's. Attempts to permanently settle the island were unsuccessful until the end of Indian hostilities around 1700. Between that date and about 1880 two separate and distinct villages (Forest City and Trefethen) were established at opposite ends of the island by a handful of families (the Bracketts, Trotts, Sterlings, Trefethens, Skillings, Parsons and Woodburys). At the turn of the century most of the land on the island still belonged to these families, who, by that time, were very much interrelated by blood or marriage.
By the 1890's Peaks began to benefit by the enormous changes occurring in American society. The growing urban population (both native and immigrant) had more time and money to spend on recreation. Peaks residents met their needs by providing all types of accommodations, entertainments, and other facilities. 16 hotels and inns, and hundreds of cottages were built; 3 summer theatres and an amusement park were established; dozens of shops and restaurants lined the streets of Forest City; and a dance hall was established at Trefethen. Twelve steamboat lines brought thousands of visitors to Peaks daily during the short summer season. The press labeled Peaks Island the "Coney Island of Maine".
Automobile ownership became commonplace and roadways built into areas that had previously been inaccessible about 1915, the island's popularity declined. The Depression added to the loss of tourists - with no job, it was difficult if not impossible to vacation.
World War II brought new people and government dollars to the island. The Peaks Island Military Reservation was built as the principal defense of Portland Harbor. 800-900 soldiers were stationed on Peaks. Many brought their families, causing overcrowding in the island's four room school. After the war ended most left only to be replaced by a new generation of young families.
Peaks is a neighborhood in the city of Portland as are several other islands. Most people commute daily to jobs on the mainland as do middle and senior high school students. The island also has its fair share of retirees and new people "from away." Many descendants of the first settlers still live on the island.