A Look At Casco Bay

"Pumpkin Knob" an island in Casco Bay off of Peaks Island  

"Pumpkin Knob" an island in Casco Bay off of Peaks Island  

Portland Harbor is the site of Tall Ships Portland 2015, and its history and heritage are a major focus of the event. But what about Casco Bay, which houses Portland harbor? Casco Bay has its own storied history, one that dates back to the earliest Europeans explorers in North America.

A “Drowned” Coast

Casco Bay is what’s known as a “drowned coast.” The phrase doesn’t refer to frequent swimming accidents on the bay’s rocky beaches but to how Casco Bay was changed by glaciers thousands of years ago. The bay was once composed of three large hills. When glaciers arrived during the Ice Age, they created valleys out of these hills, and when the glaciers melted, the valleys filled with water. The higher points of the valley became islands.

The Calendar Islands

European adventurers were intrigued by Casco Bay, named in the early sixteenth century by a Portuguese explorer when he noticed it resembled a helmet. He called it “Bahia de Cascos,” or “Bay of Helmets.” European interest in the bay continued. In the eighteenth century, Colonel Romer, an English military engineer, explored the islands in Casco Bay. Shocked by the number of islands he saw, Romer was convinced that Casco Bay had islands for every day of the year, so he granted it the nickname “The Calendar Islands.” Although the name might sound great, it isn’t an accurate one – the bay contains only two hundred islands, some of which are only tiny clusters of rock. 

The Islands Today

Today, most of the islands in Portland Harbor are part of the city. Peaks Island, for example, is considered just another neighborhood of Portland, albeit one that only can be reached by boat. Despite being settled and documented, the islands that enchanted Colonel Romer in 1700 remain mysterious and beautiful, making them a great destination for anyone who enjoys hiking and sailing. Many are rocky and forested with hidden, sandy beaches that have a breathtaking view of the Atlantic Ocean. There may not be one for every day of the year, but the islands in Casco Bay are unique enough to spend years enjoying. 

If you’re interested in Maine’s maritime history and culture, be sure to come to Tall Ships Portland. Tall Ships are visiting Portland Harbor in July from the 18th to the 20th. Tickets are on sale now!