July 4th, 1886, was supposed to be a huge celebration in Portland. This would be the first Independence Day since the troops had returned home from fighting in the Civil War. A huge parade, fireworks, and a circus featuring a real hippopotamus were just some of the activities planned for the day.  Instead, it ended up being a day of destruction. Portland had the worst fire ever seen to that point of an American city. This would be five years before the Great Chicago Fire.

Maine Memory Network

In Portland, it's known as The Great Fire, and we should all pause this 4th of July weekend to remember this event and how Portland rose from the ashes to become the great city that we all know today. In fact, Portland's motto is Resurgam which means "I Shall Rise Again." And after the past 15 months, that's a phrase we can all relate to and be inspired by on this Independence Day weekend. Just think how far we have all come from July 4, 2020. Resurgam, indeed! Restaurants and shops are wicked busy. The fireworks are happening on the Eastern Prom. The tourists are back. This 4th of July feels like an "independence day" in more ways than one. 

Check out this amazing time-lapse of The Great Fire.


  • The fire started on Commercial Street, down by where the new Hobson's Wharf condos are located. The fire then spread east, across downtown, much of the Old Port and all the way up to Munjoy Hill.
  • Amazingly, only two people died in the fire. However, 10,000 people-a third of the cities population, became homeless from the huge blaze.
  • 58 streets were destroyed, and over 1800 buildings burned.
  • The resilience of Portland was amazing. Just four months after the fire, over 600 buildings had been rebuilt. By five years, the entire city had been rebuilt.
  • This is where the fire started on Commercial Street:
Google Maps




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