Casco Bay

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Portland Headlight, Maine, William Aiken Walker

Casco Bay is an inlet of the Gulf of Maine on the southern coast of Maine, New England, United States. Its easternmost approach is Cape Small and its westernmost approach is Two Lights in Cape Elizabeth. The city of Portland sits along its southern edge and the Port of Portland lies within.

European discovery[edit]

There are two theories on the origin of the name "Casco Bay". Aucocisco is the Abenaki name for the bay, which means 'place of herons' (sometimes translated as 'muddy').[1] The Portuguese explorer Estêvão Gomes, mapped the Maine coast in 1525 and named the bay "Bahía de Cascos" (Bay of Helmets, based on the shape of the bay).

The first settlement in Casco Bay was that of Capt. Christopher Levett, an English explorer, who built a house on House Island in 1623-24. The settlement failed.[2] The first permanent settlement of the bay was named Casco; despite changing names throughout history, that settlement remains the largest city in the Casco Bay region, now called the city of Portland, Maine

It was first reported in 1700 by Colonel Wolfgang William Römer, an English military engineer, that there were "as many islands as there are days in the year".[3] The United States Coastal Pilot lists 136 islands,[3] leading to the bay's islands being called that Calendar Islands based on the popular myth there are 365 of them. Later, Robert M. York, the former Maine state historian said there are "little more than two hundred islands".[4]


War of 1812[edit]

Casco Bay is also home to abandoned military fortifications dating from the War of 1812 through World War II; during World War II, Casco Bay served as an anchorage for US Navy ships.

World War I[edit]

See Forts of Casco Bay.

World War II[edit]

Since Casco Bay was the nearest American anchorage to the Atlantic Lend-Lease convoy routes to Britain prior to US entry into WWII, Admiral King ordered a large pool of destroyers to be stationed there for convoy escort duty in August 1941.[5]

The State Historic Site of Eagle Island was the summer home of Arctic explorer Robert Peary.

Late 20th and 21st Century[edit]

Walter Cronkite stated that, in his opinion, the bay offered some of the best sailing in the world.[citation needed]

In 2008, up-and-coming composers Peter J. McLaughlin and Akiva G. Zamcheck wrote a piece in four movements paying homage to the wreck of the Don in Casco Bay in 1941. The piece received critical acclaim from the Portland Press Herald and from fellow Maine composers.[6]

Marine economy[edit]

Portland has a substantial fleet of deep-sea fishing vessels which offload their catch primarily at the Portland Fish Exchange. Numerous towns and islands serve as ports for lobster boats. Recreational fishing boats can also be chartered.

Marinas include

During the 1980s and 1990s, Bath Iron Works operated a dry dock in Portland Harbor to repair US Navy vessels, but that operation was discontinued.


Predominant fish in the bay include mackerel, striped bass, and bluefish. Shellfish include lobsters, crabs, mussels, clams and snails. Harbor seals congregate on certain exposed ledges, and whales on occasion swim into the bay, and in a few instances into Portland Harbor. Seagulls, cormorants and varying species of ducks are the most common birds; more rarely osprey, eagles and herons have been sighted. Casco Bay contains bay mud bottoms and banks in some locations, providing important substrates for biota.


A Casco Bay Lines ferry returning to Portland after its journey out into the bay

The major islands in the bay are served by the Casco Bay Lines ferry service at the Maine State Pier in Portland. Peaks Island is served by a car ferry and, during the summer, sees 16 ferries a day. The other islands see fewer ferries and no car transport. Great and Little Diamond islands and Long Island are served primarily by the Diamond Pass run, which is popular with tourists in the summer months. Other services offered by Casco Bay Lines include a daily mailboat run, a cruise to Bailey Island, and a sunset run.

Other services such as water taxis are also popular alternatives to the ferry, but are limited to six passengers per boat.

Notable cities and towns[edit]

From south to north:


Major islands

Minor islands[7]


Casco Bay is home to 7 lighthouses:


Forts in Casco Bay:

[citation needed]
Fort Gorges1865Hog Island Ledge, Portland, ME
Fort Levett1898Cushing Island, Portland, ME
Fort McKinley1907Great Diamond Island, Portland, ME
Fort Preble1808Southern Maine Community College/Spring Point Ledge Light, South Portland, ME
Fort Scammel1808House Island, Portland, ME
Fort Williams1872Fort Williams Park, Cape Elizabeth, ME


The newspaper for Portland, the largest city in Casco Bay, is the Portland Press Herald (Maine Sunday Telegram on Sundays). The Island Institute publishes The Working Waterfront, a free monthly newspaper reporting "the news of Maine's coast and islands." For Southern Maine news, obituaries and sports, The Forecaster is published weekly.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Islands of Casco Bay, page 4
  2. ^ James Phinney Baxter (1893). Christopher Levett, of York: The Pioneer Colonist in Casco Bay. The Gorges Society. 
  3. ^ a b The Islands of Casco Bay, page 3
  4. ^
  5. ^ Heinrichs, Waldo (1988). Threshold of War: Franklin D. Roosevelt & American Entry into WWII. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 165. ISBN 0195061683. 
  6. ^
  7. ^

Coordinates: 43°38′00″N 70°02′58″W / 43.63333°N 70.04944°W / 43.63333; -70.04944