About This Location
The Goddard Mansion is an iconic Maine estate. During the 1800s, it was considered one of the finest homes in all of Maine. Today, it sits in ruins and is completely abandoned. The story of the mansion is fascinating and it is a spot that every explorer should check out!
Building John Goddard’s Dream Home
With the goal of constructing his dream house on the seashore, John Goddard paid $12,000 for the Cape Cottage Hotel and the adjacent land in 1853. This land was some of the finest in Maine as it offered sweeping ocean views and great access to nearby towns and ports. Goddard had built his wealth in the local Orono lumber business. He recruited Charles A. Alexander, a renowned architect from Maine, to create an Italianate house out of local stone. The Goddard family moved into their opulent new mansion in 1858. The home’s hilltop location provided views of Casco Bay and the always picturesque Portland Head Light.
For the next 30 years or more, not much is known about the house. Goddard served as a Colonel in the 1st Maine Cavalry for a brief period of time during the Civil War, but it is obvious that his patriotism was shallow because he promptly resigned from his position to take care of his “suffering” businesses. Alexander the architect passed away in 1870, the Cape Cottage Hotel burned down in 1894, and Goddard sold the house to Judge Joseph W. Symonds of the Maine Supreme Court in 1898.
Mansion Purchased by the Army
The Army bought 14 acres close to Portland Head Light in 1873, fortified the area, and put up defenses to protect adjacent Fort Preble. It began to grow and receive its official name, Fort Williams, in 1899. As time went on, the Army realized the need for more land. The Goddard Mansion was adjacent to the Army’s original 14 acres, so they decided to purchase the mansion and its surrounding land. In total, the Amry was able to acquire 75 acres along with the mansion.
For both World Wars and well into the Cold War, Fort Williams was fully manned. While the basement served as an officers’ club, the Mansion housed married noncommissioned officers and their families.
Following World War 2, Fort Williams no longer needed to be staffed and its buildings were deemed unnecessary. The Army essentially abandoned all of the coastal defenses and removed all guns. Additionally, the Goddard Mansion was no longer hosting military officers, so it was boarded up and abandoned. The land of Fort Williams became a radar site in the 1950s and was utilized by the National Guard. But in 1962, the fort officially closed and all the land was sold to the town of Cape Elizabeth.
Much of the Fort’s structures were demolished after the acquisition, and the gun batteries were backfilled. The already dilapidated mansion deteriorated even more. The town was forced to choose between stabilizing the mansion or abandoning it after a few small fires and sporadic vandalism made it even less stable. The municipal manager suggested that it be demolished after they received repair cost estimates. Following considerable backlash from the public, they made an interesting compromise. In 1981, they asked the Cape Elizabeth Fire Department to carry out a series of controlled burns inside to remove the roof and all timber rather than fixing it or entirely destroying it. To avoid any danger to the public, the basement was filled in and only the stone shell and core were left.
Concerned about the integrity of the existing building, the Fort Williams Advisory Committee issued the long-term recommendation to lower the height of the walls to seating or first-floor windowsill height and to cap them in order to assist prevent future degradation. They also concluded that a bracing system might be able to save the major front entryway. For the interior, they suggested that the land be leveled, loamed, and seeded for easy maintenance and public access. To display the mansion’s past, they would also put up interpretive panels. Due to a lack of funding, the ruins you can see today are surrounded by an unsightly chain link fence.
The Mansion Today
Ultimately, the Goddard Mansion today is an obscure site to see. It consists of a massive stone frame without a roof, making the structure completely exposed to the elements. It is a hauntingly beautiful location. The quick climb up the hill to see some coastal history is worthwhile if you are visiting the lighthouse or Fort Williams Park.