Cliff Island is a 302 acre paradise which is part of the City of Portland. It sits approximately six miles offshore and is the outermost island served by the Casco Bay Lines ferry service. Cliff Island boasts a year round population of approximately 60 people. In the summer, it grows to about 200. Many of the year round and summer residents are from families who have inhabited the island for many generations. Originally named “Crotch Island” for its H-shape and natural harbors, the name was changed in 1892 when the island got its first post office.
In the early 20th century the island’s inns were a draw for summer tourists. There are no hotels any longer, but many homes are available for weekly rentals or longer. Residents enjoy a community hall, tennis court, baseball field, library, several sandy beaches, and two playgrounds.
Islanders are involved in a number of community organizations including the Cliff Island Association (CIA), the community run Stone Library, the Cliff Island Historical Society (CIHS), and the Cliff Island Corporation for Athletics, Conservation and Education (ACE) which runs a wide variety of events for year round and summer visitors involving the environment, athletics, exercise, arts & crafts, and entertainment activities.
The residents are served by a U.S. Post Office, volunteer fire department, and a one-room school. The school serves elementary grades pre-school to 5th. Middle and High School students ride the ferry to schools in Portland. Residents lobster, work in local island-related businesses or commute to the mainland for work.
Cliff Island residents and visitors utilizing the Casco Bay Lines ferry service can expect anywhere from an hour to two hour ferry ride dependent on seasonal schedules and passenger/cargo loads. Cliff Islanders buy most groceries and supplies in Portland, but there is a small seasonal store and cafe on the island. In the summer, tourists taking the ferry often step off to enjoy an ice-cream or pizza at the café.
Cliff Island has extensive property under conservation trust, permanently protecting its rural atmosphere. The island is the only year-round island in Casco Bay that has no paved roads and, while cars are allowed, most people walk, bicycle, or use golf carts for transportation. A barge ramp was added in 2008 to ease delivery of trucks and heavy items.
In 1987 the feature film The Whales of August was filmed entirely on location on Cliff Island. The buoy that was used in the film as a transitioning tool is now on display outside of the Casco Bay Lines Ferry Terminal. The film was among the last for stars Bette Davis, Lillian Gish, Vincent Price, and Ann Sothern.