Today, the Oakdale neighborhood is defined in part by its largest neighbor, the University of Southern Maine campus.
The campus spreads into the residential streets surrounding the core academic buildings, and USM students fill many of the rental units in the large two- and three-family houses that occupy Oakdale’s tree-lined streets.
But the area – which is now home to about 3,600 people – has not always been a haven for students.
Originally parceled off and sold from the Deering tract in the late 19th century, roads were first laid out in 1881, starting with Fessenden Street.
The area covers about 30 acres bound by Belmont and Ashmont streets on the north, Interstate 295 on the South, St. John Street on the West and Baxter Boulevard on the East.
Oakdale’s name itself appears to have no firm connection to history. The earliest residential developments saw the construction of stately, wood-frame, one- and two-family homes, most of which survive today. True to the name, oak trees are plentiful.
Ann Shea, who bought her home on Oakdale Street in 1964, was originally attracted to the neighborhood because she could walk to most everything she needed. At the time, there was a community kindergarten a few blocks away, and so was Forest Avenue, with a grocery store, pharmacy, bank and other retail stores.
The homes were family-owned and everyone seemed to know each other. Children attended the Nathan Clifford School nearby.
“When I moved in, we all had young children,” Shea said. “Mothers would bring their young children down to the park and get to know each other. We began to get together, we shared things. If someone was ill, they’d come over with some soup.”
The precursor to USM’s Portland campus, meanwhile, was not founded until 1970, joining Gorham State College and the University of Maine Portland. It wouldn’t be renamed USM until 1978.
“It just happened all of a sudden, as the university grew, there were more and more students around.”
Shea saw the university’s growth as a positive force for many in the area, who found good jobs there.
The first sign of encroachment came when the school tore down two large Victorian homes at the corner of Deering Avenue and Falmouth Street. But it was not until decades later that the former two- and three-family homes were being converted into apartments and rental units, Shea said.
Ed Goldman, a longtime resident of Noyes Street, said he and his wife enjoyed the tranquility and sense of community during their 40 years in the neighborhood. It was only recently, before Goldman moved out in 2005, he said, that the influx of young residents became troublesome to him.
“It just happened all of a sudden,” Goldman said. “As the university grew, there were more and more students around.”
Now those properties are split between homeowners and renters, many of whom are current and former students at USM.
With 63 percent of residents living in rental housing, according to the U.S. Census, Oakdale is now the only off-peninsula neighborhood occupied mostly by renters.
The average asking rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Oakdale, including heat and utilities, was $1,444 per month in September and October, according to the Press Herald/Sunday Telegram’s market survey. That puts Oakdale below the average citywide – $1,560 – and makes it one of the more affordable (or less unaffordable) rental neighborhoods.
We asked Portlanders to describe their neighborhoods, and these are the words they used.
My neighborhood is a walkable, friendly place that's probably best known for USM. The people who live here are a diverse group of all ages. Our favorite neighborhood business is not in Oakdale and when we have spare time we like to visit the Farmer's Market for fun. Our neighborhood's best-kept secret is probably that it's the best place in Portland to live--close to the peninsula, without the peninsula prices.
My neighborhood is a geographically divided place that's probably best known for USM. The people who live here are good neighbors. Our favorite neighborhood business is Back Bay Bicycle and when we have spare time we like to visit Back Cove trail for fun. Our neighborhood's best-kept secret is probably the architecture.
My neighborhood is a chill place that's probably best known for USM. The people who live here are young and old. Our favorite neighborhood business is the Great Lost Bear and when we have spare time we like to visit Hadlock Field for fun. Our neighborhood's best-kept secret is probably Vientiane.
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A video camera mounted on an FAA approved, remote-controlled drone provides an unusual view of Portland’s rental neighborhoods.
View Drone Footage of Oakdale
© 2015 MaineToday Media | Originally published Dec. 29, 2015