November 15, 2013
Sylvan Site: A Model Development

By Guest Columnist: Craig Skelton, member

When I travel, I love to see and experience how different things can be in other areas of the country.  My brother-in-law and his wife bought a new home in Fairport, a suburb of Rochester, NY, in which the builder and realtor held what was called a “Home-a-rama.”  It is a kind of open house except the home they bought was furnished and the open house event was catered.  They do it this way so prospective buyers can talk to the builder about floor plans and other options and home buyers have an opportunity to speak to decorators and local home furnishing suppliers.  How fun is that?

Travel back about 100 years and home buyers were treated to a Home-a-rama of sorts where contractors showcased plumbing, heating and electrical products available in the 1920s in a development called Sylvan Site in South Portland.  I imagine that state of the art 100 years ago was quite primitive compared to what we’re accustomed to today.  “Easy” brand appliances were featured by a local power company and I imagine there were more than a few homes in Sylvan Site with them offered up.  

It all began in 1907 when Frederick Wheeler Hinckley, an accomplished attorney, politician and amateur architect, built a southern colonial style home on 21 acres of land at 925 Sawyer Street which he named Clyfdale Villa.  A drive by the home will reveal that it is currently on the market.  I stopped in front of it and took note of the style and features not found in home construction of today.  I was able to view pictures of its beautiful interior on the realtor’s website.  The quality and craftsmanship found in homes of that era is clearly visible.  Although you might not find Frederick Hinckley’s name next to the likes of John Calvin Stevens in history books on the topic of architectural design and style, I think he may deserve that sort of credit.

Frederick Hinckley and his wife lived in their Sawyer Street home for about a decade before the opening of the Million Dollar Bridge prompted him to buy 85 acres around his home.  The new bridge was a major improvement for trolley and automobile travel to and from Portland and Hinckley sensed an opportunity.  On those 85 acres he created Sylvan Site, an area bounded on the east side by Ocean Street and between Sawyer Street and the Cape Elizabeth town line.  Being all wooded land, Frederick chose the name Sylvan for its meaning to describe “woodsy” or living near or in the woods.

History records that the Cumberland Illumination Company was founded in 1877.  The company incorporated in 1909 as Cumberland County Power and Light after Cumberland Illumination and other larger electricity suppliers acquired smaller companies in southern Maine.  During that time of mergers and acquisitions, the foundation of the power grid for this area was being laid and it may be difficult for most of us to realize that electricity was not found in every home like it is today.      

Heating of the time had advanced beyond simple wood stoves and some homes were built with gravity hot water, hot air or steam radiators.  Clyfdale Villa was heated with steam which produced a whistling sound many of you may be familiar hearing.  The radiators were large in some instances depending upon the size of a room and sometimes made furniture placement a challenge.  Gravity hot water also had the large radiators; however there was no whistling sound as the heated water rose up through the pipes while cooler water descended back to the furnace, unaided by circulating pumps widely used today.  Hot air systems originally consisted of a giant centralized floor grate from which hot air rose, however later systems included some ducting to distribute heated air more evenly.

Consider driving through the neighborhood to view the Spanish, Colonial Revival, Tudor, Italianate and Arts and Craft Style homes that Frederick Hinckley designed.  And take notice that his design talents went beyond the homes as he incorporated generous verandas as a transition to back yards featuring benches, arbors, fences, planters and trellises all surrounded by beautiful landscaping.  

During a conversation with my daughter’s French teacher Cecile LaPlante who owns the English Tudor on Adelbert Street with her husband, she emphasized that they paid special attention to detail when adding on, to ensure the addition was in keeping with the original design.  Frederick Hinckley is said to have overseen construction of all the homes in Sylvan Site and I think he would be proud of the efforts homeowners like Cecile and her husband have made in the last 100 years to retain the character in the homes he personally designed.  A drive through the neighborhood would confirm that Madame LaPlante’s sentiment has been widely kept.

Although the Great Depression came between Frederick Hinckley and his dream of building 200 homes in Sylvan Site, he reportedly designed and built 37 beautiful homes, many of which retain much of their original charm and characteristics that have attracted buyers to his Sylvan Site.

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November 22, 2013
Jump-A-Rama Trampoline Center in Mill Creek

By Kathryn DiPhilippo, Director

After years of trying to find photographs and information about the Jump-A-Rama in Mill Creek, I am pleased to finally be able to bring the search to a successful conclusion.  Last year, I spoke with Bob Lunt, one of the founders of the business, and he recently shared the accompanying photographs and information about the business. In his words:

“My partners, Sam Henderson, David Atwood and I (all residents of Cape Elizabeth at the time) started it in the summer of 1961, and ran it for two summers, 1961 and 1962, while we were still in college. We incorporated in Portland as the Halco Amusement Corporation (from our initials Henderson, Atwood, Lunt). We didn’t exactly get rich, but we still turned a profit. We charged our customers $.50 per 15 minutes of use. We sold the business to the owner of a miniature golf course who moved it to his location in Westbrook in September 1962.

“We were located on Broadway between what was then Wolfe Ford and a Dairy Joy, diagonally across from the armory [note: this is roughly where Dunkin Donuts on Broadway is today. KD]. We sublet the plot, about 100’ by 200’, from Shaw’s Supermarket.

“Unlike the above ground trampolines you occasionally see in people’s backyards, ours were even with the ground with deep holes dug underneath to allow for bouncing. The mats (the bouncing part) were approximately 4’ x 8’. We had ten trampolines in all.

“To my knowledge, we were one of only three trampoline centers in Maine: the Jump-A-Rama, one in Old Orchard Beach and one in Waterville.”

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November 29, 2013
The Seasons of Thanks and Giving

By Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo, Director

When Thanksgiving arrives, we all start thinking of things we are grateful for and our historical society is no exception.  We are so grateful to the residents of South Portland, Cape Elizabeth and surrounding communities who have played such a wonderful part in the growth of South Portland’s historical society. Our membership of over 500 individuals and businesses are the ones who make the historical society possible.

While our museum is wrapping up for the season at the end of December (please come see our Pleasantdale exhibit before it closes!), the work of preserving our community’s history is a year-round endeavor. We continue working through the winter months collecting, preserving, archiving, and cataloging significant pieces of history, and winter is also the time when we are actively working inside the museum building to improve exhibits and make changes to make new materials available on display.  We also maintain year-round climate control in our building so that our archives are safe and items are preserved for future generations. All of these activities mean that we need your help to make them happen. If you are not already a member of the South Portland Historical Society, we hope that you will join us!  

Having an active historical society and museum in South Portland adds to the quality of life in our community. The Society offers programs for adults, field trip opportunities for school children, and a place where the public can come to learn about our community’s heritage. We hope that you see the value that the organization brings ~ and that you find a way to be a part of it. We are always looking for volunteers to help us at the museum; if you think you might have some time to volunteer with us next year, we’d love to hear from you.

We also need your financial help to make sure the historical society can accomplish its mission. One way that you can help is to consider the ultimate “Buy Local” effort of shopping for holiday gifts in our gift shop. The gift shop is open when the museum is open – on Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 4pm – and offers a great selection of gifts made by local craftspeople. Proceeds of locally-made products help both the local craftsperson and the historical society. We also could use your help via a donation to our Annual Fund; if you are able to make a donation, please clip out the form below.  

There are many ways to be a part of your historical society this holiday season, and together we can accomplish great things.  Happy Holidays to you!

South Portland Historical Society – Annual Fund Campaign

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The Society will recognize donors on its website, in its newsletter and in other public areas.  If you would like your donation to remain anonymous, please check here ___________

Please complete this form and mail with your tax-deductible donation to South Portland Historical Society, 55 Bug Light Park, South Portland, ME 04106.  For donations by credit card, visit http://www.sphistory.org/ or call 767-7299 for more information.  The Society is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.