January 9, 2015

The Wreck of the Annie C. Maguire

By Craig Skelton, member

Anyone visiting Fort Williams who walks around the front of Portland Head Light is sure to notice the ledge upon which is painted “ANNIE C. MAGUIRE SHIPWRECKED HERE CHRISTMAS EVE 1886.”   

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The Annie C. Maguire started life on January 10, 1853, when she was launched under the name Golden State. The Golden State was of a new design called a clipper ship.  A profitable industrial revolution was driving the need for America to compete with British sailing ships that controlled a major share of the world’s sea trade by virtue of its staggering number of ships.  Our inability to compete with Great Britain in tonnage of ships forced us to come up with other revolutionary ideas. 

Sailing ships at that time were on the verge of being superseded by steam ships and it didn’t help the matter that America’s ships were all based on copies of the clumsy British sailing ships.  A designer of the mid-1800s named Nathaniel B. Palmer envisioned a hull design and taller and wider masts and rigging that would achieve much faster speeds.  Backing to build such ships was soon available as merchants figured on additional profits from savings achieved by shorter transportation time and delivery of fresher products. The Gold Rush in California also caused a demand for fast ships such that every shipyard up and down the east coast was building its own version of the clipper ship and launching them as fast as possible.  

The Annie C. Maguire, in her 34 years, entered almost every major trading port around the world and in her year round service covered all the trade routes. 

After traveling around the globe for 30 years, the continued pressures of competition with steamships caused the Golden State, as she was named at that time, to be rigged as a bark.  A bark-rigged vessel can be sailed with about 15 men whereas clipper-rigged ships needed a crew of 25 or so.  Shortly after, she was sold to the Maguire brothers of Quebec and placed in service for trade between Canada and Argentina.  The ship was renamed the Annie C. Maguire.

Portland Harbor was one of the ports frequented along her route and it was Christmas Eve while in route from Argentina that one account indicates the vessel was seeking shelter from the storm and while entering Casco Bay it is believed that a brief snow squall caused a misjudgment of land and location of lighthouse.  All hands made for the ledge upon which the ship had run aground either by jumping across or swinging from a boatswain’s chair and the lighthouse keeper extended a ladder across from the rock at the base of the tower upon which they scrambled to safety. 

In the book Golden State/Annie C. Maguire written by Kenneth Moody, the son of the light keeper, Captain Joseph Strout, he recalled the events following the wreck.  He reports that crew had been getting by on their remaining supply of salt beef and macaroni with lime juice.  The light keeper’s family had killed eight chickens which his mother used to make chicken pie for a great feed on Christmas.  “I only got one plate full. But we should worry.  A feller doesn’t get wrecked often and when it happens where he can eat after starving for weeks, you can’t blame him for passing his plate until it is all gone.”  During the three days the crew stayed at the lighthouse, Strout also reported that the crew salvaged two cases of Scotch whiskey from the wreck and after getting drunk, beat up their cook because he didn’t feed them as well as they had eaten since being wrecked.

In our own port of Portland an organization called Seafarer’s Friend tries to carry on in the traditions of helping, much like the Strout family did for the shipwrecked crew of the Annie C. Maguire.  The organization is always looking for help with filling bags with items like knitted hats, mittens, mending kits and toiletries and other small articles that are handed out during the winter season to sailors on board ships docked in the harbor.  Many of the sailors are a long way from home and have come from warmer climates and are not prepared to deal with the harsh New England winter weather.  If you are interested in helping out, please contact Port Chaplain, Timothy Owen at 207-210-1820. 


January 16, 2015

Knightville Hose Company No. 4

By Craig Skelton, member

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[Photo, caption: The old Knightville fire station on Thomas Street.]

 We look this week at another of our South Portland fire companies.  Establishment of the company in Knightville turns out to have been a bit more unusual than other companies throughout the city.  Let’s follow the account as told in “A History of Cape Elizabeth, Maine” by William B. Jordan, Jr. 

 “This company, while in no way a political organization, owed its inception to politics. In the spring election of 1894 the Republicans upset the usual Democratic majority and carried the town of Cape Elizabeth. They expressed their jubilation by kindling several immense bonfires which in the course of the celebration, got beyond control. As a consequence, Matthew’s Grain Store went up in flames incurring a loss of several thousand dollars. All attempts to extinguish the blaze were futile and the building burned to its foundation.

 This disaster demonstrated to the citizens of Knightville the need of establishing a volunteer company. The matter was informally discussed and late in the spring of 1894 the Knightville Hose Company was organized. Subscription papers were circulated and enough funds were secured to cover the purchase of a hose reel and a few hundred feet of hose.  By fairs and entertainments, the total amount for the purchasing of apparatus, was increased to $600.  In June of 1894, the company decided that a hose-house was essential for storing the equipment. Within a short time the members erected an adequate building with the cost of materials the only expense incurred.  By way of conclusion, a reference should be made to the Knightville Hose Company’s original officers, they were: James L. Turner, Captain; S. W. Place: First assistant; W. P. Brown, Second Assistant; John E. Moulton, Treasurer; and E. J. Farrell, Clerk.”

 This new call company sprang from the ashes of a building burned to the ground, so to speak.  The 1995 Firefighters Year Book indicates that the new call company was located on Thomas Street which runs beside the current City Hall.  A building that previously had served as a police station was moved from the intended location and a call company building was built in its place. 

 The ensuing decades brought about many changes, including the introduction of the automobile and motor driven carts.  The 1995 Firefighters Year Book reports that, in 1915, Hose No. 4 converted a Peerless sedan into the first motor driven cart.  The sedan was purchased from D.W. True Co. of Portland.  The new technology of the day turned out to be difficult to keep running and “Old Bess” the company horse was from time to time needed to haul it back to quarters.

 The story of Hose Company 4 takes a fork in the road soon after as the city purchased the station in 1924 and remodeled it into the first Central Fire Station.  A 1924 Ahrens Fox 1000 gallon per minute pumper was purchased and stationed there.  The city hired five full time fire fighters to man the station and they were said to respond to all alarms throughout the city.  Involvement within call companies was dropping as a result, especially by older members who were accustomed to responding to all alarms in their own districts.  The use of full time fire fighters lessened the reliance on call companies and, in 1927, Knightville Hose Company No. 4 was disbanded.  The company reemerged during World War II and Engine 4 was used as a second piece of equipment because a new pumper was added at the so-named Central Fire Station and was given the designation Engine 8.

 The Fire Fighter Year Book walks you through some changes to the call company name and designation that indicates the call company crew who served as back-up to Engine 8’s permanent crew decided to change the name to Call Company 8.  The company raised some funds and was able to secure meeting hall space in the second floor of the old primary school building at 18 E Street.

 Fast forward to near present day and I had, by chance, the opportunity to visit the old E Street building in 1997.  A number of city departments were storing records there and we were advised due to the extremely poor condition, the building was going to be torn down.  A demolition permit had been issued, however the building got a stay of execution when a local developer expressed interest in buying the building for redevelopment.  The council voted down the proposal and, shortly after the demolition of the building, the lot was split between the two abutting neighbors.

 Although the old meeting place is now gone, the city still depends upon call company volunteers.  I spoke with Ron Doucette who started his firefighting career as a member of Call Company 8, the descendant of Company No. 4.  He told me of the Ahrens Fox shown in the picture telling me that the last time it saw active duty was during the shipyard building 25 fire in 1966 or 1967.  He recalled they used the old engine to lay hose.  The truck served as a back-up for many years and can still be seen in local parades.  He reflected that many of the firefighters belly-ached about driving the old piece as it was slow to get going, slow to stop and hard to steer.  I’ll bet many of them wouldn’t trade those memories for anything.


January 30, 2015

Call Company No. 5 – Cash Corner

By Craig H. Skelton, member

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[Photo: “1949 Ahrens Fox Pumper” 1,000 GPM with 150 gallon booster tank which served as Engine 5 from 1949 until 5/25/1966 (photo courtesy of Joe Nalbach)]

I recently stopped by Willows to enjoy some of what I consider to be the best pizza in town.  Pulling into the parking lot, I usually don’t miss an opportunity to look at the building just to the left.  Did you know that building is the former meeting hall for Hose Company No. 5?  You will know you have the right building when you see the number 1396 over the mailbox.

Imagine if you can, that the blank wall to the left of the current front door once held a large garage door.  The building overall, isn’t that big and it could not have had a very big opening for the fire truck.  If you stop to look over the building, you will probably wonder as I do how they shoe horned a fire truck inside there.  Mind you, they did yet I still can’t see it.  Joe Nalbach a member of nearby Company No. 6 and a wonderful source of fire department history informed me, “The truck just fit inside!”

Perched atop a tall tree in Cash Corner watching several decades pass before your eyes, the location of Engine 5 would have hopscotched back and forth across the intersection.  Cash Corner has such an interesting past and some folks may remember Ability Radiator located where Rite Aid now sits.  Dating back to my father’s day was the Woodward and Austin car dealership at that location.  Long before that a barber shop sat there and the 1995 Firefighter’s Year Book states that the company bought the barber shop in the early 1900s for $30.00.  Now a whole century later, I’m guessing Rite Aid paid a darn site more than that! 

Perhaps the barber shop was a bit small for the hose cart, so the year book reports it wasn’t all that long before the company purchased land.  On January 6, 1913 they bought property on Broadway (then called Brown Street) from a man named Whitney and built a new structure.  That building next to Willows served as a station for several decades and continued to be used as a meeting place thereafter.  Sometime in 2005 it was sold and has since served as a home and an office. 

In 1943 the city acquired a building in the heart of Cash Corner that was an auto garage and prior to that served as a school.  The building was converted into the first permanent station on the west side and opened on May 1, 1944.  A new Ahrens Fox pumper was purchased for the station and designated as Engine 5.  The old Engine 5 was renamed Engine 7 and the volunteer call adopted that designation as well.  Call company members continued to hold meetings in the old building and served to back up the permanent fire fighters stationed in the new building.

Joe Nalbach, a decorated veteran of the fire department, tells me a story that illustrates the great lengths firefighters will go to serve the public.  Across the street from that location sat a home at 1435 Broadway which is currently occupied by Young’s Auto Sales.  A little old lady that lived there would call over to the station and say, “I’m going over to the store.”  Some of you may remember the variety store where Willow’s Pizza is now.  Firefighters on duty would go downstairs in the station and push a button that would turn all the traffic lights red and then they would escort her across the street holding her arm and sometimes two firefighters with one on either side.  When she was done shopping, they would escort her back across the street.

The growing needs of the department led to construction of a new Cash Corner Fire Station in 1970 at 360 Main Street.  The former building was demolished soon after the present station was completed and Fire Fighter Park now occupies that location.