April 4, 2014
Church of the Nazarene
By: Craig Skelton, Member

I am fascinated by construction.  Either it was already in my blood or as a small boy I was bit by a wood splinter. I’ve told readers in the past that they need to look up.  Nowhere is that more important than when you visit a place like the Nazarene Church at 525 Highland Avenue. Once inside, I have no doubt your eyes will be drawn up to the ceiling because the massive wood beams start at the floor and expand in size as they tower above you and then gently narrow as they sweep toward the ceiling. 

The church is open on weekdays because the Lighthouse School operates within, so stop in the office and ask to visit the sanctuary to see firsthand what I’m talking about.  As I looked up, I let my imagination drift back in time to 1979 when shortly after the foundation was laid, the giant wood beams that surround were lifted by crane and set in place.  The use of the crane and tractor trailer that delivered the beams and other construction materials was a donated by Paul Merrill trucking. 

The huge beams were transported by rail from South Carolina, to Megquier and Jones on Broadway, and were then loaded by crane onto a truck driven by Herman LaBelle. Herman, then working for Paul Merrill Trucking, provided pictures of the big move.  My favorite one shows his truck blocking Highland Avenue while negotiating the turn into the church parking lot.  I might have been driving by that day, yet luckily missed the traffic jam!

The Church of the Nazarene, established in 1900, celebrated its 100th anniversary just over a decade ago.  The amazing thing about the church history is that after 70 years at their Sawyer Street location, the church members decided to leave their beautiful and historic building in order to expand their works in the community in a location that allowed them to also open a school.  Church services were held in the gym that also served the Lighthouse School.

In 1979, less than 10 short years later, the church started construction of the sanctuary. Traffic was interrupted on Broadway, Evans Street and Highland Avenue while Herman LaBelle, then a church member since 1961, drove the 100 foot long beams to their destination. George Lane, the husband of the church pianist, did a lot of the excavation and site work with his tractor and backhoe.  Another church member of some local notoriety who donated construction equipment was Frank Chase who owned the Winnebago dealership on Main Street near the connector to the Veterans Bridge.      

As the beams were being set in place, a few church members were given the honor of climbing the 50 foot tall scaffolding, each taking a turn at connecting large bolts through the flange that holds the 6 massive beams together at the peak.  When speaking with Bob Porter, he pointed upward and said in a very personal manner, “That’s my beam!”

Ernie LaBelle, the Chairman of the Building Committee, tells me that one day the electrician was working on the ceiling lighting some 50 – 60 feet above the floor when the scaffolding collapsed.  It was the most amazing thing he had ever seen because the electrician stood up, dusted himself off and started to reassemble the scaffolding.  Must have been some divine intervention, he says. 

If you’ve driven by the church you well know that the roof on the sanctuary is absolutely huge.  The church had budgeted for two carpenters to construct the roof and shingle it.  A local contractor, Donny Peters stopped by one morning and saw how slow the progress with the two men was proceeding and went back to his shop and sent over 4 to 5 workers each day and the roof was completed in short order.

The stories of generosity are endless.  Ernie told me that many a day a truck would drop off materials and when he was handed the invoice it had already been marked “paid.”  The president of Megquier & Jones, Bud Jones and his wife Marion, were also very generous during the construction. I was told that Reverend Bob Gray drove all the way to Ohio and returned with the stained glass windows in a U-Haul truck; the windows were made by a gentleman in his garage.

The old church now serves as the Lyric Theater and on March 30, 1980, the day the first service was held at the new church, members walked in parade fashion from the old Sawyer Street location all the way to Highland Avenue.

It should be mentioned here that there were so many people involved with this project that it would be difficult to name them all.  The contribution of those not mentioned in no way should be overlooked because many folks assisted in the church construction by donating money, time or labor. Ernie recalls that the final numbers were less than $400,000 which was well below the $750,000 they expected the church would cost.

Photo Credits: Courtesy of Herman LaBelle

April 11, 2014
By: Craig Skelton

By all appearances, progress washed away all traces of Ligonia long ago.  Except, I did find one small remnant tucked away in a distant corner of Calvary Cemetery.  Difficult to make out in the accompanying photograph, the marquee is now hanging upside down, yet I’m sure I once saw a picture of this gate with the village name clearly displayed.

In the mid-1800s, the entire area from today’s Cash Corner to the waterfront was referred to as Ligonia. The area along the waterfront was the site of a Civil War training camp under the name Camp Abraham Lincoln and later was renamed Camp Berry.  Following the Civil War, a company called Portland Rolling Mills built a facility along the waterfront and worker housing, a school and a church soon sprung up.  Since roughly the 1880s, the intersection of Main Street and Broadway took on the name Cash Corner and the Ligonia village name became affiliated just with the area closer to the waterfront.

A historical researcher named Hazel Spencer Mack shared some of her fond memories of Ligonia which were published in the History of South Portland printed in 1992.  She recalled there was only one grocery store called Fuller’s which was well-kept and clean.  Customers did not frequent the store however because a driver would stop by in the morning for their grocery order and return to deliver the order in the afternoon.  The children of Ligonia did frequent the store for its penny candy. 

One item you would find very little of on the shelves was bread as Hazel recalled that it was a disgrace for a housewife of that time to not bake her own for the family.  In the early part of the 20th century when automobiles became more common, Fuller’s Grocery Store closed when people became more mobile and were attracted to bright new grocery stores in Portland. 

There were few conveniences before indoor plumbing and area residents would walk to a water spigot with their buckets each day to fill them.  In the winter time, the spigot frequently froze and residents would have to wait for hours while the water company tried to get the flow going again.  

Trenches left behind by the men in training when the area was occupied by Camp Berry served as an area for the kids to play “soldier” and it is also said those trenches were used by a manufacturer of sugar in the processing of beet sugar.

Many changes have occurred in this area and the proximity to the harbor fueled a transition from neighborhood homes to commercial and industrial uses.  If you drive today on the spur from Main Street to Route 295 or the Veteran’s Bridge, large brightly painted oil tanks and cemetery expansion occupy most of what was once Ligonia. 

Although there may be fewer and fewer folks around that share memories of the village once located there, I find it interesting when listening to scanner frequencies that the police dispatchers still refer to this area around Main and Lincoln Street as Ligonia. 

Note to readers: we are searching for a photograph of Bix Furniture Stripping, formerly located at 158 Pickett Street. If you have a photo to share, please contact the Society at 767-7299.


April 18, 2014
Ambassador of Willard Beach: Chick Wilder
By: Craig Skelton

That man never slept, so says Russ Lunt.  He worked at the railroad at night and spent all day at Willard Beach. It was at an “Evening Chat” sponsored by the South Portland Historical Society that longtime residents of the Willard neighborhood were sharing tidbits of information about their experiences growing up there.  There were about 50 folks in attendance, many of whom, like me, never knew that about Chickie, as he was known.

As I run the next sentence through my head it sounds cliché, like out of a Bond movie.  I lived up on the hill, Meeting House Hill.  I didn’t know Chick like any number of folks in the Willard neighborhood would.  I can say that as a kid we visited Willard Beach occasionally and I remember him wearing one of those trademark lifeguard hats that remind me of the hats seen in old British movies.  I always wanted one of those! 

The few images I have of Chick that are burned into my memory involve his interaction with kids during swim lessons or telling them to get off the rocks surrounding the sewer pipe.  I never learned how to swim at Willard Beach, yet remember a picnic there with my childhood friend Carol Gorman and her mother.  Mrs. Gorman brought cheese sandwiches and I can tell you cheese sandwiches never caught on with me and I’ve not seen them on menu boards at local eateries.  I guess I wasn’t expecting sand in my sandwich.  Go figure.

Chick passed away in 1994, marking an end to an era.  For 35 years he served as a Good Will Ambassador on the beach, you could say.  By all accounts, he was a good listener who, in addition to teaching generations of kids to be good swimmers, influenced them in other ways that helped to build their character.  He stood for respect and would not allow bullying, meanness or vandalism at the beach.

If you ever met Chick, I’m sure a visit to Willard Beach will brings back your fond memories of days filled with sun and warmth and, I’m sure, a bit of sand.  


April 25, 2014
Engraved bricks leave lasting memories
By: Kathryn DiPhilippo, Director

The Engraved Brick Program, at the South Portland Historical Society’s museum at Bug Light Park, helps raise important funding for preservation activities and museum operations. Brick orders can be made at any time of year, but you’ll need to order by May 12 if you would like to make sure to have your brick installed this summer.

An engraved brick would make a unique gift for any friend or loved one, or even yourself, but with Mother’s Day and Father’s Day just around the corner ~ a brick would be a memorable gift for Mom or Dad and would also help out a worthy cause! The engraved brick walkway and patio were initially installed in 2010 and they have been an attractive and meaningful addition to the museum grounds.  A walk along the path reveals many names of current generous families who have supported the museum effort, as well as the names of many wonderful people who have come before us and who have been honored with a memorial brick. There are also several local churches, businesses and groups, such as South Portland High School graduating classes, which have had bricks engraved and placed in the walkway and patio. It truly is a walk down memory lane.

A standard sized 4x8 brick is only $150 and includes three lines of engraving with 18 characters per line, including spaces.  A larger 8x8 paver is also available with six lines of engraving for $250.  To purchase a brick, you can mail or drop off a check to the South Portland Historical Society at 55 Bug Light Park, South Portland, ME 04106, or to use a credit card, either call us at 767-7299 or go online to www.sphistory.org and use the “donate now” button.  A brick engraving form is available at the museum or may be downloaded from the website. 

Note to readers:  The historical society’s Cushing’s Point Museum will open for the season on May 1st.  There is no charge for admission, thanks to our individual and business members and sponsors. The museum will be open every day, from 10am to 4pm, from May 1st through the end of October.

Upcoming event:  The annual Bug Light Kite Festival will be held on Saturday, May 17th, from 11am to 4pm at Bug Light Park. To reach the park, take Broadway east to the ocean, turn left onto Breakwater Drive, then turn right onto Madison Street that leads into the park.