April 3, 2015

Cape Elizabeth Origins, Part 2

By Craig H. Skelton, member


The Cornelia H was a double-ended ferry that ran between Ferry Village (South Portland) and Portland. The ship was built in Bath, ME, and put in service in 1885. On its first day of operation, it ferried 268 passengers across the Fore River. The Cornelia H was only in service until 1892 when it burned to the waterline. Photo from the Etta Gregory Watts collection, South Portland Historical Society.

The early settlers occupied this land where many of us now call home.  Just as we are often on the move, so were those who occupied this community over the past 250 years.  One of the greatest obstacles for citizens of then Cape Elizabeth to conduct business, go to work or visit family was crossing the Fore River to Portland.  A traveler was faced with a couple of options.  Traveling by land required you to take a lengthy route out and around the river and traveling by water required you to have your own boat or rely upon someone else to ferry you across.

Citizens who relied on ferry service rarely found a reason not to complain. In “A History of Cape Elizabeth, Maine” (available from the South Portland Historical Society at 767-7299), author and historian William Jordan, Jr. states that ferry service existed as early as 1678. He describes a ferry in the early-1700s as an open boat propelled by sail or oar.  You probably couldn’t plan a tight schedule around that mode of transportation and you wouldn’t buzz over to Portland for an ale or dinner at the local brew pub!  In the early-1800s, it was common practice for the town to auction ferry service rights to the highest bidder.  The town for its part tried to keep the landing in usable condition, however did not pay much attention to the service itself.  Riders in turn were critical of an irregular schedule, exorbitant rates and little comfort provided by the ferry operator.

Growth in ridership and cargo dictated the need for boats in ever increasing sizes and, by the mid-1800s, a combination of local and state regulation had in effect brought about more faithful and dependable service.  In spite of the opening of the Portland Bridge in 1823, ferry service continued between Cape Elizabeth (South Portland) and Portland for another century.

If the number of post offices in the villages south of Portland were any indication of community growth, then that would surely describe the activity along the south side of the river.  Citizens of Cape Elizabeth often gave their sending address as “Pooduc” a shortened version of Purpoodock for which the northern portion of town was known, or Spurwink describing the southern portion nearer Scarborough.  In spite of those area distinctions, general delivery went to one of two post offices known as Ferry Village and Cape Elizabeth Ferry.  Confusion only worsened when the Bowery Beach office was established in 1876, Point Village (later known as Willard) was opened in 1884 and the Town House Corner post office was opened in 1889.  The Town House Corner office opened bearing the general name “Cape Elizabeth.” 

It is important to note that in 1887 the Ferry Village and Cape Elizabeth Ferry offices were merged into one office and given the name “South Portland.”  Who would have thought that a simple and succinct name given to a post office for mail delivery would soon become the formal name of our community?

Through all this, the villages along the waterfront with houses and businesses built closely together saw a need for better road construction, street lights and installation of sewer lines.  The public expenditure for these improvements did not go unnoticed by property owners who lived in rural parts of the town who also paid taxes for improvements they did not necessarily benefit from.

There was a growing vocal faction in the community that believed they had outgrown the system of town administration and that civil affairs would run more smoothly if a mayor/aldermen form of government were established in place of the annual town meeting government.  The name Elizabeth City was bandied about and the Cape Elizabeth Sentinel, a local newspaper, devoted considerable column space to encourage the idea.

Citizens were taking sides on the issue and it isn’t hard to imagine that differences between the urban folk and rural farmers were easy to distinguish.  A citizen of what was referred to as “Outer Cape”, more articulate than other fellow townsmen, wrote of his opinion: “Oh fractious village on the flats, forever wanting something new, we are tired of your endless spats, and wish to be well rid of you!”

April 10, 2015 

Cape Elizabeth Origins, Part 3: Portland Water Company

By Craig H. Skelton, member


In 1922, the public water supply in South Portland was improved further by Portland Water District with the installation of a 16” submarine pipe under the Fore River, connecting South Portland’s water supply to Portland. PWD hired Bennett Contracting Corp. to do the work. Pictured here is a dredging machine used by Bennett in 1922 to dig a trench and lay the pipe just east of the Million Dollar Bridge. Bennett Contracting had an office in Portland and a construction yard in Ferry Village. Photo courtesy of Portland Water District

Many readers will recall memorizing in grade school, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned: “Listen my children and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere, On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five; …Hardly a man is now alive, who remembers that famous day and year.” It was about a hundred years after the event that inspired the poem when Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned it and I think it fitting that his words “…Hardly a man is now alive…” best characterizes what I am about to tell you.

It was a hot and dry summer day and some kids were playing with fireworks on the 4th of July that sparked a fire in a boat house on Commercial Street. The fire spread to a nearby lumber yard and from there, with strong onshore winds, moved across the entire peninsula of Portland.  The fire of 1866 left 10,000 people homeless and consumed 1,800 buildings.  Given the enormity of the fire, it is miraculous that only two people lost their lives that day.  Longfellow likened his old home town to the city of Pompeii which, as you may remember, was devastated when a nearby volcano erupted.

In the mid-1800s, Portland and its surrounds got their water from wells that, due to growth, were barely adequate for the domestic supply and not at all adequate for fire protection.  You would think however that on the Portland peninsula, being surrounded by water, short work could be made of a fire; however when an attempt was made to draw water from the harbor, the low tide at the time complicated efforts to run pipes across the mud flats.

A group of citizens in 1862 had started efforts to improve the water supply in Portland and the great fire of 1866 put an end to all debate on the subject.  While the ashes cooled, the newly formed Portland Water Company laid pipe all the way from Sebago Lake and, on Thanksgiving Day in 1869, the first water service was turned on.

Smoldering on the other side of the Fore Rive was a growing desire by some citizens to improve the domestic water supply and fire protection of their neighborhoods.  Keep in mind that we were Cape Elizabeth at that time and our town consisted of neighborhood clusters along the shore such as Ferry Village, Knightville, Pleasantdale and Ligonia, and beyond that lay farms and forest.

It was the owners of farmland that knew efforts to extend water to the Cape Elizabeth side of the river would cost them money and benefit them not. Extension of water pipes beyond the harbor side neighborhoods would not be economically feasible because of the cost to run pipes to one or two farm houses spaced a mile or more apart. 

There had already been a growing movement of citizens on both sides of the issue of dividing the community based on the differing needs of urban and rural areas of the town.  As old grievances reemerged, a group that became known as the anti-watermen vocalized their discontent about a planned agreement with the Portland Water Company for extension of service to the Cape Elizabeth villages.

The book, “A History of Cape Elizabeth, Maine” (available from South Portland Historical Society, 767-7299), by William Jordan, Jr., gives a detailed account of the ongoing debate between residents of the inner and outer Cape Elizabeth.  The primary arguments put forth by those living in the villages was the close proximity of houses and the advantage to be gained from the introduction of hydrants not only for fire protection, but a corresponding reduction of insurance rates.  The villagers were quick to point out that farmers in the rural areas had the advantage of being able to relieve some of their tax burden by working on the roads, a benefit not shared with urban dwellers.

On Friday the 15th of April, 1892 it was put to vote the question of entering into a contract with the Portland Water Company.  According to Jordan: “Pursuant to the contract, the Standish Water and Construction Company proceeded to construct a system of water mains to supply South Portland [Ferry Village], Willard, Town House Corner, Turner’s Island, Pleasantdale, Ligonia, and Cash’s Corner, with Sebago Lake water for domestic purposes, the extinguishment of fires, and the supply of shipping. The company also installed fifty 3-nozzle hydrants, four public drinking fountains for either man or beast, and three public fountains for the exclusive use of humans. A stand pipe with a capacity of 600,000 gallons was erected on Meeting House Hill.”

The contract, it is said, also stipulated that only laborers from Cape Elizabeth were to be employed in the construction.  Water service was turned on on August 27, 1892 and a family home having one faucet would pay the princely sum of 8 dollars per year for the privilege.

April 17, 2015

Rare Photographs Donated to Historical Society

By Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo



This rare photo of the 1914 launch of the “America” at the P.H. Doyen shipyard in Knightville was recently donated to the South Portland Historical Society by Jeff Hobbs.

 The South Portland Historical Society would like to thank Jeff Hobbs of Hobbs Funeral Home for his recent donation of a collection of historic photograph images of South Portland. Most of the collection centers around the Soule family. Generations of this family lived in a home on the corner of Broadway and Cottage Road, roughly in the area where the six-story Mill Cove Apartments and its parking lot now exist. The apartment complex address is actually 10 Soule Street; Soule Street runs off of Cottage Road, parallel to the Greenbelt, and is essentially used as the driveway into the complex.

 Those of us who use that section of Greenbelt know that it is a particularly beautiful spot. Mill Creek comes through a culvert under Cottage Road and empties into Mill Cove and Casco Bay in that area. Ducks and even the occasional egret can be seen in the waters there. If you look closely, you can still clearly see the rocks going across that used to be part of the dam on which a tidal mill once sat.

 Among the wonderful photos of the Soules, their beautiful home, and back yard was a rare find indeed: an unmarked photo of a ship being launched from an unnamed location. Having researched World War I shipbuilding in South Portland, I’ve seen a few other photos of a similar nature, so there was no doubt in my mind that we were looking at the P.H. Doyen Shipyard. Philip H. Doyen established his shipyard in 1914 and was actively building ships during World War I, just opposite the Soule home on the other side of the creek (Hannaford Supermarket and its parking lot now cover the former shipyard site). The ship being launched was clearly marked with the name “America” so after a little research, I found reference to a P.H. Doyen ship called the “America” operating in Portland Harbor in 1915; the ship was listed as a barge which had been built in 1914.

 Looking at the accompanying photograph of the launch of the “America”, your eye is drawn to the ship itself and to all of the people gathered around admiring the launch. Looking more closely, you can pick out the surrounds of Mill Cove and, just to the right of the ship, you can even see the rocks that are still there today that make up the dam at the mouth of the creek.

 Again, we give our thanks to Jeff Hobbs for his role in preserving these photographs of the Soule family over the years and for allowing us to preserve them for future generations at the South Portland Historical Society. We would also like to thank Hobbs Funeral Home for its Gold-level business membership in the Society. Hobbs has been a partner with us in historic preservation for many years. Our many business and individual members help to support our mission to collect and preserve local history and, especially, to make it possible for our organization to open its museum doors with free admission to the public. The museum will open for the 2015 season on May 1st and will be open daily, 10am to 4pm, through October 30.

 If you would like to become a member and support the preservation of South Portland history, please check out our website at www.sphistory.org. Memberships start at just $10 for seniors, $15 for individuals and $25 for families. You can even give us a call and become a member by phone with a credit card. For more information, call the Society at 767-7299.

April 24, 2015

Engraved Bricks Leave Lasting Memories

By Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo


Historical Society offers engraved bricks in museum walkway and patio for fundraiser.

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 11 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. 


Museum Opens for 2015 Season

The historical society’s Cushing’s Point Museum will open for the season on Friday, May 1st.  This year’s neighborhood exhibit will cover the Meeting House Hill area and is being sponsored by Drillen Hardware, Noyes Hall & Allen Insurance, O’Hare Associates CTRS and Town & Country Federal Credit Union. 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.


Bug Light Kite Festival

The annual Bug Light Kite Festival will be held on Saturday, May 16th, 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. FMI, visit the South Portland Historical Society page on Facebook or call 767-7299.