A Window on the Past - August 7, 2015

 The Naval Reserves and USS Tills in South Portland

By Kathryn DiPhilippo, director

South Portland Historical Society

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[Photos, captions: The USS Tills docked in South Portland in 1966; the Tills was a Naval Reserve Training Vessel. Tom Curtis below deck on the USS Tills in South Portland.]

We see a fair number of visitors at the museum each year who used to be members of the Naval Reserve and are interested to see photographs and information related to the Reserves that used to be stationed at what is now Bug Light Park. Our thanks go out to Thomas Curtis for his recent visit and donation of photographs and information related to the USS Tills and the Naval Reserves.

The USS Tills was a Cannon-class destroyer, built in California in 1943 and used to escort Navy vessels and convoys during the war. The ship was 306’ overall, with a 10’-6” draft and could reach a speed of 21 knots. The ship was decommissioned after the war, then reactivated as a Naval Reserve Training Vessel.

From 1959 through 1968, the USS Tills was assigned to Portland several times. When she was assigned to Portland, the Tills was docked at a pier in South Portland, very near to Bug Light. There was a crew of regular Navy on board and they would keep the ship operational and assist the Naval Reservists when they came to train and take the ship out. Members of the Naval Reserve, like other military reservists, would come to the center for training for one weekend per month and then would serve for two weeks of active duty each summer. In addition to using the USS Tills that was docked at the pier, there were at least two other buildings at Cushing’s Point that were utilized by the Naval Reserve when the reservists came for training.

The USS Tills saw the last of her active duties in 1968 when she was withdrawn from service. The ship was used for target practice on April 3, 1969, and sunk off the coast of Virginia.

 A Window on the Past - August 14, 2015

Ice Cream Making Demonstration at Bug Light Park, August 15

By Kathryn DiPhilippo, director

South Portland Historical Society

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The South Portland Historical Society invites the public to attend an interesting program at the museum this weekend. On Saturday, August 15, Society member Susan McLellan Plaisted, Proprietress of Heart to Hearth Cookery, will present a special demonstration: "From Ice to Ice Cream: Making Ice Cream with a Sabotiere" from 12noon to 3pm.  This is the 4th year that Susan has come to South Portland to share her talents and interesting historic cooking demonstrations, in memory of her parents Guy and Ruth McLellan. 

This hands-on program on Saturday is for everyone from the young to young at heart.  Come participate in the preparation of the ice, the making of the ice cream and, of course, sampling. You will prepare ice cream as it was done for George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. The event will take place at the historical society’s museum at Bug Light Park.

This is an on-going program so feel free to come at any time between noon and 3pm, but if you want to participate in the preparation of the ice, an early arrival near noon is suggested.  The event is free, but donations are welcome and encouraged. To reach the museum, take Broadway east to the ocean, turn left onto Breakwater Drive, then turn right onto Madison Street that leads to the museum in the park. FMI, visit the Society’s Facebook page at South Portland Historical Society, or call the Society at 767-7299.

A Window on the Past - August 21, 2015

Grants help South Portland Historical Society

By Kathryn DiPhilippo, director

South Portland Historical Society

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[Photo, caption:  An interpretive history marker will be erected on the Greenbelt Walkway in the coming month, thanks to a 4th grade Brown School project this past year. The South Portland Historical Society and many others collaborated on the project. Some historic photographs from the Society archives, along with some written history of the area, will be available to those using the Greenbelt.]

South Portland Historical Society has received two grants to help fund its operations in 2015. Grant funding is a vital element of the overall funding for the organization. The Society is a membership-based non-profit so much of its funding comes directly from individuals who are current or former residents of South Portland. There are also many businesses who are members and sponsors who help to ensure the Society can offer events to the community and keep the museum open with no admission fees. There are times, however, when the Society has additional goals that it would like to attain and often grantors help to provide the funding for these additional activities.

One such grant has been provided by the Rines/Thompson Fund of the Maine Community Foundation. The Directors of the Maine Community Foundation approved the $2,500 grant that helps to fund the general operations of the Society this year. The funds are for general operating support and have been earmarked by the Society in part to help with its work with South Portland schools in 2015. A new walking history tour has been developed that covers the one-mile stretch of Greenbelt Walkway between Mill Creek Park and Bug Light Park. Walking history tours and museum tours were offered to all third graders in South Portland this year. The Society has also worked with the 4th grade students from Brown School to help create a historic marker/interpretive panel to be installed on the Greenbelt (the marker is completed and installation is expected in September).  Additional interpretive panels will be designed to be installed in Thomas Knight Park at a later date. These activities were made possible with the grant from the Rines/Thompson Fund.

 The Society has also received a grant for $3,500 from the Margaret E. Burnham Charitable Trust. This grant has been given to help fund the Society’s cataloging project. Cataloging is the process whereby historic photographs, paper and artifacts are taken out, one at a time, scanned (or photographed and uploaded) into museum software and then detailed coding and descriptive terms are entered to help end users find these items. The Society obtained its Past Perfect museum software several years ago with a grant through Maine State Archives. By cataloging, items which had previously been housed in acid-free boxes are now documented in the database, making them searchable and much easier to find. In the short term, this project has made it possible for the Society to search and locate items within its archives much faster. This has proven especially helpful with historic research. It also helps as, quite often, seeing the scan or photograph and information in the computer is sufficient, so handling the actual original item doesn’t need to occur (further helping to preserve the item in question). The ultimate goal would be to catalog all of the items in its archives and put the information online so that anyone could have easy access to it. The cataloging project has been ongoing for several years now and is limited mostly by the funding and volunteer time available. The grant funding from the Margaret E. Burnham Charitable Trust allows the pace of the cataloging to pick up dramatically in 2015 as we have been able to hire a cataloger who is devoted entirely to this project for many hours each week.

If you would like to help the Society with its work in the community ~ helping the Society to collect, preserve and exhibit South Portland’s history ~ please consider becoming a member today. Stop by the museum or mail your donation to the South Portland Historical Society at 55 Bug Light Park, South Portland, ME 04106. For more information, call the Society at 767-7299, visit us on Facebook, or go to www.sphistory.org

A Window on the Past - August 28, 2015

Fiery end for the steamship Manhattan

By Kathryn DiPhilippo, director

South Portland Historical Society

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In the early 1900s, before the automobile became affordable and used by the masses, the norm for travel from Portland to Boston, New York and beyond was by steamship. It was much faster and more comfortable than having to endure the trip by horseback or horse-drawn vehicle of some sort. Indeed, there were many steamship companies operating steamships along coastal routes, carrying both people and cargo.

One such steamship was the Manhattan, built in Bath, ME, in 1897 for the Maine Steamship Company. According to an early news article, “She was a wooden boat of 1892 tons gross and 2,500 horse power. Her length was 233.9 feet, beam 40.7, and depth 24.5.”  

It was not known how a fire started on the ship, but the Manhattan caught fire about an hour after tying up to a dock on the Portland waterfront on March 7, 1910. The ship had just arrived from New York with six passengers, 39 crewmen and a load of cargo. With concern over the fire spreading to the dock and buildings in Portland, the steamer was towed across the Fore River to South Portland and beached near the breakwater to Bug Light where they removed what they could of the shipping contents. Despite the efforts by a fireboat and five tugs to douse the flames, the fire could not be stopped and the ship was completely destroyed by the fire; the loss at the time was estimated as $250,000.