A Window on the Past - July 3, 2015

Fourth of July Picnic and Summer in Maine Auction Closing

 By Kathryn DiPhilippo, director

South Portland Historical Society

 NE Shipbuilding Corp Parking Lot.jpg

[Photo: A full parking lot at New England Shipbuilding Corporation during World War II. While there won’t be a packed lot like this, the South Portland Historical Society invites residents with vintage cars to bring them down to the museum at Bug Light Park on the 4th of July, from 11am to 2pm.]

We hope that residents will come and enjoy the festivities at Bug Light Park on Saturday. The South Portland Historical Society will be hosting its 8th annual 4th of July celebration with South Portland’s own “Benjamin Franklin” reading the Declaration of Independence at noon at the museum. The day starts at 10am when the museum opens; a fundraiser barbecue will open at 11am with hamburgers, veggie burgers, hotdogs, sausage sandwiches and more, all to benefit the museum.

Do you have an old car? The historical society is inviting anyone with an old, vintage car to bring it on down to the museum on the 4th of July where we will have classic cars lined up for everyone to enjoy. If you have a vintage car (1960s and ‘70s models are encouraged), please arrive by 11am and we’ll have a spot for you. The cars will be on display from 11am to 2pm.

After the reading of the Declaration of Independence, we’ll have final bids accepted in the Summer in Maine Auction. Bidding is expected to end by 1pm. Old-fashioned games for kids will take place in the field around 1pm, as well.

Throughout the day, we will be joined by members of the NorEasters Kite Club who will be flying their patriotic and other fanciful kites. A large variety of kites is available for sale in the museum gift shop.

We’d like to thank historical society member, John Kierstead for lending his talents as Benjamin Franklin again this year. His fiery reading of the Declaration of Independence is a great way to get in the spirit of the day. Hope to see you there! For more information, call the museum at 767-7299.

A Window on the Past - July 10, 2015

 Mill Creek in the 1950s

By Kathryn DiPhilippo, director

South Portland Historical Society

 Millcreek aerial.jpg

This week’s Window on the Past is an aerial view of the Mill Creek area, circa 1955. At the top left and center is the large field where a circus was occasionally set up. One of the first buildings to go up in that area was the Bowl-a-Rama, around 1960. The Shaw’s Plaza that is there today wasn’t built until the early 1970s.

The large building at center-left is the Mill Creek Shopping Center, which helps us date the photo. This shopping center, which was the first strip mall to appear in Maine, was built and opened in 1955. Some of the first businesses to open in those storefronts were Shoppers Hardware, Slade’s Shoe Center, Watkins Cleaners, and Maine Savings Bank.

Just to the right of the Mill Creek Shopping Center is Shaw’s Supermarket, which opened there in 1951. The opening of Shaw’s and the Mill Creek Shopping Center were significant events in South Portland history. Up to that point, every neighborhood in the city had its own small grocer who provided residents with most of the food and supplies they needed; they could either walk to the store or the shopkeeper would deliver the products right to the home. It was a marketing feat to get residents to change their shopping habits and get into their cars to go to Mill Creek. But the “one-stop shopping” convenience and various fun promotions did get people to head down to the shopping center with their cars and over the next 20 years, virtually all of the small neighborhood grocers in the city closed.

Just above Shaw’s in the photo are two buildings. The small building housed the Do-Nut Hole. Mike Eastman once told me about the sign that used to hang in that shop, “Wherever you may wander, whatever be your goal, keep your eye upon the doughnut, and be sure it’s Do-Nut Hole.” The larger building was built in 1953 and was first home to Henry Boland’s auto dealership, and later Hodges Furniture; the building is now home to Back in Motion Physical Therapy.

 A Window on the Past - July 17, 2015 

 Fort Preble

By Kathryn DiPhilippo, director

South Portland Historical Society

 Barracks at Fort Preble.jpg

[Photo, caption: Army barracks at Fort Preble.]

Originally built in 1808, Fort Preble was one of several military installations guarding the approach to Portland Harbor. The fort was named for Commodore Edward Preble. Preble was born and raised in Portland (then known as Falmouth) and served with the Massachusetts State Navy as a young man during the Revolutionary War. After that war he spent many years in the merchant marine; his rise to fame, though, came as an officer in the United States Navy – he served with great distinction during the first Barbary War. Commodore Preble died in 1807 at the age of 46 and was buried in Eastern Cemetery in Portland.

Fort Preble was built on the site of Fort Hancock, a wooden fort that was constructed and garrisoned during the Revolutionary War. Both Fort Preble and Fort Scammell (on House Island) were first constructed in 1808 as small stone, brick and earth forts. After the War of 1812, these forts were determined to be most inadequate for harbor defense and several plans emerged in subsequent years to enlarge these forts and expand the defense system around Portland Harbor. The construction of Fort Gorges didn’t start until 1858, however, and work proceeded slowly until the Civil War broke out in 1861. Only then did fort construction around Portland Harbor really show some progress, with Fort Gorges in 1861, Fort Scammell improvements and enlargements in 1862 and finally Fort Preble in 1863.  

During the Civil War, Fort Preble was home to the 17th U.S. Infantry Regiment. This was the Regular Army, not to be confused with the 17th Maine Volunteer Infantry that was stationed over at Camp Berry. The 17th U.S. Infantry would enlist and train men at Fort Preble; when enough new recruits were trained, they would be sent to join the regiment in the field in Virginia.

The fort underwent many physical changes and reconstructions over the years. It was last in use during World War II and deactivated in 1950.  The State of Maine acquired the fort in 1952 and it became home to the Maine Vocational Technical Institute (moved there from Augusta) which had formed to help WWII veterans learn new career skills. MVTI was renamed in the 1960s to Southern Maine Vocational Technical Institute (SMVTI). The name would change again in the late 1980s to Southern Maine Technical College as the evolution of the college continued and, in 2003, the school name and function changed again, to its current Southern Maine Community College.

Although the military papers of Fort Preble are held by the United States National Archives, the South Portland Historical Society is also a noted repository of Fort Preble photographs and documents. From the site’s first use as a garrison during the Revolutionary War, the history of activities at Spring Point and Fort Preble is significant to our city, the state and the country. The society continues to seek out additional materials that are in the hands of private collectors, adding them to the historical society’s collection so that they may be made available to the public.

 A Window on the Past - July 24. 2015

Trolley Tracks on Preble Street

By Kathryn DiPhilippo, director

South Portland Historical Society

 Preble and Day St with trolley.jpg

[Old photo, caption: A coastal defense gun being transported to Fort Williams.]

In this week’s Window on the Past, we see a very interesting sight – a large cannon being transported via trolley tracks on Preble Street, headed to Fort Williams. In this undated photo, the cannon is moving down Preble Street at the intersection of Day Street. The accompanying photo of 393 Preble Street, from a similar angle, was taken this past December as part of our architectural survey of the Willard neighborhood.

Preble St 393 S-E KD (1280x960).jpg [New photo, caption: This house at 393 Preble Street, on the corner of Day Street near Willard Square, has undergone quite a change compared to the older image; a full dormer was added along the front which gives the house a very different appearance.]

 The trolley tracks in South Portland were sometimes used to haul items other than people on trolleys. During a research project with Brown School students this past year, we discovered that the trolley tracks were put into use during World War I to haul material to the shipyards in Ferry Village (this would have been to the Cumberland Shipyard at the end of Broadway and possibly to the Portland Shipbuilding location on Front Street, as well). The freight switching service began in 1917, providing for the movement of freight on the trolley tracks. The trolley tracks were used for freight from 1917 up to World War II, when a rail line was extended all the way to the Liberty shipyards at Cushing’s Point. The eastern section of the Greenbelt Walkway now covers the site of the rail line that went in during WWII.

 A Window on the Past - July 31, 2015

 New Garden Improves Museum and Park

By Kathryn DiPhilippo, director

South Portland Historical Society

 Garden, before.JPGGarden, after2.JPGGarden, after1.JPG

[Photos, captions:  Before and after photos of the new garden area.  The crew from Gnome Landscaping installing the new garden at the historical society’s museum.]

It has been a few years since the South Portland Historical Society had its sign constructed and installed on the museum grounds. The whole process of opening the museum at Bug Light Park has been one of slow and steady improvement. Upgrades to the interior of the museum have continued each year, but sometimes exterior improvements have been a little more challenging when it comes to funding.

This month marks another step forward for South Portland’s local history museum. The plans for the garden started last year and became a reality this spring when Gnome Landscape & Design in Falmouth agreed to donate their services to make it happen. The first step was for a garden design to be made that would include low-growing plants that would not hide the museum sign. We also had a desire for flowers throughout the season and for the garden to be as low maintenance as possible, as weeding would require additional volunteer hours in future. Margot Levy, a landscape designer with Gnome, came up with a great design that would include all of our goals for the garden and would incorporate an anchor which was already on the lawn near the museum sign.

With this design now in hand, we thought we had a donor for the plants and other materials, but, as sometimes happens, the pledge fell through and we were left with no plants and no money to purchase them, although Gnome was willing to install them if we could find a way to make it work. Due to the size of the garden and the number of plants, the amount of money needed was not insignificant. Step in the incredibly generous members of the historical society, many of whom made additional donations to purchase the plants for the garden.

Last week, Gnome Landscaping arrived with a crew to prepare the site with loam and compost. They sent another crew to the museum this past Monday and completed the installation of the first round of plants. Another round of spring-blooming plants will be added to the garden later in September.

Our thanks to everyone involved in making this garden come to life. Next year, we should see bluebells emerging in the spring with a great flower display that will then die back and the summer garden will emerge. This will be a long-lasting improvement to the museum and park that will be enjoyed by residents and visitors for years to come! To reach the museum, take Broadway east to the ocean, turn left onto Breakwater Drive, then turn right onto Madison Street that leads into the park. FMI, call the Society at 767-7299 or stop by for a visit. The museum is open daily from 10am to 4pm with free admission.