March 6, 2015

Follow Up: Early Ambulance Service

By Craig H. Skelton, member


Photo courtesy Jeff Hobbs, Hobbs Funeral Home. 1947 Chrysler used by Hobbs Funeral Home as both a hearse and ambulance.

 The phone rang in my home a couple days after the “Early Ambulance Service” article ran in the Sentry a few weeks ago.  It was a familiar voice as the person calling had been my doctor growing up.  Now retired, Dr. Harris Hinckley is pretty well known in South Portland.  

 We had a pleasant conversation in which he shared a few of his experiences with local ambulance service.  He started his career at Maine General in 1951 and remembered the old Packard ambulance mentioned in the story.  He told me it wasn’t uncommon for a doctor such as himself to be called out to someone’s home only to find that the medical attention needed was more serious than could be dealt with during a simple house call. 

 Ambulance response in those cases was extremely slow because the driver was often an employee of the funeral home who had to be called at their home and rousted out of bed, only to then have to drive to the funeral parlor to get the ambulance. 

 He remembered one house call that he made on a New Year’s Eve when his patient was having symptoms of a heart attack.  The city had replaced that old Packard with an Oldsmobile Vista Wagon.  He climbed in the back with his patient who went into cardiac arrest during the trip.  The ceiling in the Vista Wagon was so low that he could hardly do chest compressions and was banging his head.  Now Dr. Hinckley is a rather tall man, so you can appreciate his frustration that the Oldsmobile wagon was really not a suitable ambulance when extraordinary measures were necessary.

 He told me of another incident which illustrates how ill-prepared folks were in those days.  He got a call that someone had collapsed at a baseball field in Pond Cove.  He had recently purchased a red Porsche which he says he did about 80 miles per hour down the road in trying to get to the field.  When he arrived, there were a couple of fire fighters and a police officer who really didn’t know what to do other than look on at the person lying on the ground.  The training today and abilities of first responders is incredible.

March 13, 2015

 Elsmere BBQ fundraiser for Historical Society on March 18

 By Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo, director



Photos: Above - Elsmere Garage in 1921; Below - the building is home today to Elsmere BBQ & Wood Grill.

 On Wednesday, March 18, Elsmere BBQ & Wood Grill will host a special fundraiser for the South Portland Historical Society.  The restaurant will donate a percentage of all food sales made between 4pm and 9pm to the historical society and museum. It’s a great way to enjoy some good food, support a local business and support your local historical society, all at the same time!

 The restaurant is located at 448 Cottage Road. The building was formerly home to Elsmere Garage, which opened in 1921 and was run by John Baker.  During the years prior to World War II, the building and business changed hands several times, being occupied by these successive businesses: John R. Baker Autos, Beesley’s Garage, Young’s Garage, Kennedy’s Garage, and Gilbert and Harris Garage. If anyone has photographs or other items related to these auto-related businesses, we would love to hear from you! Please contact the South Portland Historical Society at 767-7299.

 During World War II, the building remained vacant, but after the war it began a new life as a laundromat/dry cleaner – first as Nelson W. Dyer Cleaners, then Colonial Cleaners and, finally, Pratt-Abbott Cleaners. In 2013, Adam Powers and Jeremy Rush converted the building into the Elsmere BBQ. They used the historical context of the building as inspiration for the restaurant décor.

 This area of South Portland is part of the larger Meeting House Hill neighborhood. The historical society is  mounting a Meeting House Hill exhibit in its museum at Bug Light Park. For those new to the area, Meeting House Hill starts as you head up Cottage Road from Red’s – for the purposes of this year’s exhibit, we will include Cottage Road all the way to the Cape Elizabeth town line. The museum will open for the 2015 season on May 1st and will then be open daily, 10am to 4pm, through October 30. If any member of the public has artifacts or historic photographs related to the Meeting House Hill area, we hope you will contact the Society for possible inclusion in this year’s exhibit. 

 March 20, 2015

Civil Defense in the South Portland area

By Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo, director


Craig Skelton started some historic research a few months ago on early ambulance service in South Portland and it has been very interesting to look into this aspect of our community’s past. In an effort to find more information on the subject, we discovered the accompanying photograph in the South Portland Historical Society’s archive. It comes from the Earle and Sylvia Angell Collection at the Society and had no information attached, so we had only what was visible in the photo to go on.

 This week, I contacted Captain Stephen Doyle of the Willard Hose Company to see if he could shed more light on the photograph. Doyle joined the Willard Hose Company back in July 1963 and has served as its captain since 1979. After some of his own investigation, he was able to confirm that the ambulance pictured was in service at the station from 1940 to 1944, as part of our civil defense during World War II. The hose company has an additional photograph showing firefighters using that ambulance in a wartime drill, practicing for its use during a bombing attack. He and others are not aware of the ambulance being put into actual use.

 We would love to gather more information on this Willard ambulance. If anyone has any additional information to share, please contact the South Portland Historical Society at 767-7299.

 Henty LaRou and Belle Graney had information to share on another aspect of civil defense in this area during World War II. The sisters both volunteered in the motor corps. They learned how to change a tire, do oil changes, drive a bus and other vehicle-related jobs; in the event of an attack, they were prepared to drive Army personnel and supply any other transportation needs. They received their training in the evenings at a car dealership on Forest Avenue in Portland near the post office. Both Henty and Belle married men who served in the armed services. Belle followed her husband, John Graney, down to Florida and Alabama where he was receiving training and became an officer; she came back to South Portland when John was sent overseas. John was in a tank destroyer in the Battle of the Bulge. Henty followed her husband, Phil LaRou, when he went to Louisiana, Tennessee and other states; Phil had been an instructor in the Army Air Corps and had been tapped to travel to high schools to recruit high school seniors.

March 27, 2015

 Cape Elizabeth Origins, Part 1

 By Craig H. Skelton, member


This lithograph print was made to depict Portland in 1832. It also shows the northern shore of Cape Elizabeth (now South Portland) in the area of Ferry Village and Cushing's Point, giving a feel for the sparse settlement in those early years.

Our window takes a long look back this week.  As you all know, the historical society focus is on South Portland, however we are in essence Cape Elizabeth after all, based on our origins.  So in the coming weeks, you will have to remember that both communities were once one, and that division will need to be blurred as our past dictates that the “old name” of Cape Elizabeth describe our fair city as you read on.  A good read about our local history covering the mid-20th century back to the days of Spanish explorers can be found in “A History of Cape Elizabeth, Maine” by William B. Jordan Jr.  The book was originally published in 1965 and original copies are scarce, however the historical society has republished the book in order that it may be available. Call 767-7299 to order your copy - I highly recommend it.    

History buffs will know that Cape Elizabeth was born on November 1st, 1765, when the Second Parish of Falmouth officially became the District of Cape Elizabeth. It may be timely that I remind you all of this fact given that 2015 marks our community’s 250th anniversary.

Until we gained the distinction of being a “district” on our own, this area was simply a part of the Town of Falmouth.  The origins of Falmouth are traced back to 1658 when the articles of submission established it to be the geographic region between the Spurwink River and Clapboard Island in Casco Bay to 8 miles inland.  The area described included what is now known as Portland, Falmouth, Westbrook, South Portland and Cape Elizabeth.

General growth on our side of the river would be the short answer to why such changes in governance were taking place.  One should remember, though, that governance was closely associated with the local house of worship.  The Town of Falmouth was simply becoming difficult to govern efficiently because of the large land area it encompassed.  Furthermore, it was difficult for the inhabitants of what was then known as Spurwink and Purpooduck, to cross the Fore River to worship at the First Parish located on the (Portland) peninsula.  The General Court of Massachusetts ordered that a house for the public worship of God be built and thus the Second Parish was established in 1733.  A church was built the following year, in 1734, in the corner of what is now known as Mount Pleasant Cemetery on Meeting House Hill.

It is often all about the fine print, and establishment of the “district” in 1765 allowed the residents to perform all the functions of a town, except they could not send a representative to the General Court.  It wasn’t until 1776 when, by an Act of the Court, Cape Elizabeth was established as a separate town and our first representative was James Leach.  Funny that I don’t recall the name Leach on any street sign or park name.  I do find it interesting, however, that the first three selectmen - James Maxwell, Jonathan Loveitt and Captain Samuel Skillings, would all be names many residents are sure to recognize today.

As with most establishments in the “new world” the early years were mostly filled with lumbering on the land and export of those trees from the waterfront.  In the years that followed, clearing of the land made way for agricultural activity and post revolution needs of the fledgling country stimulated a great need for ships in order to satisfy domestic needs and to compete with Britain who dominated the goods trade.