2016-12-02 / Community

A Window on the Past

Look back at South Portland’s police department history
By Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo


South Portland Police Officer Nate Snow. (Courtesy photo) South Portland Police Officer Nate Snow. (Courtesy photo) This week’s Window on the Past is a glimpse at just one moment in the life of a police officer. I love the photograph shown here: It’s simply marked as, “Officer Nate Snow, South Portland Police Department.” While we do know that Nathan Snow was a police officer here in the early 1950s, we don’t know where he was or when this photo was taken. He looks to be standing in someone’s front hallway. With his kind face and pleasant expression, this photo gives me that smile that I usually get when there are police officers, firefighters or other emergency responders around (when there is not an emergency, of course). Most police officers I know are among the kindest people I’ve met, as well as the bravest, although most would probably shrug off that compliment. Anyone who knows the family of a police officer probably shares that same appreciation.

Growing up in South Portland, we were raised to respect police officers and to turn to them for help, if needed. When I was a student at Kaler School back in the 1970s, there was an Officer Friendly program and I think that most of my fellow classmates and I really looked forward to school visits by our local Officer Friendly. For many years, Officer Peter MacVane served as South Portland’s Officer Friendly. MacVane died in 2012 and has been greatly missed by many in this community.

When you look into the history of the South Portland Police Department or fire department, it is a reminder of just how young our community, state and country are. Looking into the 1800s, when we were still known as Cape Elizabeth, there were so few residents, there wasn’t the need for a large formal police department like we have today. There also were no police cruisers in the 1800s, of course; policing was very different. In fact, prior to 1928, we had no police chief at all. In early years, there was just a police sergeant who managed several police officers for coverage of the city. In the early 1920s, the police station was located in the Masonic building at Legion Square, then, when the city took over the building that is now our city hall, the police department was set up in there with the jail located in the basement. Prior to 1928, Robert Abbott was our police sergeant. The year 1928 marked the first year that we were to have a police chief in South Portland. Charles O. Spear Jr. served in the dual capacity of chief of police and fire for roughly 20 years (1928 to 1947). Our current police chief, Edward Googins, is only the seventh police chief to serve our city; Chief Googins has served us well as police chief since 1994.

We would love to have a larger collection of photographs and memorabilia that covers the history of the South Portland Police Department. Do you have anything in your home or photo albums that would help us to document that history? If so, please give the South Portland Historical Society a call at 767-7299, or send us an email at sphistory04106@gmail.com. We’d love to hear from you.

Reminder to readers: There are only three weekends left for you to visit our museum before it closes for the season on Sunday, Dec. 18. Please plan a visit soon so you don’t miss our Ferry Village exhibit that will be removed this winter. Our staff and volunteers continue to work year-round, but access to the museum is closed during the winter months while we work on new exhibits for 2017.

Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo is executive director of South Portland Historical Society.

Return to top