2018-04-13 / Community

A Window on the Past

Civic (Center) duty
By Craig H. Skelton
South Portland Historical Society

The Cumberland County Civic Center under construction, circa 1976. (Courtesy photo) The Cumberland County Civic Center under construction, circa 1976. (Courtesy photo) My thanks to Sue Ellen Tupper of South Portland who provided the South Portland Historical Society with photos taken by her dad when he worked at Megquier & Jones. The photos will become an important part of our collection.

Let us take a closer look at a few details of the first photograph that shows a truck about to tow a trailer loaded with steel beams. The beams were heading to Portland to be used in the construction of the Cumberland County Civic Center. As near as I can tell, the truck is a 1970 International Fleetstar 220. It belonged to Merrill Trucking that for many years was in business on Sawyer Street in Ferry Village. Fred Merrill lived on Somerset Street just a couple streets over when I was growing up. Some of you may remember the article about the South Portland Church of the Nazarene in which another one of his trucks was hauling an impressive manufactured wood beam.

Steel beams about to head to the construction site of the new Civic Center in Portland, circa 1976. (Courtesy photo) Steel beams about to head to the construction site of the new Civic Center in Portland, circa 1976. (Courtesy photo) A typical trailer towed by a truck of this kind can reach the length of 53 feet and be up to 102 inches in width. The width converts to 8 feet, 6 inches. The width is important to note here because the beam definitely looks wider than the headboard of the trailer. I’m just guessing, but my estimate of the height of the beam would be 10 feet. When set in place, the beam would not lay down as it is seen on the trailer and I believe it important to note that it would stand at least 4 feet higher than a 6-foot man or woman. From my untrained eye, the trailer looks to be quite a bit longer than the typical 53-foot trailer and some modifications appear to have been done in order to load the beam upon it. I’m guessing the beam is about 100 feet long.

The age of the truck gave us an idea of when this picture was taken and the beam upon the trailer has narrowed the time frame to somewhere between groundbreaking in 1975 and March 3, 1977, when the facility opened. You may have actually seen this beam if at any time you’ve looked up at the ceiling while attending an event there. It’s probably just me, but I confess to having stared at the ceiling with some fascination at the size and length of those beams that create a completely open 34,500 square foot space that will seat 9,500 concertgoers.

Some of you may remember that the original location of the Civic Center was proposed to be near the Maine Mall in South Portland. There were concerns regarding the suitability of the soils but I think other concerns about businesses leaving downtown to relocate to the new mall overshadowed this.

Getting back to the photo, the beam was fabricated at Megquier & Jones at 1156 Broadway in South Portland. Megquier & Jones was a steel fabrication company that had a long history of doing business in South Portland, with origins that date back as far as 1895. The business closed in 2015, unfortunately, but the property was quickly purchased by Casco Bay Steel Structures and immediately put back into use. The 70,000-square-foot fabrication building towers above the day care center located in the old Megquier & Jones office building on Broadway.

Even though you don’t really notice the day-to-day goings on there, I have on occasion been caught at about 7 a.m. during my morning commute; traffic has backed up to make way for a convoy of trucks hauling really long beams out onto Broadway on their way to construction at the Sara Long Bridge in Portsmouth.

We would love for you to share your own photos of historical interest. If you have images of South Portland’s past, please give the society a call at 767-7299 or email sphistory04106@gmail.com.

Craig H. Skelton is a member of South Portland Historical Society.

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