2018-05-04 / Community

A Window on the Past

Society researches history of South Portland PD
By Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo
South Portland Historical Society


Shown here is South Portland Police Officer Ted Miller. The South Portland Historical Society is looking for photos like this that show former police officers in uniform and/or on the job. (Courtesy photo) Shown here is South Portland Police Officer Ted Miller. The South Portland Historical Society is looking for photos like this that show former police officers in uniform and/or on the job. (Courtesy photo) As mentioned briefly in last week’s column, the South Portland Historical Society has been actively researching the history of South Portland Police Department. Over the past winter, we’ve put a lot of time into researching early history, especially the 1800s, when our community was still the town of Cape Elizabeth and police presence was a part-time and/or a temporary activity. Two of the “hot beds” of police activity in Cape Elizabeth were Ferry Village and Knightville – no surprise since that is where the largest concentrations of people in early Cape lived. Two additional difficult locations that needed occasional policing were Fort Preble (then an active Army base) and Ligonia (the area of South Portland where you’d find Forest City Cemetery and the Sprague terminal today).

Some interesting pieces of history concern the locations of various police stations. One of the first police stations that we’ve uncovered so far was in Ferry Village. Around 1866, the town of Cape Elizabeth maintained a police station in Ferry Village and hired Mr. P.W. Loud for police services in that neighborhood. We believe the police station was located on or near Front Street, as the town paid William Spear “ground rent” for a police station, and William Spear’s coal business was located on the corner of Front and Portland streets. This would put the police station right next to the ferry landing where the Cape Elizabeth Ferry brought passengers to and from Portland.

The next police station we found was in Knightville on Thomas Street. In 1878, the town built a police station with four cells equipped with iron-grated doors. The cellblock was connected by a passageway to the courtroom located in the front of the building. We believe the building was roughly in the area where you’d find Town & Country Federal Credit Union in Mill Creek. When Knightville Hose Company built its fire station on Thomas Street, the police station building was moved back to make room.

In 1898, our renamed community of South Portland (we changed our name from Cape Elizabeth to South Portland in 1895) leased rooms in the new Masonic building that was built on the corner of Ocean and E streets. Specifically, we leased two rooms on the first floor (the center room and the room on the left side of the building) as well as the center room in the basement. These rooms were to be used to hold city meetings and offices, as well as the police station. In 1906, the city had two jail cells installed in the basement of the Masonic building and discontinued the use of the cells on Thomas Street.

The police department moved again in 1928, to the basement of the city hall building at 25 Cottage Road. Jail cells were maintained in the basement there, as well. The final move of the police department occurred when the city decided to build a more modern police department building on Anthoine Street. The decision to build a police station was due in part to plans for the development of what would become the Maine Mall. Knowing that the development of a large-scale shopping center would bring a lot more traffic and visitors to the city, plans began to be made in 1967. The building was designed by architects William O. and Robert E. Armitage. Ground was broken in 1968 and the station was completed in 1969. The police department moved into the new building in April 1969.

If you’d like to see more of our ongoing research on the police department, come on by the museum at Bug Light Park to take a look. The museum is now open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

We could really use the help of the community in continuing our search for historic photographs, artifacts and information related to our police department. If you have anything to share, please give us a call at 767-7299 or email us at sphistory04106@gmail.com. If you know of any retired South Portland police officers, please help us by reaching out to let them know we are hoping to speak with them.

In other news, a fundraiser will be held 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, May 8, at Otto Pizza, 159 Cottage Road, South Portland. It will donate 8 percent of all proceeds to South Portland Historical Society. This includes all sales that are made between 5 and 9 p.m., including take out, delivery, or dine in.

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

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