A Window on the Past – Press Herald

23July 2020

At South Portland Historic Society, we are looking into a few of the early shipyards in Ferryboat Village. While we’ll have some approaching stories on the Dyer Shipyards, the Turner & & Cahoon Shipyard, and the Benjamin W. Pickett Shipyard, today I believed readers may enjoy this article that Jackie Dunham discovered describing a fire that happened at the Portland Shipbuilding backyard on Front Street (now house to Aspasia).

While we are fortunate to have professional firefighters in South Portland today, in earlier times, as in many communities across Maine and America, it was mostly community volunteers who manned hose business for fire security. Residents in a community would buy shares in the tube business, or otherwise contribute money, so that they might acquire hoses, a wagon, and other firefighting equipment.

In Ferryboat Town, the volunteer tube business stored their tube wagon (and, in later years, their fire truck) in a building on School Street.

A view of Portland Shipbuilding Company on the Ferry Town waterfront in South Portland. South Portland Historical Society picture In this story, the reporter paints an amusing photo of some of the troubles dealt with in battling fires. It appeared in the Portland Daily Press on Oct. 12, 1897:”About half past 10 o’clock the other day forenoon a fire broke out in the head house of the Portland Ship Structure Co.’s marine railway at South Portland. The building in which the fire happened is a three story brick structure and is used for the equipment connected with the train and as a shop house. It is dry as a tinder box inside and the floorings and timbers were entirely filled with grease and oil.

“It is expected that some one thoughtlessly tossed a match down in a corner in which there were numerous barrels of maker oil and the fire started in this spot. The building was open and workmen were passing in and out of it all the time. On the railway outside were the cleaner Forest Queen, the 2 boat William Wooley and numerous schooners. The fire spread out with terrific rapidity throughout the structure and the workmen much of whom belong to the fire department of South Portland, rushed off to provide the alarm and a hose pipe wagon was quickly on hand and the firefighters were laying a line of tube when help arrived from an unforeseen quarter.

“Captain Goud on the fire boat was simply returning from a journey down the harbor and was backing into the dock at Portland Pier when the fire in the train was found. Captain Goud instantly started at full speed for the railway and was able on account of the high tide to get within a few hundred feet of the burning structure. It appeared as if the whole plant was in risk of being destroyed and the enjoyment in South Portland was extreme when the fire boat arrived on the spot.

“Two lines of hose were stretched in no time and some of the men about the railway took hold of among the pipelines and aimed it at the building. When they believed they were all prepared for the water they sung out ‘play away No. 1.’ Engineer Frank Girardo opened the powerful pumps and the guys of South Portland had about as exciting a 5 minutes as any of them ever put in. They were not accustomed to holding lines of hose pipe and they had no idea of the strength and skill it needed to do so. The pipe wabbled initially one method and after that the other and smashed the five males who held hold of all of it about the street. It was not till half a dozen other guys had got hold of the swaying hose pipe that the stream was steadied down and got under control.

“Two streams of water from the fire boat were the very first on the blaze and they finished the fire. All hands about the plant dealt with a will and it was only a little while before the fire was extinguished.

“The first floor was pretty well charred up and the equipment was terribly harmed. The loss was about $2000 and this is all covered by insurance coverage. It was said that a guy was badly burned during the progress of the fire, however the story might not be corroborated. The work which was done by the fire boat yesterday thoroughly demonstrated the usefulness of this piece of apparatus. Had it not been for the punctuality of this boat to reach the scene it is not at all not likely that the entire plant would have been destroyed and the loss to South Portland and Portland would have been inestimable. The South Portland fire department also did exceptional work and the males coming from it deserve great credit for the promptness with which they assembled to fight the fire.”

Note to readers: The South Portland Historic Society needs your financial support, particularly at this time with the museum closed and our events continuing to be delayed due to the pandemic. If you are not currently a member, or if you have not paid your dues for 2020 yet, we encourage you to find a way to assist.

Subscription information is readily available on our site at www.sphistory.org (a family subscription is $25) and you can contribute online at our Online Museum site at https://sphistory.pastperfectonline. The society can also be reached at 55 Bug Light Park, South Portland, ME 04106, by phone at 207-767-7299, or by email at [

email secured] Thank you. Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo is executive director of the South Portland Historical Society.

Remarks are not readily available on this story.

“Previous Blight resistant Next”

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