Window on the Past – Press Herald

24June 2020

In last week’s column about the Thomas Knight Shipyard in Knightville, I discussed how a Portland ship chandler, Nathaniel Blanchard, had actually a number of ships built at the Knight lawn in South Portland (although we passed the name of Cape Elizabeth in those years).

Blanchard was a rich male, a shipping merchant who owned lots of ships, and he dealt with his better half Phebe and household in haute couture in the mansion at 90 High St. in Portland, on the corner of Pleasant Street. Due to a long series of monetary setbacks, things slowly altered for Nathaniel and his household.

Helen Blanchard, a prolific developer from Portland. South Portland Historic Society image In 1853, Blanchard had actually invested a great deal of cash in a clipper ship that was being built by Thomas Knight, when the ship was destroyed by fire at the shipyard. There was no insurance coverage, so the partially-built ship was a total loss and Blanchard needed to pay for Thomas

Knight to start over and build it from scratch. In 1854, the ship named the Phoenix, was launched, but this was now throughout a recession and Blanchard would undoubtedly have been feeling the pinch. In 1856, he put out another major outlay to have Thomas Knight build him another ship. Times were tough, however, as there was a financial panic in 1857, followed by an economic crisis. On Oct. 31, 1863, a structure he owned on the corner of Fore Street and Customized House Wharf was destroyed by fire.

This appears to have been the snapping point for Blanchard, as he got a loan for $14,000 on Nov. 24, 1863, setting up all of his property as security– his house on High Street and 2 different long blocks of shops on Fore Street. With another recession at the end of the Civil War in 1865, his household was not in great financial condition when he died in 1871 and they lost everything.

Nathaniel and Phebe’s child, Helen Blanchard, transferred to Boston and tried her hand at running a boarding house there. When that showed not successful, she got a job working in a clothes factory and while dealing with sewing machines, her creative and inventive mind came into play.

After much research study and creativity, she developed an idea for a new sewing machine attachment that would do an over-and-over stitch. She had extremely little money, so she obtained the cash required to pay the charge needed by the U.S. Patent Workplace, and she obtained and got a patent. This was the first of 28 patents that Helen would request and get from 1873 to 1915; 22 of those patents wound up being utilized by big business clothing factories.

Her zig-zag sew sewing maker, patented in 1873, ended up being an industry requirement.

While in Boston, she patented over-seaming machines, an improvement in approaches of unifying knit products, and a crochet attachment for sewing devices. She likewise patented an improvement in flexible gorings for the shoe industry.

In the 1880s, Helen resided in Philadelphia with her sibling, Louise. Around 1881, Helen and Louise Blanchard started their own company, the Blanchard Overseam Device Business.

According to the book, “A Female of the Century,” published in 1893, it was not a simple life for Helen: “The aspiration and energy that have marked her life were stimulated by the endless annoyances and challenges that always besieged the pathway of a persevering developer, in the shape of Patent Office hold-ups, mercenary violation of her rights and unscrupulous attacks upon the products of her brain. Among her many developments are the Blanchard over-seaming-machine, the device for simultaneous sewing and trimming on knitted materials, and the crocheting and sewing machine, all of which are in usage by immense manufactories and are ranked among the most exceptional mechanical contrivances of the age.”

She relocated to New york city, where she resided in the 1890s, and continued coming up with new creations. While in New York, she got patents for securing reeds and cables to edges of material, a sewing needle, a surgical needle, making split needles, a split needle, and a sewing maker. While in New york city, she became known as a really generous and charitable benefactor, most significantly providing her support towards ladies who were having a hard time.

In between her lucrative company and the royalties from her patents, Helen Blanchard ended up being an extremely wealthy female. She would ultimately redeem a few of the homes in Portland that her household had actually lost, including the family house on the corner of High and Pleasant Street.

She was living here in Portland in 1901 when she patented a hat-sewing maker, an over-seaming maker, a seam for sewed short articles, and a “hat and using sweatbands thereto.”

Her days of creating lastly pertained to an end after she suffered a stroke in 1916. Helen passed away in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1922. She is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Portland in the Blanchard family plot.

Keep In Mind to South Portland Historic Society members and buddies: If you have not already, it is time to restore your subscriptions (or please join us if you are not currently a member, we require your assistance).

Subscriptions start at $15 for individuals and $25 for a family, however do not hesitate to contribute at whatever level is comfy for you. A complete list of subscription levels can be found on our site at With the museum presently closed due to the pandemic, our financing is extremely restricted. We hope our members will renew at this time so that the society can avoid the expense of mailing renewal suggestions.

To restore or join, merely make your check payable to South Portland Historical Society and mail to us or drop off at the museum at 55 Bug Light Park, South Portland, ME 04106. You can likewise donate by charge card by calling us at 207-767-7299, using PayPal (our e-mail is [email protected], or use the donation button at our Online Museum at Thank you.

Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo is executive director of the South Portland Historic Society.

Remarks are not readily available on this story.

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