Once upon a time, Portland was the Chewing Gum Capital of the World.

In 1909, the Presumpscot River was rated by the U.S. Geological Survey as the “best utilized river in the country” for the 17 dams along its 27-mile course. And, William David Barry adds, “By the 1930s, it was also one of America’s most polluted waterways.”

These and countless other items of interest are to be found in “Deering: A Social and Architectural History.” The chewing gum king bought an estate in the area; the Presumpscot forms its northwest boundary. For much of its history, Deering existed municipally apart from Portland, including a brief period when it was an independent town. However, Greater Portland Landmarks’ new book shows clearly that there is more to our city’s history than the bricks and granite that spring immediately to mind.

Writes the late Patricia McGraw Anderson: “Deliberately spacious houses in Deering were almost always of frame construction at the turn of the 20th century, while their counterparts on the Peninsula were built of brick and stone.”

In 1972, Anderson addressed the latter’s architecture in another Landmarks’ book, “Portland.” She was at work on “the sequel” when she was stricken with cancer. Anderson completed the editing of her final text just days before she died. Appropriately, “Deering: A Social and Architectural History” is dedicated to her memory.

Intended as a twin to the earlier publication, “Deering” follows a similar model. The text is cast in three historical periods, each receiving a “social” treatment by Barry and an “architectural” one by Anderson. The sections divide, roughly, into: the colonial to federal period, the heydays running just shy of the turn of the 20th century, and the subsequent roller-coaster years up to 1950.

The book ends, somewhat abruptly, with an absolutely charming memoir by Joel W. Eastman about growing up next to Sagamore Village, built for defense workers and soldiers’ families during World War II.

The authors have their own felicitous, and distinctive, style. Barry takes the reader on a leisurely progress through Deering’s variously defined highways and “corners,” describing and commenting on how the times formed or changed them. This he does delightfully, as when he notes that toward the end of the 19th century, outer Congress Street “began to bristle with residential side streets” due to the advent of the railroad.

From the papers and gazettes of the day, he has also gleaned a treasure trove of snippets that add period flavor. My favorite is this headline: PORTLAND AUTHOR DIES – MISS E.H. MORTON, FAMOUS.

But allowing neighborhood geography to stake out his narrative has its disadvantages. A focus on place rather than date results in a chronological free-for-all that sometimes made my head spin.

Moreover, proceeding street by street makes it difficult to delve beyond when and who and into the why and how that is so important a piece of social history.

Anderson’s task has a narrower focus, describing the architecture of particular buildings, one by one. This she does with superb economy and authority. She is also adept at choosing a fact to denote the wider historical context, whether it is a time when the mayor was also “an importer and retailer of crockery,” or a later addition to a house that provides “visual evidence of the conservative character of the village” (Stroudwater).

In 1804, James Deering himself became “one of the first to separate the place of residence from the place of business,” while his horse stable “seems to announce the seriousness of the agricultural use as it proclaims his sophisticated taste.”

My one serious criticism of “Deering” is its structure. The editors’ desire for a volume compatible with the earlier publication is understandable. Settlement of the hinterland, as it radiated out from the Peninsula’s hub, forms an essential part of the story of Portland.

But unlike the Peninsula, whose narrow geographical bounds concentrated its development, Deering’s growth is the quintessential story of a spread-out suburb. The area’s charm, in Anderson’s words, is the “easy companionship between buildings from different eras.” Such variety calls for a different format. As it is, I found myself flipping back and forth through the pages, which became wearying.

“Deering” is richly illustrated; a “portfolio” in full color of some of the pictures found later in the text is a very nice touch. But why is there not at least one good map on which one could find the places and features discussed in the text? It would have gone a long way to mitigate the confusion of the dual texts. A glossary would also be of help to the reader unsure of what a “hipped roof,” a “quoin” or a “voussoir” might be.

Make no mistake; this book is a work of high scholarship and dedication. No trip to or through Deering will be the same after you have read it. We owe a debt of gratitude to Patricia McGraw Anderson, William David Barry and Greater Portland Landmarks for another invaluable resource on the city’s history.

Thomas Urquhart is the former director of Maine Audubon and author of “For the Beauty of the Earth.”