December 17, 2012

Photos of old Portland attract Facebook friends

Fans of a page devoted to the city's history since 1786 help it grow with photos and commentary.

By Tom Bell
Staff Writer

"Being an older guy, I like older things," explained John French, 64, a retired Portland police officer who two years ago created a Facebook page devoted to a pictorial history of Portland.

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Union Station circa 1910.

Detroit Publishing/Library of Congress

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Union Station circa the 1950s.

Additional Photos Below

The page, Portland Maine History 1786 to Present, was expected to reach the 5,000-fan milestone Monday.

It now has more than 10,000 images, most of them submitted by its growing fan base.

The images run the gamut -- from an artist's depiction of Christopher Levett, the first European who tried to settle Portland, to a snapshot of Popeye's Ice House, a notorious West End tavern that was distinguished by the back half of a small plane stuck into its roof.

One of the page's biggest fans, Tim Sullivan, 43, is now helping French administer the site. Sullivan spends about five hours a day uploading photos and monitoring comments.

"I get so caught up in doing it," Sullivan said. "It's fascinating to see what people like and comment on."

The page is a digital collection of an extraordinary array of high-quality photographs, said Andy Graham, a prominent Portland photographer and president of the Creative Portland Corporation, a nonprofit group focused on building the city's creative economy.

The commentary provided by the page's followers provides both information and also a warm, conversational tone, he said, adding that the site is a great example of how social media can be used to create digital archives.

"I love this site," Graham said. "It's one of my totally favorite things on Facebook. It's delightful."

Many of the page's followers grew up in Portland but now live elsewhere, like Michael Garrigan, 58, who left Portland in 1977 and lives in Woburn, Mass.

He was recently on the page and saw a photograph of Bentley's Restaurant, which was across Congress Street from the former Porteous, Mitchell & Braun Co. department store, now the Maine College of Art.

Garrigan said he was 12 years old when he landed a job as a dishwasher at the restaurant.

"When I saw the picture, all the memories came right back," he said. "For a few seconds, I was 12 years old again."

For young fans who live in Portland, the page makes living in the city a richer experience because it allows them to see the city in a historical context, said Paine Jennings, 19, of Portland.

Her father grew up in the city, so the photographs help her "tie together" his stories with images, she said.

City Councilor Ed Suslovic, who comments frequently on the site, said the images remind him that Portland is always changing. Photographs of demolished neighborhoods, such as those that fell to urban renewal initiatives of the 1960s and 1970s, illustrate bad decisions by city officials, he said. In other instances, he said, changes instituted by the city have created improvements.

The city is continually evolving, so attempts to prevent any change can be counterproductive, Suslovic said.

French said we are all living in a time that some day will be known as the historic past.

"Take pictures now," he said. "Tomorrow, it could be gone."

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at


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Additional Photos

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Congress Square circa 1900.

Detroit Publishing/Library of Congress

click image to enlarge

Congress Square circa the 1950s.

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Tim Sullivan co-administers a Facebook page that showcases historic photographs of Portland. “It’s fascinating to see what people like and comment on,” he said.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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