This 1871 F.W. Beers atlas page shows the location of Cumberland Bone Co., right next to the old Vaughan’s Bridge, on the grounds of the Portland Kerosene Oil Co., complex. Courtesy image

Cumberland Bone Co., occupied a large facility in the Ligonia section of (then) Cape Elizabeth from 1870 until 1874. The company, which sometimes went by the name of Portland Phosphate Works, was a manufacturer of superphosphate of lime, a fertilizer that was marketed to the farming community.

According to an 1871 news article, the recipe for this fertilizer was essentially large quantities of ground bones that were mixed with sulfuric acid to make them soluble, and to that was added “dried and ground fish-cake” that was obtained from fish oil factories along the coast of Maine. An 1881 article about the growing dogfish industry in Boothbay mentioned that fishermen were cooking up the body parts of the dogfish to sell to Cumberland Bone.

A later article in 1887 said that Cumberland Bone was utilizing a large supply of “green fish chum” in the manufacture of its product.

Cumberland Bone was originally established in 1865 and was first located in the Duck Pond area of Westbrook. The company was managed by its president and chemist, Stephen L. Goodale.

In May of 1870, Goodale came to an agreement with William Atwood (an agreement later contested in court), whereby Atwood Lead Co., would be the provider of sulfuric acid at a set price. A pipe was laid under Main Street that allowed the sulfuric acid to travel underground, by gravitational force, from Atwood Lead on one side of the street to the factory building on the other side. With this convenient source of acid, Cumberland Bone Co., moved its operation from Duck Pond to Ligonia and began operation there on June 3, 1870.

This was a convenient arrangement for both companies and they appeared to get along quite well. William Atwood would even act as a consulting chemist for Cumberland Bone, at times.

The arrangement came to a dreadful end, for Cumberland Bone, in 1873.

Early that year, Atwood Lead signed contracts with some new large customers for the supply of sulfuric acid. According to Atwood Lead’s testimony in the lawsuit that followed, they had sought out these new contracts because they had believed that Cumberland Bone had lost a large number of southern customers and they expected the company to cease operation.

With the need to supply its new customers, Atwood Lead had to slow the supply of acid to Cumberland Bone and then, on June 11, 1873, they completely shut off the supply. Without sulfuric acid, which was needed in very large quantities, Cumberland Bone could no longer manufacture its product.

Cumberland Bone was not successful in their suit, as the court ruled in favor of Atwood Lead. The judges determined that, while the two companies had originally agreed upon the price of the acid, they had never documented how long this arrangement would be in place. With no time period ever agreed upon, either party was free to terminate the arrangement.

At the conclusion of the lawsuit in 1874, Goodale moved ahead with plans to continue his Cumberland Bone business at a new location. He had a new large facility built up in Boothbay and moved the company there.

Stephen Goodale was a key figure in the promotion and advancement of the agricultural industry in the state of Maine in the 1800s. He was born on Aug. 14, 1815, in South Berwick, but his family moved to Saco in 1816 and he remained a resident of Saco for most of his life. Early on, he went into his father’s business, a book store and apothecary shop.

At his home on North Street in Saco, Goodale had a sizeable piece of land on which he was able to experiment with scientific processes related to agriculture and artificial fertilizers.

Goodale served as the secretary of the Maine Board of Agriculture from 1856 to 1872. He was also associated with Saco & Biddeford Savings Institution, serving for many years on its board of trustees, including 20 years as the bank’s president. Stephen Goodale died in Saco on Nov. 5, 1897.

Do you have local memorabilia or photographs to share that show scenes from around South Portland in earlier years? Please contact South Portland Historical Society at 55 Bug Light Park, South Portland, ME 04106, by phone at 207767-7299, or by email at [email protected] Thank you.

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

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