Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church in Knightville. The building would later become home to city hall. South Portland Historical Society photo

After talking with a few residents last week, I realized that there are still many people who don’t realize that our South Portland City Hall building on Cottage Road used to be a church. In light of that, and because the amount of information we had on the church was somewhat limited, we undertook a research project on the building and church this week, hoping to learn more than we had previously.

Indeed, we did discover more details and I thought I’d share some of the results with our readers.

There was a Methodist society active in Knightville as early as 1880. The first records that we have found are from October 1880, when the Rev. B.F. Estes is first shown as the pastor and the parishioners were very active throughout the week.

Sundays were busy with a Sunday School and sermon in the early afternoon, a praise meeting at 7 p.m., and a social meeting at 7:30 p.m. In addition, the parishioners would meet on Tuesday evenings, a Ladies’ Circle would meet on Wednesdays, and there was a “class meeting” on Friday evenings.

This dedicated group of worshippers decided to build their own church building. The Thomas family donated the land along Cottage Road and on April 27, 1881, the cornerstone was laid “with appropriate ceremonies, under the direction of Presiding Elder Parker Jaques.”

An interior view of the altar in the Methodist Episcopal church in Knightville. South Portland Historical Society photo

Construction began immediately and was completed by summer. An announcement about the new church appeared in the Portland Daily Press on Aug. 22, 1881:


“The new Methodist chapel at Knightville was completed the past week. The building and fixtures cost $2,026.88, most of which has been paid. The building is 55×38 in size and 38 feet to rafters, with a belfry. There are four windows to a side and three in front. The vestibule is 6×12 and, as is the body of the chapel, prettily carpeted. The audience room is 40×36, contains 42 cushioned pews and will seat 210 people, and has three aisles. The black walnut pulpit furniture was presented by Mr. Wm. Chase. Mr. J.A. Milliken gave a clock, Mr. S.S. Bryant the stucco centre piece, and another friend a handsome bronze and gold six light chandelier. There are eight wall lights. The gallery will seat 50 and there is a library and class room.”

An image of a 1915 play that took place in the church provides a glimpse of the well-decorated interior. South Portland Historical Society photo

The dedication of the new church building took place on Oct. 6, 1881, attended by not just the parishioners in Knightville, but also by Methodists from across the city. The pastor of the church at that time, the Rev. Parker Jaques, provided only a responsive reading; he was joined by numerous other ministers who led the congregation with scripture lessons, hymns, prayers, and the Rev. C.J. Clark provided a fiery sermon, titled “The Religious Conduct of the Heathen, an Example to Christians.”

After the church dedication, attendance continued to grow and more pews were added. News articles indicate that the parishioners continually maintained and improved their church building. In June of 1886, a new vestry was opened. An article in the Portland Daily Press on June 23, 1894, provides a description of a major renovation:

“All through the week, a crew of imported artists, assisted by local skill, have been employed in cleansing, renovating and newly upholstering the Knightville church. The ceiling has been prettily papered and a frieze and border laid on, making the whole interior very attractive. The woodwork has been painted a pure white, and the doors cherry stained and when the bright new carpet is laid down there will be no more attractive church auditorium in town.”

An article from Aug. 9, 1898, indicates more work that was planned: “The parish committee of this church are soliciting funds for the contemplated repairs on the church building. It is desired to raise the church and put a brick and stone foundation underneath. The building is now heated by stoves and a large furnace will be most likely substituted.”

The church was eventually raised, moved further back on the lot, and a foundation was put underneath. For most of its existence, it was referred to simply as the Methodist Episcopal church in Knightville; we see the name Trinity Church showing up around 1915.

The church appears to have been active through at least 1927, but it was acquired by the city of South Portland and converted in 1931 for use as a municipal building. An interesting fact is that one of the city departments that was first housed in the municipal building was the police department – and the former church ended up with jail cells in the basement for a time.

The building at 25 Cottage Road is now home to the South Portland City Hall.

We would love to see more photographs or artifacts from Trinity Church. If you have any information to share, please call the South Portland Historical Society at 767-7299 or email us at [email protected]

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

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