If you’ve lived in South Portland for any length of time, you may have heard mention of the Mussey farm, which used to exist in the Meeting House Hill and Ferry Village area. To get a good visual feel for the location of the farm, put yourself at the top of Mussey Street, near Cottage Road, and think of how Mussey Street runs from the top of the hill all the way down to the waterfront, as does Harriet Street to its right and Margaret Street to its left.

The point of land where the RiverPlace Apartments now stand was called Mussey Farm Point.

The John P. Gurney house (aka, the Mussey farmhouse) at 254 Cottage Road. South Portland Historical Society photo

The owner of this giant tract of land in the 1800s was John Mussey, who does not appear to have been a farmer at all, but instead a rather wealthy landowner who lived in Portland. His daughters were Harriet and Margaret, which explains the names of these now-developed streets.

The Mussey farm was actually a very large piece of farmland, much of which was devoted to hay fields. The farm wasn’t actually considered part of any neighborhood, as no one lived there except for one family in what was called the Mussey farmhouse.

Instead, this large swath of open fields marked the dividing line between Knightville and Ferry Village.

For many years, the farmer living in the Mussey farmhouse was John P. Gurney. We have two old newspaper clippings pasted into scrapbooks. One article where old John Gurney was interviewed in the late 1920s and another from the 1930s talking about the history of the farmhouse that still stands at 254 Cottage Road, on the corner of Cottage and Pine streets. I’ll use some quotes from those clippings that help to give a good feel for the history of the farm.

At the time of the interview in the late 1920s, John Gurney had been living in the Mussey farmhouse for over 50 years:

“Uncle John is now in his 90th year…He has owned the old place for about 40 years. Prior to this time he rented the farm from John Mussey, formerly of Portland, and later from his son-in-law L.D.M. Sweat, donor of the Sweat Memorial Art Museum in Portland, to whom the farm fell upon the death of John Mussey.”

John Mussey’s daughter, Margaret, was married to L.D.M. Sweat.

According to John Gurney, “A fellow could sell some hay then. There were plenty of horses to eat it. And we lived better, too. Of course there weren’t so many frills, and we couldn’t ride so fast, but all enjoyed themselves.”

The story goes on:

“After we had talked for some time we went out to the barnyard. We looked down across what used to be hay fields. ‘Quite a change in 50 years,’ John said. The writer had to admit that there was. The fields are now covered with homes, and in the center of the old field where once cows browsed stands a modern school [the Roosevelt School]. It seems that the old Mussey homestead was hauled from the lower field to its present position on the top of the hill. ‘Fifty-six yoke of oxen did the trick,’ John said, ‘and it was some haul at that.’ The foundation of the old building is still in the field where the old house sat prior to its trip to the top of the hill. The old farm roads and cow paths are now streets … After exploring the fields we came back to the barnyard where stands all that is left of a large hay barn and stock shed. Uncle John with the help of another man tore the old barn down just last spring … Uncle John’s favorite work seems to be haying. He is always the first one on the Cape to start haying operations in the early summer and the last to finish in the fall. He has even been known to cut marsh grass after the snow had fallen seemingly for the pleasure he got out of the work.”

The move of the farmhouse from the “lower field” to its location at 254 Cottage Road occurred prior to 1871 when the F.W. Beers Atlas was produced, as the map clearly shows the farmhouse on the corner of Cottage and Pine.

There is another great visual of the farm in the article from the 1930s about the history of the farmhouse at 254 Cottage Road:

“It was here in the spacious homestead that the Gurneys brought up their family, entertained their many friends, and stored away their annual harvests. The farm extended in the back through blueberry pastures, now known as Sixth Street and thickly settled with new houses. Pigs enjoyed themselves in large numbers over the hillside. Across the road Mr. Gurney had large gardens situated to one side of Captain Boyd’s large house [265 Cottage Road] and extending up to what is now known as Hillside Avenue.”

John Mussey died in 1886 and left the whole parcel to his two daughters, Margaret (married to L.D.M. Sweat) and Harriet (married to William P. Preble). You’ll note in the accompanying 1891 advertisement that the women’s husbands were handling the sale of the land.

Do you have information, photographs, or artifacts to share related to the Mussey farm or other aspects of South Portland’s history? Please contact the South Portland Historical Society by email at [email protected], phone at 207-767-7299, or mail at 55 Bug Light Park, South Portland, ME 04106. If you have items to donate, please call to arrange for a contactless drop-off of your donation. Thank you.

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

Comments are not available on this story.