We were very excited to hear from the daughter of Bernal B. Allen recently. She was looking to find a home for some of her dad’s memorabilia and we were thrilled that she sent them along to make their home permanently with us at the South Portland Historical Society.

The Robert Hall clothing store at 800 Main St., shortly after its opening, circa 1959. Bernal B. Allen Collection/South Portland Historical Society

Bernal Allen could easily be considered one of the most influential people in South Portland’s history.

Allen moved to Maine in 1940 when he became the town manager of New Portland. He served as town manager of several different Maine communities and then became the city manager of Auburn in 1945. In 1957, members of the South Portland City Council convinced him to leave Auburn and come to work as city manager here.

Allen jumped right into his work, which was to take the South Portland of old (a city where most residents went to work and shopped in other communities), and attempt to bring everyone together in one viable community with jobs and services that would make us a more self-sufficient city. A major part of making this happen was an effort to bring jobs to South Portland via commercial and industrial development.

One of the first things that Allen did, with the city council, was to establish several different industrial development areas where they would add infrastructure improvements to help convince major businesses to move to South Portland.

These major areas included a 750-acre parcel known as the Rumery Industrial Area located on both sides of Rigby Yard (an area that included Rumery Industrial Park); a 250-acre parcel known as the Airport Industrial Area (which essentially was Western Avenue and surrounds); and the former World War II shipyard area. The council zoned these areas for industrial use only and Allen went to work trying to find the businesses to make it happen.

The same building at 800 Main St., today, now home to Partners Printing and Jenney Nails & Spa. Jackie Dunham courtesy photo

Through Bernal Allen’s efforts, there were literally hundreds of companies who chose to make South Portland home over the ensuing years. Some of the early newcomers in the 1960s included Fairchild Semiconductor, Sealtest, Coca Cola, Klik Industries, Circus Time Potato Chips, Casco Terminals, Hannaford distribution center, and Cott Bottling Company. Allen also worked toward the vision of establishing a major shopping center in South Portland, which resulted in the opening of Jordan Marsh in 1969 and the Maine Mall in 1971.

Bernal Allen would finish his tenure as South Portland’s city manager in 1971 when he was hired as the general manager of the new Maine Mall. He would shepherd the growth of the mall over many more years.

Another interesting highlight of Allen’s life is his love and support for the game of baseball. In 1965, he helped secure Ametek as the sponsor of South Portland’s baseball team in the Twilight League. When Ametek stepped away as sponsor four years later, Allen stepped up and became the general manager of the team, the South Portland Merchants, helping to raise funds to keep the team active in the Twilight League.

With this new collection at the historical society, we now have even more pieces of South Portland’s history to preserve and help us tell the story of our community’s past.

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

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

Comments are not available on this story.