Last week, as we looked at the barber Louie Nappi, we briefly spoke of his wife Josephine Demarino. The Demarinos were also a notable family of Thornton Heights in the 1900s. When looking at the history of any of South Portland’s neighborhoods, we often see core families in the neighborhood with many intermarriages among them. This is no surprise, as marrying the girl, or boy, next-door was a common occurrence in early American history.

Since your church, grocery, drug store, barbershop and other necessities of life were often located within walking distance, you would spend more of your time with your neighbors. Having a volunteer fire company in the neighborhood would provide even more opportunities to spend time with others who lived near you.

An advertisement that appeared in the 1930 Portland Directory. South Portland Historical Society

The patriarch of the family, Joseph Demarino, was born in Italy in 1870. He immigrated to the United States in the 1890s. Joseph lived at first in New York City where he worked for the railroad, then moved to Portland. Once he reached Portland, his wife, Camella, immigrated also, with their son, Salvatore. He and Camella had more children once they were here together – Frank in 1899, Louis in 1900, and Josephine in 1907.

Early records show that Joseph was a mason. He was making concrete blocks and possibly burial vaults throughout the 1910s. While at first he just worked by himself, around 1919 he brought his sons into the business and officially named it the Thornton Heights Concrete Company (Salvatore and Frank had already been working, both listed as “hatmakers” in the Portland Directories).

Joseph and Camella lived at 24 Grand View Ave., on the corner of Tremont Street, and the concrete business was located on the same property, in a garage to the right of the house. The garage itself was at street level on Grand View, but it was a two-story structure, built on a hill. The concrete business was located on the lower level with doors going out to the back yard.

Joseph and Camella Demarino. South Portland Historical Society photo

According to Salvatore’s son, Donald Demarino, sand trucks could pull in to the garage and pour their sand so that it flowed down to the lower level into a holding bin. The Demarinos would use the sand in making up batches of concrete. He also remembered a large chain that was attached to the ceiling of the shop that would aid in moving the large burial vaults.

According to Frank’s daughter, Carolyn Billen, there were two garage doors on the back of the building that opened into the shop area. Carolyn remembers playing in the backyard when she was young: “There were racks upon which the cement blocks were placed. The blocks were put there to dry.”

According to Louis’ son, Louie Demarino, in the early days of the business, when Salvatore, Frank and Louis were all actively involved in the company, they had a portable cement mixer and could use it to do jobs like pouring concrete sidewalks. They would also take on jobs like building house foundations with their own concrete blocks.

They had equipment in their building to manufacture concrete products of all kinds: concrete blocks, burial vaults (which they also installed), and things like the sides for park benches.

At the peak of the business, they had three company trucks. They installed an underground fuel tank on the property and had their own fuel pump so they could gas the trucks up and not have to go to a gas station.

During this time, both Salvatore (known by family and locals as Sal or Sull) and Frank volunteered at the Engine 6 call company. Frank played a larger role, serving as captain from 1936 to 1948. Both men responded with Engine 6 to the massive forest fires that took place in Maine in October of 1947.

Frank Demarino, circa 1925. Frank served as captain of the Thornton Heights Engine 6 call company from 1936 to 1948. South Portland Historical Society photo

Salvatore eventually left the business and went to work for Maine Steel. By the early 1950s, Frank was helping out only on an occasional part-time basis and then he also completely left the business. Louis was then the sole operator of the company. According to Louis’ son Louie, Louis never hired any workers to help him, so he gradually changed the business model to work that he could do by himself.

A large part of that business was the building and installing of concrete burial vaults. He had the forms in the building so that he could make both the bottom and the lid right on site. When he got a call for a delivery, he would load the vault onto his truck, bring it to the cemetery and put it in the ground. Once the coffin was lowered into the vault and the service was over, Louis would put the cover onto the vault and seal it with concrete that he would mix on site.

When he had made batches of concrete and had leftover material, Louis would use it up by making 12 x 12 concrete pavers that could be used for stepping stones or walkways. Customers could just stop in and buy any amount of pavers that they needed.

Louis operated the business right up until the early-1970s when he retired.

If you have information, artifacts or historic photographs to share, please reach out to the South Portland Historical Society. You can reach us by mail at 55 Bug Light Park, South Portland, ME 04106, by phone at 207-767-7299, by email at [email protected], or through our Facebook page. The society’s Online Museum can be found at https://sphistory.pastperfectonline.com.

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

An early photo of the Thornton Heights Concrete Company on Grand View Avenue. South Portland Historical Society photo

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