In recent weeks, we’ve taken a look at the Forest City Brewery that used to be located along Highland Avenue, near the intersection of Ocean Street. While researching that location, we learned that it eventually turned into a cannery and were excited to find that one of the partners in that cannery operation was Eben Perry, a famous figure from South Portland, who served as a Cumberland County Sheriff in the 19th century.

Portrait sketch of Eben N. Perry. South Portland Historical Society image

In last week’s column, we talked about how the Portland brewers, brothers Patrick and James McGlinchy, had been operating Casco Brewing on Fore Street in Portland, but after their brewery building was destroyed by fire in late 1871, they parted ways.

Patrick continued with Casco Brewing and rebuilt the brewery on Fore Street. James ended up operating his store and saloon on Commercial Street and, in 1872, purchased the Forest City Brewery on Highland Avenue in South Portland (then known as Brewery Road in Cape Elizabeth).

As far as we’ve been able to tell, the brewery remained in operation up until the time of James’ death at the age of 57 in 1880. We have not found any evidence of the brewery being active after James’ death, but the story picks up again two years later.

In April of 1882, it was announced in the Portland Daily Press that the firm of Perry and Flint had signed a five-year lease of the brewery building “which they will fit up for the purpose of canning vegetables. They have already contracted for the product of thirty acres of tomatoes and squash and expect to can in all the product of fifty acres.”

On June 21, 1882, a newspaper announcement confirmed that “F.O. Bailey & Co. will sell today at 2 p.m. on the premises, all the fittings of the well-known Forest City Brewery and Malt House of James McGlinchy, Esq., at Cape Elizabeth, Me., consisting in part of kiln, steam pumps, mill and elevator, copper boiling tubs, refrigerator, shafting, pulleys and hangings, two Blake steam pumps, about 400 ale barrels and half barrels, wheel and hoisting tackle, large two horse sled, scales, baskets, etc.”

With the brewery equipment cleared out, the retrofit of the building as a cannery continued and was completed in early September, 1882, when it was reported that Perry and Flint was about to start canning vegetables. In the Portland Daily Press on Oct. 18, 1882, they reported that “Messrs. Perry & Flint are canning apples at the Cape Elizabeth factory. In about a month they begin the packing of meats.”

For many years, Eben Perry lived with his wife and kids in this home at 889 Sawyer St., the property adjacent to the First Baptist Church. In his later years, he lived at 63 Willard St. South Portland Historical Society image

The firm of Perry and Flint suffered a number of setbacks that would eventually lead it to insolvency. In January of 1883, the two-story building that they occupied on Moulton Street caught fire, destroying about $10,000 worth of canned goods.

On Sept. 1, 1883, the cannery building (still called by locals “the McGlinchy brewery”) was completely destroyed by fire. There had been no recent activity in the building, as packing season was just about to begin, and it was later found that the fire was a case of arson by a vagrant.

The loss of the building and contents was a huge blow to Perry and Flint. All of the company’s machinery was destroyed, along with 187,000 cans stored inside (worth about $7,400), and about $1,100 worth of three-pound boxes.

Perry and Flint still had a factory in Cornish (Perry’s partner, Fred Flint, lived in Cornish), so they were able to continue canning, but the instant loss of canning capacity with the fire in Cape Elizabeth was a crushing blow.

They contacted the administrator of the James McGlinchy estate, making an offer to buy the land so that they could rebuild the factory, but nothing came of that hope. By February, 1884, the company was insolvent and F.O. Bailey & Co. auctioned off all of the company’s remaining inventory.

No brewery or factory building was ever rebuilt on the site. The land had passed through the estate of James McGlinchy to his heirs. When the land was sold in 1891 by the four living McGlinchy daughters, there was no building on the parcel. The site is now covered by residential homes.

An unexpected and exciting part of this story is learning more about Eben N. Perry. Perry was a very prominent person in Cape Elizabeth in the mid-1800s. Born in 1832, he moved to Cape Elizabeth in 1859 and, after farming for two years, he was elected collector of the town and served in that capacity from 1861-1863. In 1864, he was Cape Elizabeth’s collector and treasurer. During the Civil War, he served as the enrolling officer for Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough, and he was also appointed by the governor to be one of the state’s general recruiting officers.

He served as deputy sheriff of Cumberland County from 1865-1869, and then was elected sheriff of Cumberland County and served in that position from 1869-1872. During the time that he served as sheriff, he and his family lived in the sheriff’s living quarters supplied at the jail in Portland.

During the famous incident in July, 1872 (when deputy sheriff Matthew Adams seized 35 barrels of liquor belonging to James McGlinchy, which McGlinchy then retrieved from city hall and shipped to Boston before anyone could do anything about it), Eben Perry was serving as sheriff and was called to testify in the resulting court case.

At the trial, Eben Perry related an encounter he had with James McGlinchy that occurred a few months before the incident. Perry had been notifying people that he would be enforcing the liquor laws: “McGlinchy asked me if he stopped selling if it would be safe for his liquors to remain stored in the city. I told him it would, but if he was not intending to stop, his liquors would not be safe if I could find them, and he said he guessed he would send them off. The last of April or the first of May I had a conversation with him in the corridor by my office. He came to me with an envelope in his hand and apparently something in it, what I did not see, and said he wanted to make me a present: that I used him gentlemanly, etc. I told him to put it in his pocket; I did not wish to be seen in that position; I then asked him why he had not kept his word with me (I had heard rumors that caused me to ask the question) in regard to not selling. He said he thought he could do something. He had not sold a great deal, and if I could ease up on him he would do something pretty handsome for me.”

In April, 1875, Eben Perry started an entirely new venture, partnering with Mayhew Foss (the partnership was known simply as Perry & Foss). They bought out the existing wholesale produce business of Cyrus Greene, who was retiring, at 9 Moulton St. (head of Long Wharf) in Portland.

Foss retired in 1876 and Perry continued in the business by himself for a year. He brought in Fred Flint as a partner in January, 1877, and changed the business name to Perry & Flint. In an advertisement at the start-up of their partnership, Perry & Flint described itself as “commission merchants and wholesale dealers in country produce, foreign and domestic fruits, fancy groceries, etc.,” with its storefront at 7 and 9 Moulton St.

In 1878, Eben Perry was nominated by the governor and confirmed as the trial justice for the town of Cape Elizabeth. He served as the trial justice for many years, while continuing to operate the produce business. In 1880, Perry & Flint established an apple-drying factory in East Baldwin, and the expansion into Cape Elizabeth in 1882 certainly marked the peak of the business.

Eben Perry is a truly fascinating figure in South Portland’s history. In addition to serving as sheriff of Cumberland County and trial justice for Cape Elizabeth, he was affiliated for many years with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He also served as the senior coroner for Cumberland County in his later years, and worked as a town constable and detective. He died in 1912 at the age of 79.

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. She can be reached at [email protected]

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