In most small towns, if you look closely enough, you’ll see many connections between the early families who lived there. Before the coming of the automobile, life moved at a slower pace and people were more likely to socialize with their neighbors at the grocery, barber shop or, as we’ve been looking at in recent weeks, the local hose house or fire station.

That small-town feel is certainly evident in the Willard neighborhood.

Willis F. Strout, captain of Willard Hose Company from its inception in 1892 until 1920. South Portland Historical Society photo

As we look back at the formation of Willard Hose Company, we see members of the community coming together in the home of Willis F. Strout in 1892 to make their plans to organize a fire company. Willis Strout would serve as company captain from 1892 until 1920. He was a well-known and well-liked resident of Cape Elizabeth, descended from the Strout family that had been here for generations.

Willis Strout was the grandson of a sea captain, Daniel Strout, Sr., who was born in Cape Elizabeth in 1802 and who married Jane G. Dyer in 1825 (the Dyer family being another early family of the town).

Daniel Sr. and Jane Dyer had six children, one of whom was Joshua F. Strout (the famous keeper of Portland Head Light) and another being Daniel Strout, Jr.

Daniel Strout, Jr. was born in Cape Elizabeth in 1830 or 1831 (birth records are not consistent) and he married Martha Loveitt in 1855 (the Loveitts being yet another of the early families of the town). Daniel Jr worked first as a carpenter, building a number of houses in Cape Elizabeth in the mid-1800s, before opening a grocery store in Willard Square in 1859.

This was so early that the street was named Main Street at the time (later to be called Preble Street), the neighborhood name was Point Village, and the square was called Dog Square. These places would later take on the Willard name in honor of the Willard family of fishermen and sea captains who kept their homestead at the end of Deake Street, overlooking the beach.

This photograph of 427-429 Preble St. (on the right) was taken about 1900 when there was a grocery on the first floor. It was run by proprietor Sherman G. Willard. The grocery was initially established by Willis F. Strout, in partnership with Sherman Willard. South Portland Historical Society photo

Daniel Strout, Jr. lived with his wife, Martha, and their children in the same building as the store, which was located roughly in the vicinity of where Bathras Market and Scratch Baking are today. In a business listing, Daniel Jr.’s store is listed as dealing in dry goods, groceries, provisions, meal, flour, corn, grain, hardware, crockery and glassware. It’s a great description of a traditional, old-time mercantile.

A well-respected man of the town, Daniel Strout, Jr. served as our representative to the Maine State Legislature for two terms: 1881/1882 and 1883/1884. He apparently passed on his love for public service to his son, as Willis also held several public offices in his lifetime, including serving as the town auditor of Cape Elizabeth from 1884-1887, as town agent in 1891, and when Cape Elizabeth changed its name in 1895, Willis Strout was one of the first three selectmen of the town of South Portland (along with fellow grocers, John A.S. Dyer of Knightville and Andrew J. Cash of Cash Corner).

Willis F. Strout was born in Cape Elizabeth in 1857. He literally grew up in the store in Willard Square and started working there as a teenager. In 1881, he married Eva Smith. He was only 26 years old when his father died in 1884. He took over the grocery and ran it until 1889 when he sold the business. Willis then became a shipping clerk at Twitchell, Champlin & Co. in Portland.

The former home of Willis and Eva Strout at 375 Preble St. South Portland Historical Society photo

In 1893, he went into partnership with Sherman G. Willard and they opened a grocery in Willard Square at 427-429 Preble St. (in the entire first floor of the building where Willard Scoops is located today). The business name was Willis F. Strout & Co., although most locals referred to the grocery as “Strout and Willard.”

In 1895, Willis Strout sold his share in the grocery to Sherman Willard and left the business.

For a time, he then worked as an engineer in the powerhouse of the Portland Railroad Company, then left in 1900 to take a job at the Lovell Arms bicycle factory in Ferry Village. His timing was poor, as the bicycle factory closed shortly thereafter. Willis Strout ended up working as a shipper of dry goods for several decades until his retirement.

Willis Strout served as the captain of Willard Hose for about 27 years. While he served as captain, his brother-in-law William Henry Smith was also active with the company, as was Willis’ son, Daniel H. Strout. When Willis stepped down as captain in early 1920, it was William Henry Smith who the members voted for their next captain, and he went on to serve as the company captain through 1925. Daniel H. Strout would serve as captain in 1929 and 1930.

William Henry Smith, the brother-in-law of Willis Strout, served as captain of Willard Hose Company from 1920 to 1925. South Portland Historical Society photo

William Henry Smith was another interesting figure in South Portland’s past. Born in Cape Elizabeth in 1866, he married local girl, Elizabeth Ridley. They lived at 422 Preble St. He worked a variety of jobs early on, but in 1895, he became a conductor on the first trolley line in South Portland. He worked as a motorman on the electric railway for about 37 years, retiring in 1933. When it was decided to cease operation of trolley service in South Portland in 1940, Smith was given the honor of coming out of retirement for the day.

In a newspaper report from July 21, 1940, “When the last car leaves Portland tonight the hand at the controls will be that of William Smith, retired motorman, who is the only man living who operated cars when the line was opened many years ago.”

William Henry Smith brought that final car into the trolley barn at the end of its run.

Note: South Portland Historical Society is actively working to research, collect, preserve and exhibit local history. If you have information, artifacts or historic photographs to share, please reach out to us. You can reach us by mail at South Portland Historical Society, 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 maintains an Online Museum with over 10,000 historic images available for viewing, which 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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