Last week, we looked at the incredible story of George Upton, who survived the wreck of the Mary Lizzie in 1893. The Upton family was one of the leading families of our community at that time. We take a look this week at his younger brother, Joseph.

South Portland Historical Society image

The David and Emma Upton family moved from Chebeague Island to Cape Elizabeth (now South Portland) around 1863. David Upton purchased the land at 172 Preble St. in 1865 and he borrowed money from a relative the following year, with the property as collateral, so it appears he may have built their home there around that time.

Their son Joseph was born in 1869 and, like his brother George, would become a community leader in the Ferry Village neighborhood. When the South Portland Hose Company No. 1 formed in 1892, Joseph Upton was also one of the charter members, helping to ensure that neighborhood homes were protected in the event of fire. He was one of the core group of members who were willing to not only serve, but lead. He was company captain in 1909 and 1910.

When his brother George was found after the 1893 shipwreck, Joseph was only 23 at the time. He was at the dock when George arrived home. According to one newspaper account, “Mr. [George] Upton was entirely overcome, and when his brother took his hand was unable to speak.”

Like his father, Joseph was a ship captain, but served primarily as a ferry boat captain in Casco Bay. Starting when he was about 18 years old. Until about 1910, he commanded various steam ferries, most of which tended to stay within Portland Harbor, such as the Cape Elizabeth ferries that ran between the Portland waterfront and Ferry Village.

He was first in command of the 45-passenger steam yacht Leo, and later of the large double-ended steam ferry Elizabeth City. The Harpswell Line gave him command of the Maquoit for a time in 1905 and he even spent a few seasons with the Bay of Naples Line, navigating the Songo River.

In 1901, Joseph’s mother, Emma, sold him the family home at 172 Preble St. In the 1910 census, Joseph was living in the home with his wife, Mabelle, his daughters, Etta and Elsie, his sons, Dean and Everett, and his mother, Emma. He had also taken on a job as the superintendent of the Russell building in Portland.

Captain Joseph Upton was often in command of the double-ended steam ferry Elizabeth City that ran between Ferry Village and the Portland waterfront. South Portland Historical Society image

In 1911, Upton decided to change careers and was appointed assistant lighthouse keeper at Matinicus Rock. In 1912, he moved to Cape Elizabeth light station as its third keeper. He sold the family home on Preble Street at that time. Over the next 10 years, he transferred to several different light stations before attaining a head keeper position at White Island Light, Isles of Shoals station, in 1922. He served there until 1926 when he was appointed head keeper at the Cape Elizabeth Two Lights station.

Joseph Upton served at Two Lights from 1926 until his untimely death in January of 1934. On Jan. 13, a storm caused the main light to fail, so Upton lit the auxiliary beacon.

That evening, he went up the tower at 9:30 p.m. to adjust the beacon. His wife Mabelle woke up at 11:30 p.m. to find that he hadn’t come back. She tried to telephone him in the tower room, but there was no answer so she headed over to find him. When she got there, she found that he had fallen down the steps of the lighthouse tower and was lying unconscious at the bottom, his skull fractured in two places. They transported him to the hospital, but he died the next day as a result of his injuries.

Joseph and Mabelle Upton are buried in the Upton family plot at Mount Pleasant Cemetery.

I would like to take a moment to again thank my friend and research partner Jackie Dunham. Over the course of the past year and pandemic, Jackie and I have taken on a wide variety of research projects related to South Portland’s past. Her work has helped to uncover some previously forgotten history that we are now able to document and preserve within the South Portland Historical Society archives. Thank you, Jackie.

Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo is executive director of the South Portland Historical Society. She can be reached at [email protected]

Have you been reading and enjoying these weekly history columns in the Sentry? These columns are brought to you by the South Portland Historical Society, an active community nonprofit that is supported by local residents and businesses. We have just started our annual membership drive and we need your help.

Our membership year runs from May to May, so please consider joining or renewing now for the 2021-2022 membership year. When our members renew now, it also saves us the postage costs of sending membership reminders. A one-year family membership is only $25, but we accept memberships at all levels.

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