We take a look this week at another significant person in Ferry Village’s past, Stephen Hubbard.

Born in 1806, Hubbard became a house carpenter by trade and was living in Portland when he married Eliza Sawyer in 1831. Eliza was from Cape Elizabeth and was the daughter of Capt. David H. Sawyer who had operated a sail ferry between Ferry Village and the Portland waterfront.

Stephen and Eliza Hubbard would make their home in Cape Elizabeth and become prominent members of the Ferry Village community. Stephen served two terms as a town selectman in 1851 and 1852. He was also a Justice of the Peace and often performed marriages in the community.

Portrait photo of Stephen Hubbard, Ferry Village community activist and lighthouse keeper at Bug Light. South Portland Historical Society photo

Hubbard’s life story, however, is intricately tied to the history of the Peoples United Methodist Church (known as the Methodist Episcopal Church of Ferry Village in Hubbard’s time).

When the Rev. Jesse Stone came to serve the Brown’s Hill Church in 1838 (the Brown’s Hill Church would later become known as the First United Methodist Church), he came here as a missionary, seeking to set up new congregations in the area. By initially holding meetings in people’s homes, Stone was soon successful in finding a group of people who started to meet in the Willard neighborhood (known as Point Village in those days) by 1839.

The group had a small church built on land that they acquired from John Leavitt in July, 1841. The church was reportedly completed in 1842. The church flourished for a time, but then the members seemed to want to go in different directions.

Stephen Hubbard was among the leaders of the church and he lived in Ferry Village. The trustees, now calling themselves the “Methodist Episcopal Church at Cape Elizabeth Ferry,” met on Sept. 6, 1851, and voted to build a new church in Ferry Village. They met again on Sept. 22, 1851, and Stephen Hubbard (being a carpenter) presented plans that he had drawn up for the construction of the church.

The trustees voted to appoint Hubbard to serve as their agent, to buy materials and handle the construction of the new church.

This early version of Bug Light was in place from 1855 to 1875. The wooden lighthouse was replaced by a cast iron lighthouse in 1875. South Portland Historical Society photo

A lot of land on Dyer Street was offered by Dr. Eliphalet Clark, but the trustees decided that they preferred a different location. They secured a lot on the corner of High and School streets. The 90-foot by 90-foot lot had originally been part of the massive tracts of land that George Turner had purchased in 1846-1847 when he was embarking on the founding of the Turner & Cahoon Shipyard.

Turner died unexpectedly in 1848 and the yard and much of the land was acquired by Benjamin W. Pickett. The church trustees acquired the lot in October of 1851 from Benjamin Pickett, with George Turner’s widow also signing off on the land transfer. The deed shows the following names of trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church at Cape Elizabeth Ferry: Stephen Hubbard, Levi Strout, Charles W. York, Jeremiah York, John Robinson, Joshua W. Pillsbury and William Hatch.

Construction of the church began in early 1852 and the new church was completed and dedicated in January 1853. Stephen Hubbard immediately set about plans to establish a Sunday school. On May 1, 1853, the Methodist Episcopal Sunday School of Ferry Village was founded. Hubbard would serve as a teacher at the Sunday school for many years, and also served as the school superintendent.

The Methodist Episcopal Church in Ferry Village was renamed as Peoples Methodist Episcopal Church in 1888.

When Stephen Hubbard first became lighthouse keeper at Bug Light in 1875, he had to traverse the breakwater to work every day, even in winter. The iron handrail that extended the entire length of the breakwater was not installed until 1886, the year before Hubbard’s death. Etta Gregory Watts Collection

This on its own could be enough of a life story, but Stephen Hubbard would have an interesting career change in 1875 when he was appointed lighthouse keeper at Bug Light (officially known as Portland Breakwater Light).

The year 1875 also happens to be the year that the original wooden Bug Light was removed and the cast iron lighthouse (that is there today) was constructed. That means that Stephen Hubbard was the first lighthouse keeper in the new light, which, like today, had no keeper’s house attached.

This was not a problem for Stephen Hubbard as he and his family lived in their house on Stanford Street, just a short walk to the steps up onto the breakwater. But Hubbard did have a hard job of it in the winter, as had all of the keepers before him, as he had to walk out that breakwater to the lighthouse each day and, depending on the weather, that could be a very cold and treacherous walk into work.

It was during Stephen Hubbard’s tenure that a 58-foot section of iron handrail was installed in 1879, near the end of the breakwater, to help Hubbard manage the walk out to the light. In 1886, the iron handrail was extended the entire length of the breakwater.

Hubbard served as lighthouse keeper for 12 years, right up to his death in 1887. It was two years after his death when a two-room, 18-foot by 20-foot wooden keeper’s house was built and attached to the lighthouse.

I would like to thank Art Tordoff, retired history teacher and current historian at Peoples United Methodist Church, for his research and writing of the book, “From a Seed: Roots Grew,” a history of Peoples Church. While we were aware of Stephen Hubbard’s work as a lighthouse keeper at Bug Light, it was Mr. Tordoff’s research into the history of the church that opened up this new aspect of Hubbard’s role in the community.

Note: If you enjoy reading about South Portland history, please consider becoming a member of the South Portland Historical Society.

A one-year family membership is only $25 and supports our mission of preserving local history. Donations can be made through our online museum website at https://sphistory.pastperfectonline.com, or if you’d prefer to donate by check, please make it payable to South Portland Historical Society and mail to us at 55 Bug Light Park, South Portland, ME 04106. Thank you. If you need to contact the society, we can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 207-767-7299.

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

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