Some readers might be familiar with the street called Harford Court in Ferry Village. That street was named in honor of the Harford family and of the store that they once operated on that corner of Sawyer Street. If I had to pick some of the most influential people in our community in the 19th century, the two Harford brothers would be at the top of my list.

A photograph from 1873 shows the Harford store and post office at 101 Sawyer St., on the corner of what is now Harford Court. South Portland Historical Society photo

James and Frederick Harford were born in 1848 and 1850, respectively, the sons of William and Jane Harford of Ferry Village. Although the brothers were very close, supported each other in every way, and were both very civic-minded, their lives did follow different paths.

In 1869, they established a mercantile/grocery at 101 Sawyer St. (in the building that was later occupied by Campbell’s Market and other grocers). They named their business “J.H. and F.H. Harford” but we can see on the 1870 census that it was primarily James who wished to follow this path.

His occupation was listed then as retail grocer while his younger brother was referred to as a clerk. The store was a typical mercantile of the time, selling a wide variety of groceries, dry goods, flour, grain, crockery, glassware, and other products.

James Harford was appointed the postmaster of Ferry Village in 1872 and the post office was located inside the store. This was at a time when there was no home delivery of mail and residents had to go and pick up their letters and packages.

The brothers also established and ran a grocery in Knightville for a short time.

Although Frederick had started out working with his brother in the store, he soon left to pursue his own interests. He started working and studying law in the office of Portland attorney Clarence Hale, until he passed the bar exam and became an attorney himself. About 1879 and 1880, he also served as a Cumberland County deputy sheriff. Good experience for someone in the legal field.

A portrait photograph of Frederick H. Harford. South Portland Historical Society photo

In 1881, Frederick turned his attention to partnering with and helping his brother launch a new endeavor, establishing a local weekly newspaper in Ferry Village called the Cape Elizabeth Sentinel. They moved the grocery to a smaller storefront on the corner of Sawyer and High streets, with a small addition built off to the side where the printing press was located (on the corner where you’d now find the Evelyn’s Tavern building).

The Cape Elizabeth Sentinel would use local residents, including young women, as reporters. The very famous Marcus Hanna, who was a Civil War hero and the keeper at Two Lights, wrote a column for the Sentinel.

It was the only newspaper devoted entirely to the news of Cape Elizabeth (South Portland). In later years, Frederick’s son, Charles M. Harford, would write for the paper, offering a column called “Harbor Ripples” in which he shared all of the news of the ships and captains of Portland Harbor. Charles would go on to write for the Sunday Telegram. Frederick’s wife, Fannie, was also a frequent contributor to the paper.

Although Frederick had helped launch the newspaper, and clearly used the office in Ferry Village for his law and real estate interests, by 1882 he had grown his law practice enough that he left most of the daily operation of the newspaper to James.

In 1885, when residents of Ferry Village were dissatisfied with the rising ticket prices and poor service offered by the Cape Elizabeth Ferry, it was Frederick Harford who helped them petition the Maine State Legislature and secure the right to establish a new ferry company, resulting in the incorporation of the People’s Ferry Company. Frederick would later become one of the leaders in the effort to have Sebago water brought into Cape Elizabeth. He would serve as the judge of the Municipal Court and his side-career in real estate development is not to be ignored.

According to an article in the Portland Daily Press in 1896, he had over 300 acres in South Portland under his control at that time, with plans for its development as business and residential house lots.

James Harford continued on his own path. For several years, he would continue to operate the grocery and post office, at the same time that he was publishing the Sentinel. In 1885, however, he finally decided to leave the grocery business and focus on the newspaper. He stepped down as postmaster and Albert Thurrell, the druggist across the street, was appointed in his place.

The Harfords moved the offices of the Sentinel to a nearby building at 141 Sawyer St. An article in the Portland Daily Press in December, 1885, talked about the new offices: “The proprietors, Messrs. J.H. and F.H. Harford, fitted up their offices in such good style that they have splendid quarters. They have thoroughly remodelled [sic] the building and put two good tenements over the printing and publishing offices.” (The building would later be home to the Sawyer Street Garage; it burned down circa 1930.)

As publishers of the local newspaper, the Harford brothers had created a powerful mechanism for sharing ideas, lending their take on local issues and events, and helping to guide popular sentiment. One interesting side note: It was at the suggestion of the Cape Elizabeth Sentinel that, in 1887, Ferry Village residents petitioned the Postmaster General and were successful in having the name of the neighborhood changed from Ferry Village to South Portland. This was, of course, a relatively short-lived change. After the town itself changed its name from Cape Elizabeth to South Portland in 1895, village residents reverted to using the name Ferry Village.

James Harford served for a time as the town tax assessor and also served as a town selectman from 1888 to 1890. Always showing an entrepreneurial nature, James also dabbled in other business ventures. In the late 1880s, he had a side-business in operation as a “manufacturer of extracts.” He would also invest in a laundry business, Excelsior Steam Laundry, in the 1890s.

Also in the 1890s, as James’ children became old enough to work, they started to become more active in the family business. His daughter Florence began working for the newspaper as a compositor (she arranged the type for the printing press); his son Harry worked as a clerk and editor for a time, then took over the laundry business.

In 1895, James decided to pursue yet another business opportunity. While still publishing the Cape Elizabeth Sentinel, he began the publication of another local weekly, the Deering Enterprise. He hired Cyrus Kilby of the Woodford’s neighborhood in Deering to serve as the editor of that paper, but the printing and publishing took place from the same office as the Sentinel. In 1898, James sold that newspaper to a competing paper, the Deering News.

The Cape Elizabeth Sentinel continued for many years, however. James was listed as the publisher of that paper right up until his death in 1915.

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, 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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