When looking at South Portland over the years, there are some family names that come up repeatedly and seem synonymous with South Portland – Willard, Loveitt, Angell, Dyer, and Strout, to name a few. Certain families were early to settle here and, as our villages grew, so too did these families as generation after generation stayed in the same area.

One such family is the Thompson family. There were two prominent Thompson family lines in South Portland in the late-1800s and early-1900s. We look this week at the Thompson family in Ferry Village that descended from Charles W. Thompson. In a future column, we’ll look at the grocer Howard S. Thompson and his family in the Willard neighborhood.

On this page from the 1871 F.W. Beers atlas, we can see the William Thompson store at the upper right, which would later be home to the John Merriman and Benjamin Thompson store from 1882-1884. We can also see the location of the Charles Thompson home/store on Sawyer Street, toward the lower left. South Portland Historical Society image

Charles W. Thompson was born in 1817 in New Brunswick, Canada, then moved to Calais, Maine, where he first married in 1841 and had a son James by his first wife. He and James would later move to Cape Elizabeth where he met and married his second wife, Caroline Knight, in 1854. They lived in a home at 93 Sawyer St., on the corner of Harford Court.

If you were standing on Sawyer Street, looking down Harford Court, the J.H. & F.H. Harford store (which opened in 1869) would be on the left corner and the Thompson store was on the right corner. The history of the Thompson store has been tricky to find. In research through the registry of deeds, we see a mortgage deed that shows Charles W. Thompson receiving a loan from Leonard Billings in 1865.

In an 1867 newspaper advertisement, Charles W. Thompson is definitely running a store there, which he is attempting to sell. He describes the property, saying “the store is nearly new and contains a large hall.” It appears that he was not having much success in the grocery business. After Charles was unable to sell the property, Leonard Billings took the land and building through foreclosure in 1871.

Shortly thereafter, Charles and his family disappear from local records, so we can’t be sure where they went, but they were still here in the area. We found the sad story of the 1877 accidental death of Charles and Caroline’s son, Sumner, when we were researching the John Bradford spar yard. When he was only 10 years old, Sumner Thompson was playing on a pile of spars in the Bradford yard on West High Street when he fell and drowned underneath them.


Portrait photo of Benjamin K. Thompson. South Portland Historical Society photo

By 1882, Charles W. and Caroline Thompson, and their kids, appear in the Portland Directories again, living in the same house at 93 Sawyer St., which they were now renting from the Billings family. Charles W. was 65 years old by then, but listed his occupation as a gardener at that time.

Of course, by 1882, the Harford brothers were now running their store, as well as the Cape Elizabeth Sentinel, from a building on the corner of Sawyer and High streets. One of Charles W.’s sons, Charles F. Thompson, began working as a printer for the Harford brothers.

Another of Charles W.’s sons, Benjamin K. Thompson, had gone into the grocery business in partnership with his brother-in-law John F. Merriman (John Merriman had married Charles W.’s daughter, Carrie, in 1880).

The Merriman and Thompson store was in operation for about two years and was located at 170 Front St., on the corner of Stanford Street. This storefront had previously been operated by William B. Thompson, but he had moved to South Dakota and John Merriman and Benjamin Thompson leased the storefront. If you were driving down Stanford Street toward the water, the Merriman and Thompson store was located on the right corner at the end.

Around 1885, the brothers Charles F. and Benjamin K. Thompson went into the grocery business together, calling their business C.F. Thompson & Co., but more commonly known as Thompson Brothers. Their dad would also help out, working as a clerk in the store, up until his death in 1894.

The Thompson Bros. store was located at 89 Sawyer St. (the same lot as their home at 93 Sawyer St.).


In a news article in the Cape Elizabeth Sentinel in 1899, we get a description of the business: “This well-patronized grocery is situated on Sawyer street, and the brothers have been in business together for 14 years. Mr. C.F. Thompson was formerly with the SENTINEL but subsequently went into the meat business. Mr. B.K. Thompson was with Mr. John Merriman for two years. The store is well-stocked with fresh and reliable groceries and provisions and as the firm buys its goods at the lowest cash prices they are never undersold by their competitors. A fine line of canned goods and the best brands of tobacco and cigars are also kept at this popular store.”

In addition to running the store, Benjamin Thompson was also very involved in the community. He was an active member of the South Portland Hose & Ladder Company No. 1 (later known as Engine 1), taking on various leadership roles, including serving as the call company’s captain in 1900 and 1901. He also served as a South Portland alderman from 1903-1905.

The Thompson brothers were very successful grocers and ran their store together until the mid-1910s. Around 1916 and 1917, Benjamin Thompson was running the store on his own, then finally closed the store around 1918.

We have not found any photographs of the Thompson Brothers store. If anyone has a copy, we would appreciate hearing from you. The South Portland Historical Society can be reached at 207-767-7299 or by email at [email protected]

Independence Day Classic Car Show

The Independence Day Classic Car Show, presented by Yankee Ford, will be held at Bug Light Park from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. South Portland Historical Society photo

The South Portland Historical Society is making plans for its Fourth of July festivities. The Independence Day Classic Car Show, presented by Yankee Ford, will be held at Bug Light Park from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.


The annual reading of the Declaration of Independence will take place at noon. Our own historical society board member and local celebrity, Chuck Igo, will perform the reading in period costume. This is a drive-in event, and anyone with an antique or classic car is welcome to attend. Registration is recommended, but not required.

To register a vehicle, send an email with contact info and the year, make and model of the car to [email protected]

Food will be provided by Mainely Burgers and Mainely Treats food trucks, with a portion of the proceeds donated to the historical society and its museum. Kites, kind wands (for young children) and T-shirts will also be available for sale at the event.

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

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