If you had lived in South Portland in the late 1800s, you would certainly have known at least one of the many Merriman families who lived here. We’ll take a closer look this week at two of the sons of the fisherman John S. Merriman.

John F. and Clarence Merriman were both born on Chebeague Island – John F. Merriman in 1859 and his younger brother Clarence was born in 1864. The family moved to South Portland (then known as Cape Elizabeth) and lived at 33 Pine St. While it was John, the elder brother, who seemed to pave the way, Clarence (who sometimes went by the nickname “Tate”) was quick to follow in his footsteps.

On this 1871 F.W. Beers & Co. atlas page, Front Street runs from left to right. The 170 Front St. building on the corner of Stanford Street can be seen toward the right side, above what is called Summer Street. The building was home to the W.B. Thompson grocery in 1871, but was the site of Merriman & Thompson’s grocery in the early 1880s. South Portland Historical Society image

We mentioned John F. Merriman briefly in a column last month about the Thompson family. John married one of the Thompson daughters, Carrie, and one of his first business ventures was with his brother-in-law Benjamin K. Thompson when they opened a grocery together at 170 Front St., on the corner of Stanford Street. John was only about 22 years old when they first opened the store; John and Benjamin ran their store from 1882 to 1884.

When Benjamin Thompson left their partnership to start a new store with his brother, John Merriman also opened a new storefront on Sawyer Street. He ran the store as a proprietor for about 10 years, adding the post office to his store when he was appointed the postmaster in October of 1889.

John’s brother, Clarence Merriman, learned the grocery business by working as a clerk in John’s store. In 1890, Clarence formed a partnership with Charles Howes and they opened a grocery (Howes & Merriman) at 58 Free St. in Portland.

Around 1891, Howes left and Clarence Merriman had his brother Alphonso join him in the grocery; they changed the name of the store on Free Street to Merriman Bros. They only did business for about a year, however, then Clarence listed his occupation simply as “musician” for a few years. Around 1895, Clarence joined his brother John in his grocery on Sawyer Street in Ferry Village. The brothers resurrected the name Merriman Bros. for their new partnership.

In 1896, Capt. James York built a new, large building block at 124 Sawyer St. (the building is still there today on the corner of High Street, now home to the Knitting Nook). The Merriman brothers operated their store from the first floor of that building until around 1903.

South Portland Historical Society image

The Merriman brothers were also musicians and involved in another interesting facet of local history. In the latter part of the 1800s, there were several bands that performed in the greater Portland area. Two of the most widely-known were the Portland Band and Chandler’s Band in Portland.

The Portland Band had originally been established around 1825 and its list of bandleaders over the years is impressive – including Daniel Chandler (who would found the Chandler’s Band, which is believed to be the second oldest continuously operating professional band in the United States today), as well as Jonathan Cole and Frank L. Collins.

South Portland, known then as Cape Elizabeth, had many accomplished musicians in the community, and several bands were established over the years.

One of the early formal bands that was active here was the Union Brass Band. This marching band was formed at the Union Hall on Monroe Street in Ferry Village and was very active in the early- to mid-1870s.

In the 1880s, Frank L. Collins was the popular conductor and leader of the Portland Band. He started a band school in Portland in 1881. In April of 1883, under the instruction of Collins, about 20 musicians formed a band in Town House Corner (the neighborhood around the intersection of Sawyer and Ocean streets). Since we have found no further mention of that band, however, it appears they were not successful.

The origins of the well-known Merriman’s Band date to 1882. In July, 1882, we find mention of a small band forming in Ferry Village when 22 musicians came together and sought out the instruction of Jonathan Cole. On Jan. 26, 1883, a formal band was organized, known first as the Ferry Village Band of Mercy, with George T. Huntley elected as its president.

The band reportedly had over 160 musicians signed on. On Feb. 28, 1883, the Ferry Village Band, with 20 of its musicians being conducted by Frank L. Collins, played at Union Hall. On Memorial Day in 1883, the Ferry Village Band took part by marching along with a group of school children to Mount Pleasant Cemetery to decorate graves.

Numerous other newspaper listings through 1883 show that the band remained active throughout the year.

The connection to the Merriman family appears to begin in 1884 (although we expect that both John and Clarence Merriman were among the earliest musicians who joined the band). In an announcement in the Portland Daily Press in February, 1884, we learn that the Ferry Village Band had just purchased new uniforms and would be giving a concert and dance at Union Hall, with John F. Merriman now serving as the band’s conductor. In the next mention we found of the band, in 1884, the name of the band had changed to Merriman’s Band of Ferry Village.

The name of the band remained Merriman’s Band and was likely strengthened by the fact that John Merriman turned over the conductor’s reins to his brother Clarence in January of 1885. As evidenced by the plethora of news articles over the next few years, the band was busy – they would appear frequently in parades, play at weddings and dances, give concerts at local venues, and they would often be hired to accompany outings on ferry boat trips out to the islands.

There was one other conductor who we were able to find, Frank Moore in 1888, and then news coverage of the band ceased for several years.

In 1894, the band was reborn when another Cape Elizabeth band, the Knightville Band, changed its name to Merriman’s Band. In a news article from August of 1894, the reporter stated that the name change was made in honor of the band’s leader. While no specific person is named, Clarence Merriman listed his occupation in the 1894 Portland Directory as “musician,” so it would appear that he had taken over the leadership of the band in Knightville.

Like the prior version of Merriman’s Band, the new band also became one of the most popular bands at the time. The conductors also changed over the years. In the late 1890s, Merriman’s Band was being conducted by W.E. Chandler, the son of Daniel Chandler who founded Chandler’s Band.

Note to readers: The South Portland Historical Society is actively researching and documenting local history. If you enjoy reading about South Portland history, please lend your support. 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 for the South Portland Historical Society. She can be reached at [email protected]

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