We are so grateful to Amanda Fickett, granddaughter of councilman Robert W. Fickett, Jr., who reached out and put us in touch with her dad, Bob Fickett III. Bob has been a wealth of information for us as we’ve started the process of documenting the Fickett family and their farms in South Portland.

A milk bottle in the collections of South Portland Historical Society is from the Connolly dairy at 1106 Highland Ave. The bottle is embossed with “Mrs. E. Connolly, South Portland, Maine.” South Portland Historical Society photo

We’ve known that Robert W. Fickett had a farm at 1106 Highland Ave. (previously 932 Highland before the street was renumbered), but nothing has previously been documented about the actual operation there. We’ve also known that there was a Fickett piggery at 1207 Highland Ave. (previously 1045 Highland), but again, very little has ever been written of it and we’ve never found a photograph to show what was there.

Thanks to Bob, we now have a much better understanding of both farm sites and we will share some of that information this week and next.

This can get confusing as there were four Robert “Bob” Ficketts:

1.) Robert D. Fickett who we talked about last week, who lived in the farm on Kelsey Street;

2.) his son, Robert W. Fickett, Sr., who lived in the farm at 1106 Highland Ave.;

3.) Robert W. Fickett, Jr., the city councilor who had the roadside farm stand on outer Highland Avenue;

4.) and his son, Robert W. Fickett III. For clarification in this column, when I say “Bob” I’m indicating Robert W. Fickett, III.

According to Bob, there was a time when he, his father and grandfather all lived at the farm and it could be challenging figuring out which Bob someone was referring to.

The Fickett farm at 1106 Highland Ave. was first known as the Connolly farm. In the 1800s, Cornelius Connolly bought up a large tract of land along outer Highland, along with another significant parcel down where Ram Island farm in Cape Elizabeth is today. He and his wife, Ellen McCarthy, were both originally from Ireland. They had eight children, although not all survived; of those eight children, we’ve documented five so far: Margaret, Nellie, Timothy, Frank and Agnes.

During Cornelius and Ellen Connolly’s time, they lived in Portland, so the farm on Highland Avenue appears to have been a working farm, but not where they lived.

Cornelius Connolly died in 1892 and their daughter, Margaret Connolly, married James O’Neill. The O’Neills ran the farm as a dairy farm business. They divorced, but Margaret and her children later moved to the farm and her son, Cornelius O’Neill, was the farm manager there for many years. Even though the O’Neills were living there and working it, the farm was still called the Connolly Farm.

Margaret and James O’Neill’s daughter, Margaret “Agnes” O’Neill, married Robert W. Fickett, Sr. in 1927. Robert and Agnes then lived on the farm and raised their kids there. It appears that when the large old barn burned down in 1930, it likely took the dairy operation with it as we have found no further reference to the Connolly dairy after that. It simply became known as the Fickett farm and later passed from father Robert W. to son Robert W., Jr.

A fire at the Connolly/O’Neill farm in November of 1930. According to Bob Fickett, the fire started in the old barn as a result of spontaneous combustion caused by storing green hay. South Portland Historical Society photo

For most of its years as the Fickett farm, it was a vegetable growing operation.

“My father did large-scale vegetable farming originally,” wrote Bob. “Lettuce, sweet corn, carrots, potatoes and squash sold in bulk to wholesalers, but later transitioned to market gardening. I have memories of large crews working our fields weeding plants. Dad would pay them in silver dollars back when they were common currency.

“Early on, we had two men that were more or less full-time help that lived in out-buildings on the property. There was also a large glass greenhouse where dad started seedlings and grew cut flowers. But we had four properties in the family – Highland Avenue, the piggery, Crescent Beach (now part of the state park), and the Nichols’ Farm in Scarborough (now Camp Ketcha), and we rented others. That all gradually shrunk down as small-scale farming became less viable amid urban pressure over time.”

Next week, we’ll take a look at the Fickett piggery on outer Highland Avenue.

Note: Do you have photos of any of the Fickett farms? South Portland Historical Society is always seeking pieces of our community’s history. If you have photographs, documents, or other items or information to share, please contact the society by mail at 55 Bug Light Park, South Portland, ME 04106, by email at [email protected], by phone at 207-767-7299, or message us on Facebook.

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

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