One of South Portland’s lesser-known neighborhoods is South Portland Heights, and if you’ve ever been on Parrott Street you probably know how the neighborhood acquired that name. From the Heights, you get a good view of Portland.

The “downtown” of South Portland Heights is the intersection of Ocean Street and Sawyer Street. The area was earlier called Town House Corner, due to it being the site of our town hall – both when we were known as Cape Elizabeth and after we changed our name to the town of South Portland. After we adopted the city form of government in 1898, we simply called it city hall instead.

When our city hall burned down in 1921, we moved city operations temporarily to the Masonic building in Knightville and eventually moved into our current city hall building at 25 Cottage Road.

With our town house located on the corner of Ocean and Sawyer, which would bring residents from around Cape Elizabeth to congregate in that area, it’s no surprise that there were quite a few stores in existence around it. While a post office was established there in 1889 (the grocer Jabez Marriner served as the first postmaster), we’ve been looking this week at an earlier grocer who was a prominent man of the neighborhood.

On this section of an FW Beers atlas from 1871, Ocean Street is running from top to bottom in the center of the image and toward the bottom, Sawyer Street is running left to right, intersecting Ocean. The two buildings on the northeast (upper right) corner of that intersection are the old Town House and the John L. Parrott store. Just above that is Parrott Street, running off to the east (right) of Ocean Street, with John L. Parrott’s residence on the northeast corner.

In his earlier years, John L. Parrott worked as a house carpenter. He lived on Ocean Street in the vicinity of where Parrott Street is today, although it wasn’t called Parrott Street back then.

He opened his store at Town House Corner around 1870-71. On the 1871 F.W. Beers & Company atlas, we get this great description of the kind of general merchandise that John Parrott offered: “Dealer in West Indies goods, groceries, provisions, meal, flour, corn, grain, hardware, boots, shoes, and general merchandise.”

Parrott obviously did very well in the business as he decided to build a much larger store in 1873.

In the Portland Daily Press in May of 1873, we see this announcement, “At Town House Corner two new stores are to be built, one 26×50 with hall overhead by J.L. Parrott; the other by Sumner Libby.”

The store went up quickly as he was already in business in the larger store that summer. We see this unfortunate announcement on Aug. 29, 1873, related to a theft that had occurred, however, it does provide some more details of some of the merchandise that Parrott offered: “Marshall Parker and Deputy Bridges yesterday discovered a lot of the property recently stolen from Parrott’s store, town house corner, Cape Elizabeth, in a barn in the town of Deering. The property found consisted of cloths [sic], boots, cigars, underclothing and umbrellas.”

John Parrott suffered a bad turn of events in January of 1874 when his newly-built store burned to the ground. This story appeared in the Boston Herald: “To-night [January 23, 1874] a two-story and a half wooden building in Cape Elizabeth, owned and occupied by John L. Parrott as a store, with a hall overhead, caught fire from a defective chimney. In the rear was a smaller store, which was also burned. Next beyond was the town house, a one and a half-story building, which was also destroyed. The first store was valued at $3500; the second at $475; and the town house at $350. In the cellar of the store Mr. Parrott had $1200 worth of produce, which was totally destroyed; insured for $1000. Most of the goods in the store were removed in a damaged condition.”

On a side note, the town house mentioned in that article was a wooden building on a quarter-acre lot beside Parrott’s large store. That old town hall sat sideways to Ocean Street with its front door facing north, toward Parrott’s store. When the town built a two-story, brick town hall next door to replace it in 1874 (with our high school on the second floor) on the corner of Sawyer and Ocean, the lot where the former town hall had been was left vacant.

In spite of his troubles, including a bankruptcy petition in 1880, it is clear that John Parrott was well regarded in the town and was not shy about speaking up in town meetings. At some events, he would be the first to address the crowd and introduce other speakers.

He often served as a delegate to regional and state conventions. There were apparently no fond feelings between him and fellow grocer Howard Dyer; not only did they often speak out on opposite sides of issues, but one town meeting debate resulted in the Parrott and Dyer kids getting into a little fisticuffs outside the meeting hall.

The store theft was not the only theft we found in the newspapers.

In the Aug. 25, 1884, edition of the Portland Daily Press, we see this interesting story: “Friday night some parties cut the window shade in the sleeping room of John Parrott’s house at Town House corner, and by means of a pair of scissors attached to the end of a board fished his trousers out of the window, and stole $8 from the pockets. Mrs. Parrott woke up in time to see the trousers passing out the window. A pocket-book containing valuable papers, under Mr. Parrott’s pillow, was not disturbed.”

Note: 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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