Last week, we looked at the old meeting house on Cottage Road, the building for which Meeting House Hill is named. Our town meetings were held in that parish-owned building through 1834, when the parish members decided to tear the building down and build a new church on the same site.

The meetings of the town of Cape Elizabeth (the former name of South Portland) were then held in 1835-1837 in the Friends Meeting House, located on Sawyer Street, near Ocean Street, on a spot that is now covered by the Bay View Cemetery. Members of the Society of Friends were also known as “Quakers.” The Bay View Cemetery had originally begun as a Quaker cemetery, known as the Friends Burying Ground.

After the old town house (1837-1874) was destroyed by fire, the town voted to build a new hall. This advertisement was placed in the Portland Daily Press on April 9, 1874. South Portland Historical Society image

Surprisingly little has been recorded about the Quakers in Cape Elizabeth. Up to this point we’ve found only incidental references to members of the Friends. When we were looking into the Fickett family history, we learned that some of the Ficketts were prominent members of the Quakers in our community. Documenting the history of the Society of Friends is yet another research project for us to get into at the historical society.

At the April 17, 1837, town meeting, residents voted to erect their own town house. On May 26, 1837, the town purchased a lot with 82 feet of frontage on Ocean Street, near the intersection of Sawyer, from Christopher Dyer for $25 (a lot on the corner of Dyer’s field).

They hired Sylvanus Higgins to build the town house for $675. A description of the town hall is contained in a manuscript at the South Portland Historical Society: “On this lot a town house (the Old Town House) was built. It was located diagonally across Ocean street from the house formerly known as the Tristram G. Prince place…as it looked in 1873, as memory pictures it, [the town house] was a very plain, one story wooden structure of the type prevailing in rural communities, in the nineteenth century, and common today. It looked rather weather-beaten and neglected. Its western side lay parallel to, or nearly so, and quite near, Ocean street. The entrance door was not on Ocean street, but in the northerly end of the building facing the southerly side of the John L. Parrott store, the next building north on Ocean street. The windows were in its eastern and western sides. It had a small office for the town officials.”

The first meeting in this newly-constructed “old” town house was held on Sept. 11, 1837.

The new town house (1874-1921) was of brick construction and faced the intersection of Sawyer and Ocean streets. Etta Gregory Watts Collection/South Portland Historical Society

In January of 1874, both the John Parrott store and the old town house were destroyed by fire. The town had already been wanting to build a larger and improved town hall, so the process of constructing a new building moved forward quickly.

On March 10, 1874, the town purchased a new lot of land on the northeast corner of Ocean and Sawyer, directly adjacent to the existing town house lot, from Eben and Henry Nutter. The annual town meeting in March of 1874 was held in the carriage shop of James W. Harmon.

Harmon was a blacksmith who lived on the other side of Ocean Street, but his blacksmith shop and carriage shop were on the southeast corner of Ocean and Sawyer streets (the Ocean House Market building at 512 Ocean had not yet been built). At that March, 1874, meeting, residents voted to raise the money to build a new town house on the new corner lot.

When the new town house was completed and opened, it was spacious and allowed for much activity within its walls. City offices were located on the first floor, the second floor became the home of the newly-established Cape Elizabeth High School (which later changed its name to South Portland High School when the town changed its name in 1895), and the Masons leased space on the third floor for many years.

We’ll take a closer look at the “new” town hall, along with two additional city hall locations, in next week’s column.

Note: If you enjoy reading about South Portland history, please consider a donation to South Portland Historical Society to help support its 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 for the South Portland Historical Society. She can be reached at [email protected]

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