We mentioned Charles Rutledge in last week’s column about the tug Pejepscot. Since we have several other references to Mr. Rutledge in our archives, let’s take a look at the interesting life history of this South Portlander.

A portrait photo of Charles B. Rutledge, captain of Willard Hose Company. South Portland Historical Society photo

Charles B. Rutledge was born in 1888 in Dorchester, Massachusetts, the son of Charles and Annette Elizabeth Rutledge. In 1905 when he was 17 years old, his widowed mother, then using the name Annette Elizabeth Benzie, purchased the home at 14 Smith St. in South Portland.

When Charles married Nan Jordan of South Portland in 1912, they continued living in the same house. Their son Bernard was born in 1914. About 1936, the houses on Smith Street were renumbered and 14 Smith St. became 95 Smith St. (same as it is today. The house later passed through probate to the Anderson family.

While his father had been a baker, Charles took a very different path when he decided to become a machinist. He was already working as a machinist at the age of 21 when the census came out in 1910. Many of his years were spent working for Noyes Machine Company, which was located within the Portland Shipbuilding Company complex at 257 Front St. in Ferry Village, South Portland.

It was while working at Noyes Machine Company that Charles met Fred F. Boyce. Boyce lived in Portland, but was employed as the foreman at Noyes Machine in the early 1920s.

When they were still at Noyes Machine, Fred Boyce and Charles Rutledge came up with an idea for a new design for a propeller. They filed the paperwork with the U.S. Patent Office on June 29, 1923, and were successful at receiving patent No. 1520746A on Dec. 30, 1924.

About 1926, they established their own company – Boyce & Rutledge Machine Company – on Central Wharf in Portland. It was while they were working together in this partnership that they installed the giant diesel engine in the tug Pejepscot.

A 1929 advertisement for the Boyce & Rutledge Machine Company. South Portland Historical Society image

Boyce and Rutledge continued in partnership together through 1930, then Charles Rutledge left the company and Fred Boyce continued the business under his own name. For a number of years, Charles listed himself in the Portland Directories as simply a machinist.

By the mid-1930s, he was back working at the Portland Shipbuilding Complex, which was also home to Noyes Machine, Merchants Marine Railway and Portland Yacht Service – since he was a marine engineer/machinist, it’s hard to determine exactly who he was working for.

His self-described occupation changed to mechanic, however, and by 1939, he was operating a proprietorship, Charles B. Rutledge auto repair, from the same address as Noyes Machine. On the 1940 census, he listed his occupation as a “fire engine builder.” With his skills, he could have done just about anything, so it appears that he had decided to focus on that aspect of building/engineering for a time.

As was the case of many community-minded people in the neighborhood, Charles volunteered with the neighborhood fire department, Willard Volunteer Hose Company No. 2. Not only did he serve as a member of the fire company for many years, but he led the company as its captain in 1928.

He also put his machinist skills to good use for the hose company; we can see how he developed those fire engine construction skills. When Willard Hose needed a ladder truck in the 1920s, it was Charles Rutledge and Dan Strout who took a Pierce Arrow Peerless touring car and converted it into Willard’s Ladder 2. Later, in 1929, the members of Willard Hose raised money and paid Boyce & Rutledge Machine Company to take a GMC chassis and convert it into Willard’s Hose 2 truck.

For many years, Charles Rutledge worked for the Noyes Machine Company in Ferry Village. South Portland Historical Society photo

When the World War II shipyards came to South Portland, Charles Rutledge put his skills to use for the war effort, working first for South Portland Shipbuilding Corporation (which was the original operator of the West Yard) and then for New England Shipbuilding Corporation when the two yards merged in 1943. Charles died in April of 1945, just before the war came to an end in Europe.

Charles, Nan and their son Bernard are all buried in a family plot in Mount Pleasant Cemetery.

Note: As you are looking into ways to buy local for your holiday gift giving, please consider the South Portland Historical Society’s ornament fundraiser. All eight of the ornaments, including this year’s Memorial Junior High/Middle School ornament, are available at Drillen Hardware, Broadway Variety and Embers Stoves & Fireplaces. Please plan to use cash or check for your ornament purchase as these businesses are very generously selling the ornaments on our behalf – all proceeds go directly to the historical society. If you’d like to use a credit card, if you’d like to make a purchase of a large number of ornaments, or if you’d like to have an ornament shipped (for an additional $6), please call the society directly at 207-767-7299. Thank you.

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

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