Little differentiates the park at Deering Avenue and Bedford Street in Portland from the adjacent University of Southern Maine campus. John Terhune / The Forecaster

There’s not much to the little strip of green that hugs the intersection of Deering Avenue and Bedford Street.

The tiny park features a few trees, a bench and not much else. Most drivers circling the nearby roundabout may not  realize it’s distinct from the adjacent University of Southern Maine Campus.

Yet these three-quarters of an acre sit at the center of a naming dispute that has pushed local politicians, professors and community activists to dig deep into the recesses of Portland’s institutional memory.

On March 7, for the third time in four months, the Portland City Council city will consider a request to change the name of Bedford Park to Noyes Park, correcting what the Noyes Family, the Parks Department and other independent groups believe to be a historical error from well over half a century ago.

“We don’t take the naming of a park lightly,” said Ethan Hipple, head of the Parks Department. “The names of our parks start to tell the history of a place. These things matter, and we want to make sure we get it right.”



Nicholas Noyes was confused when he discovered a few years ago the land near his childhood home was called Bedford Park. He had grown up on Bedford Street in the 1940s and 1950s and had always known the triangular strip by another name.

“I grew up calling it Noyes Park,” he said. “My parents grew up calling it Noyes Park.”

Noyes, a longtime librarian for the Maine Historical Society researched the history of the land and, along with local historian Herb Adams, pieced together the story of the park’s origin.

In 1927, Noyes’s grandfather Edward Deering Noyes and his family sold the property to the city for $7,215.59, according to the original deed. Though the city had no obligation to name the park after the Noyes family, several documents confirm that it did, including a Portland City Guide from 1940 written through a Works Projects Administration program.

Historical records support Nicholas Noyes’ claims that the property was named Noyes Park until the 1950s. John Terhune / The Forecaster

Bedford Park, meanwhile, was not a public space at all, but a nearby housing development. Yet sometime in the 1950s, the city attached the Bedford name to what had previously been referred to as Noyes Park in several documents.

Noyes and his family theorized that the switch was a clerical error and took the issue to the city last fall.


“We asked the city staff to confirm and acknowledge the error that appears in the ordinance, and they have done that,” said Hank Benoit, who is married to Nicholas Noyes’s sister Anna Noyes Benoit. “They have found no evidence that the city ever properly changed the name from Noyes Park to Bedford Park and that the ordinance has a mistake in the name.”

After reviewing the family’s evidence and conducting their own investigation, Hipple and his staff agreed the land should rightfully be called Noyes Park. Hipple wrote a memo to the City Council recommending they approve the family’s request, joining a chorus of support that included Adams and the Portland Parks Commission.

Before the council took up the issue at its Nov. 15 meeting, Anna Noyes Benoit was optimistic.

“It seemed like a simple thing to ask them to correct the mistake they made in labeling the park Bedford Park instead of Noyes Park,” she said.

Yet now, four months and three council meetings later, she admits convincing the city to make the change has proved anything but simple: “It’s kind of taken on a life of its own.”



The Noyes family may have sold the property in question, but they were far from the first stewards of the land.

The park features little more than a bench and a few trees. John Terhune / The Forecaster

At the Nov. 15, council meeting, Councilor April Fournier spoke of the need to examine indigenous people’s role on the land. In particular, she argued it was important to look into the Battle of Deering Oaks, a bloody 17th century skirmish during the French and Indian Wars.

“At least making that part of the conversation was what was really important to me,” she said. “If we’re going to rename it, let’s at least have the complete history before we make that decision.”

The council voted unanimously to postpone the issue while the Parks Department researched the battle in conjunction with local historians and Indigenous leaders.

At the Feb. 7 council meeting, Hipple presented an updated memo detailing a possible connection between the Battle of Deering Oaks and the park, as well as recent Parks Department efforts to better recognize local Native American history.

The findings satisfied Fournier, who said she was ready to approve the “Noyes Park” name.


Yet a last minute email from West Bayside homeowner George Rheault provided another roadblock.

“The family did not give this land to the city for free out of the good of its heart with just pure parks-and-recreation-minded ideals,” said Rheault, an attorney. “They did it as part of a larger real estate endeavor.”

Rheault’s email included paperwork from a 1925 real estate deal between the Noyes family and a developer named Thomas Sanders, who owned the Bedford Park housing development. To Rheault, the documents proved that the family had stood to gain from improving the neighborhood with a park.

“This was a way of assuring the people who were buying lots next door, the Bedford Park Subdivision, that this triangle of land was going to be permanently park and also controlled by the city and maintained by the city,” Rheault said. “It’s nice to live next to a park, right?”

The documents did not sway the Noyes family, who argued the family had already sold Sanders the housing development property by the time they sold Portland the park land, and so they had little to gain from the latter transaction. Nor did they convince Hipple, who said the Parks Department had already been aware of the 1925 deal.

But Rheault’s information was enough for Councilor Mark Dion, who announced he would vote against the name change.


“I think some of the evidence provided in the city packet is helpful but slim,” he said. “I’m not discounting what the Noyes may have done on behalf of the city or on behalf of their own clan, but as a matter of legal record, that space is Bedford Park.”

Again, the council decided not to vote on the name change, this time so the city’s attorney could more closely examine and provide his opinion on the land’s original deeds.

“We had no idea when we got into this that there was going to be all this pushback,” Hank Benoit said. “But once you’re into this, what do you do? You do it or you give up on it. So far, the family is decided not to give up. We’re still here.”


It takes only minutes to circle the strip of land that Edward Deering Noyes sold to Portland in 1927, but changing its name has taken months of research and debate. Now, days before the City Council addresses the issue for the third and perhaps final time on March 7, those involved have reflected on why three-quarters of an acre are worth the effort.

For Anna Noyes Benoit and her three brothers, it’s about honoring family.


“It’s important to my Noyes brothers, who are quite elderly,” she said. “It’s part of our legacy.”

Rheault, who doesn’t accept the Parks Department’s theory that the change from Noyes Park to Bedford Park in the 1950s was merely a clerical error, said he’s driven by a different principle: pushing the city’s government to focus on addressing major issues, not the “whims” of privileged families.

“There’s just a lot of things in Portland that I feel like our City Council should be spending time on, including our homeless crisis,” he said. “It just makes me crazy sometimes to be like this is what our City Council is spending time on: renaming this park for a rich family that has, in terms of the lottery of life, hit the jackpot.”

For Hipple and the Parks Department, all of this is beside the point.

“We’re not looking to name the park after the Noyes family,” he said. “The park was already named for the Noyes family. We’re just looking to correct that.”

While some councilors expressed concern that the Noyse family may sue the city if the council does not approve the name change, Hank Benoit said they will accept the result of the March 7 vote. Yet he also argued the result won’t change the past.

“If a majority of them vote not to fix their ordinance, it’s not going to change the history,” he said. “The historical name of the park is still going to be Noyes Park. “The mistake will just persist.”

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