We’ve previously taken a look at the Portland Plush Mill Company, the business that first built the factory building in 1892 in western Ferry Village, where the RiverPlace Apartments are now located. We then looked at the John P. Lovell Company that took over the plant for its bicycle factory in 1895, then expanded the factory complex as it moved into new product lines related to sporting goods, guns and police products.

After the Lovell factory closed at the end of 1899, the buildings remained vacant until a new company came on the scene, Marine Hardware and Equipment Company.

The Marine Hardware and Equipment Company took over the former Lovell bicycle factory building in Ferry Village in 1903. South Portland Historical Society photo

The new company came to life through the hard work of John E. Fisher, who had served as the secretary and treasurer of the Thomas Laughlin Co. in Portland.

Thomas Laughlin was a ship chandlery and manufacturer of marine hardware. During a period of company growth in the 1890s, Thomas Laughlin Company had taken over the former sugar refinery complex at 143-151 Fore St. in Portland and converted the buildings for use as a metal and hardware manufacturing plant. It gave John Fisher some excellent experience to launch his own venture.

John E. Fisher was born on Peaks Island in 1869. In his young 20s, he was living in the Ferry Village neighborhood and was an active member of the community there. He loved to sing. He was a member of the Weber Club in Portland. The Weber Club was a singing group for men that had been founded in 1880.

By 1888, the Weber Club had employed Herman Kotzschmar to serve as their director/conductor and the group became actively engaged in giving concerts in the Portland area. John Fisher was also a member of the Peoples Church in Ferry Village and sang with the choir there. In 1895, he was employed as the choir director at the West Congregational Church in Portland.


It was through Peoples Church that he met Melvina Dyer. They married in 1890 and had a son, Donald, in 1893. Tragically, Melvina became ill and died in 1894 at the age of only 26. They had been living in an apartment on Preble Street, but John and his young son moved to 146 High St., on the corner of Randall Street, around 1897. He and his family lived in that home for many years, renting from teacher Hattie A. Hutchins. He married again in 1898, to Ada Tilton, the daughter of Charles A. Tilton from Tilton Hardware.

An interior view of the shipping floor in the finished goods warehouse at Marine Hardware. South Portland Historical Society photo

Professionally, the 1890s were years of growth and success for John. Along with his job as treasurer at Thomas Laughlin, he also became an auditor of the South Portland Loan and Building Association when it incorporated in 1891. The following year, he was elected to become the town auditor for the town of Cape Elizabeth (South Portland). He was a member of many local organizations, including the Masons, Knights Templar, and Knights of Pythias.

In the early 1900s, John Fisher decided to leave the Thomas Laughlin Company and pursue the creation of a new business, also in the manufacture of marine hardware and ship fittings. The former Lovell bicycle factory in Ferry Village had been sitting idle since it closed in 1899. It just needed to be retrofitted to manufacture marine hardware products.

By 1903, John had assembled a group of investors to raise the capital and formed a new corporation, Marine Hardware and Equipment Company, with George H. Griffen as its president and John E. Fisher serving as clerk, treasurer and plant manager.

By June, 1903, there were already men at work making the needed changes in the factory. In the June 20, 1903, edition of the Daily Kennebec Journal, an article provided a few details related to the opening: “The Maine [sic] Hardware and Equipment Co. has begun operations in the old Lovell Arms Company plant at South Portland, which is most gratifying to the people of that section. The company will engage in the manufacture of marine hardware and ship fittings of every description. Their equipment for producing the dies is already in operation at which about 12 men are employed. They are installing a galvanizing plant of the most improved type to be found anywhere in New England, and it is thought that by July 1, when the manufacture of forgings begin a body of at least 50 men will be at work.”

John Fisher would run the company from 1903 to 1911 when there was a reorganization. A new corporation was formed in 1911, the Marine Hardware-Equipment Company, with George H. Griffen still serving as company president. On Sept. 30, 1911, all of the assets of the original company, including the land, buildings, equipment, inventory and customer lists, were sold to the new corporation. While John Fisher did remain with the company for a few years as a salesman, he was replaced as plant manager by Frank W. Smith. We’ll take a look next week at the continued evolution of Marine Hardware and its people.

Note: South Portland Historical Society offers a free Online Museum with over 15,000 images available for viewing with a keyword search, and we are adding new content regularly. You can find it at https://sphistory.pastperfectonline.com and, if you appreciate what we do, feel free to make a donation by using the donation button on the home page. If you have photographs or other information to share about South Portland’s past, we would love to hear from you. South Portland Historical Society can be reached at 207-767-7299, by email at sphistory04106@gmail.com, or by mail at 55 Bug Light Park, South Portland, ME 04106.

Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo is executive director of the South Portland Historical Society. She can be reached at sphistory04106@gmail.com.

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