Let’s take a look at the life of one of the more well-known residents of the Willard neighborhood, Charles J. Willard, Jr.

We’ve written previously about his grandparents, Samuel and Elizabeth Willard, considered the patriarch and matriarch of the Willard family of South Portland. Samuel Willard was born in Cape Elizabeth (South Portland) in 1792. He married Elizabeth Graffam in 1811 and they built their home at Simonton’s Cove, at the foot of what is now called Deake Street. The home was on the left side, as you look from the road toward the beach. It was one of very few homes that were built close to the water in those early years (most were built a little further inland, along Preble Street). Samuel and Elizabeth owned much of the land surrounding the home, where they grew food in the summer and fall.

Charles J. Willard, Jr. with his new Model T truck, loaded with deliveries. Charles Willard started his express business with a team of horses and a wagon, but he replaced them with this Model T in 1909. South Portland Historical Society photo

Samuel and Elizabeth had many children and, with their home on the beach, most of their sons turned out to be fishermen and sea captains. Their son Charles Joseph is believed to be their tenth child, born in 1834.

Like his brothers, Charles took to the sea at a young age. He married Elizabeth “Ellen” Graffam in 1862 and they had three sons: Samuel, born in 1862; Wilton, born in 1868 (died in 1869); and Charles Joseph, Jr. (the subject of this column), born in 1872.

Captain Charles Willard almost drowned in 1869 while commanding the schooner Georgie Deering. He and three others were washed overboard in a gale. By sheer luck, Willard was able to get back on board, but the other three men were all lost at sea. Willard continued his life as a sea captain, but was lost at sea himself in March of 1872.

His widow, Ellen Willard, was left to raise their remaining sons, Samuel and newborn Charles Joseph, Jr. (born a month after his father was lost), on her own. Tragically, Samuel died in 1875 at the age of about 12. To make ends meet, Ellen earned money by taking in summer boarders in the family home at the end of Deake Street. The first record of her taking in boarders was in the mid-1880s, but she likely did so soon after her husband’s death as there was no Social Security back in those days. Before the Willard Casino was built, Ellen also operated a little public bath house on that same spot. She was a very popular and well-known resident of the Willard neighborhood.


Charles J. Willard, Jr., pictured in 1900 with his horses: Frank, on the left, and Bess, on the right. This was the second team of horses that Willard used in his express business. He replaced the horses and wagon with a Model T truck in 1909. South Portland Historical Society photo

Her son Charles J. Willard, Jr. did not follow in the footsteps of his father and uncles. He worked instead as an expressman, or delivery person. He started his express business in 1893 with two horses and a wagon. He got his start by hauling the trunks of the summer visitors at his mother’s boarding house, but his was a general express business, hauling any type of cargo in the Willard area.

When the trolley service came to South Portland in 1895, however, Charles, Jr. saw an opportunity. The trolley company extended service down Willard Street to the beach and began talking about building a large casino (for dining/dancing) on the beach.

Charles, Jr. was quick to get his own plans underway. In June of 1895, he already had the foundation and floor constructed for a restaurant on the Willard property at the end of Willard Street. By the end of July, the restaurant was completed and opened for business (he lived upstairs). With early success, Charles then immediately dove into plans to make a larger restaurant and dance hall.

In October, 1895, right next door to his new restaurant, he began work on the foundation and construction of the new building. Just across the street, the railroad had also begun construction of the Willard Casino.

An 1896 view of Charles Willard, Jr.’s restaurant and dance pavilion. The restaurant at left was built and opened in the summer of 1895. Construction of the Willard Pavilion, right, began in the fall of 1895 and the dance hall and restaurant opened in 1896, just before the opening of the Willard Casino. South Portland Historical Society photo

The Willard Pavilion was open by early 1896. It was a restaurant with a large dance hall that was rented out for parties, dances and other events. It had a seating capacity for 300 people and a 3,000-square-foot birch dance floor. In July of that year, Willard announced that he had even installed a telephone in the building for use by the public.

The last known event at the Willard Pavilion was a party held by the Willard Hose Company in January, 1898. A few days later, the large Willard Casino went up in flames, and the fire spread to both the Willard Pavilion and Willard’s house/restaurant across the street. All three buildings were destroyed.


This was a tremendous blow to Charles, Jr., but he still had his express business to rely on. He moved back in with his mother and continued growing his business, known as Willard’s Express.

In 1916, Charles, Jr. married Elizabeth “Lizzie” Haven. When they finally converted the family home into an inn, they combined their last names and called it “Willard Haven.”

It is unclear exactly when the Willard homestead became the Willard Inn, but we continue to slowly piece this together. Using historic photographs, we can see that around the early 1910s, the home still looked very much as it had originally – a New England connected farm with the main house, an ell, and a large attached barn. The major renovations, which included adding a wraparound porch, enlarging the ell, and raising the roofs on the ell and barn, happened after Ellen’s death in 1913.

The Willard Haven Inn was a landmark on Willard Beach for many years. South Portland Historical Society photo

When the Willard Haven name was first used, it was referred to as a “tourist camp.” Although we have no photographic record at the historical society, there are indications that Charles, Jr. built small cottages adjacent to the Willard home.

Documenting the early inn history has been complicated by the existence of the “Willard Inn,” a second inn which was located at the end of Willard Street and which was also owned by Charles, Jr. An article from May of 1923 is perhaps related to the start of the Willard Inn: “Charles Willard, the expressman, has had built a two-story wooden building adjoining his home on the southerly side of Willard Street. The lower floor of this building will be used for a restaurant where shore dinners are to be served. Alfred F. Hatch, formerly at the Cape Cottage Casino for several years, will be manager.”

An advertisement from 1924 indicates that the Willard home on Deake Street was now using the name “Willard Haven” and either rooms or cottages could be rented by the week or entire season. At that time, the Willard Inn next door on Willard Street was being used as the restaurant, serving fried clams, shore dinners and other home-cooked meals.


Charles Willard, Jr. loved to travel. He bought a Lovell-Diamond bicycle from the John P. Lovell bicycle factory in Ferry Village in 1897. In an interview later in his life, Charles said that he took that bicycle on trips from 1897 to 1903, putting over 5,000 miles on the bike during trips around New England, New York, and Canada.

In 1903, he decided to put the bike away and he spent the rest of his years traveling by train, bus and car. He traveled extensively across North America, usually in the winter months. He kept meticulous journals of every trip, including pictures and postcards. Traveling was a passion that he enjoyed with both of his wives.

His first wife Lizzie died in 1932 after they had taken their first cross-country trip together. He remarried in 1934 and took many trips with his second wife, Nancy, as well. On their way driving to the West Coast in November, 1941, they were in Kansas when the front wheel of their car came off and the car overturned, killing Nancy.

Charles had already sold the Willard Inn property on Willard Street to Lillian Silverman in 1936. After his wife Nancy’s death, he immediately retired and moved into his house at 9 Deake St., on the corner of Willard Haven Road. He sold the Willard Haven Hotel (the property and all of its contents) to Realty Operating Company in December, 1941. Realty Operating Company was operated by Saul G. Chason, president, and Leo Golodetz, treasurer.

Charles continued traveling throughout the remainder of his life. He died in 1955.

The Willard Haven was not well maintained in its later years. In 1965, Thomas Carmody purchased the building with plans to tear it down and build a new apartment building on the site. With a lot of residents unhappy with the plans for the waterfront location, the city denied his request and two years later the building was condemned and was burned down in a training exercise by the South Portland Fire Department.

If you have any photographs, brochures or other items that might help to document the Willard Haven Inn or any of the buildings along Willard Beach in earlier years, 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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