The land on the east side of Ocean Street, between A and B streets, was once home to the master shipbuilder Thomas Knight’s shipyard and homestead in the 1800s. When the U.S. entered World War I, the vacant property was purchased by Count Rafailovich, who started the United States Shipbuilding Corp. and built a shipyard on the land there.

Aerial photograph showing the Diamond Match lumberyard at 27 B St. in Knightville. South Portland Historical Society photo

In 1925, a lumberyard was set up on the site – Cape Lumber Company. The address was first listed as 30-38 Ocean St., but the property address was soon changed to 27 B St. Cape Lumber Company was founded with initial capital of $20,000.

The company’s founders and officers were: Joseph C. Kennedy of Boston, president; William F. Birnie, vice president; Albert H. McLain, treasurer; and Elmore A. Birnie (William’s son), general manager. William Birnie and Albert McLain were both experienced in the lumber business.

William Birnie had learned the business from his father, David Birnie. They operated the D. Birnie & Son lumberyard on Commercial Street in Portland, across from the old Rufus Deering.

Albert McLain started out in the lumber business as a young man, working for Conway (New Hampshire) Lumber Company. He later came to Maine to work as the superintendent at St. Croix Paper Company before coming to Portland in 1925 to found the Cape Lumber Company.

A 1925 advertisement for Cape Lumber Company. The lumberyard opened on Ocean Street in 1925, on the site of the former 19th century Knight Shipyard and World War I yard of United States Shipbuilding. South Portland Historical Society image

Cape Lumber was in business for 11 years on B Street in Knightville before selling out to Diamond Match Company in 1936. At the time of the sale, Albert McLain was president, Granville J. Moulton was the yard foreman, and Oscar I. Emerson was the salesman. All three men were retained by Diamond Match to run the yard in South Portland.

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The Diamond Match Company was a very large company that did business across the United States. The company formed through the merger in December, 1880, of about a dozen different match manufacturers; the newly-formed company began production in 1881. As the years went by, the company continued to grow, through mergers and acquisitions across the country. Here in Portland, Maine, Diamond Match Company bought up the Portland Star Match Company on Commercial Street in 1907.

The operation of retail lumberyards was somewhat of a sideline for the company. Most people have known Diamond as a manufacturer of matches, toothpicks, clothespins, paper plates, napkins, and disposable utensils. Diamond is still in business today, a subsidiary of Red Oak Enterprises, Roswell, Georgia. When you see the Diamond brand on a package of matches, toothpicks or clothespins, it is instantly recognizable.

Granville Moulton, yard foreman at Diamond Match Company in Knightville, is shown peering into the yard’s safe that was destroyed in a burglary in 1938. The thieves broke into the building and used explosives to break open the safe and steal $200. South Portland Historical Society photo

In April 1929, Diamond Match bought out Wilson Lumber in Portland. In the 1930s, around the time that the company acquired Cape Lumber in South Portland, it maintained lumberyards in Portland at Hobson’s Wharf, Brown’s Wharf, and Forest Avenue, in Biddeford, and in Portsmouth and Rochester, New Hampshire.

Here in South Portland, Diamond Match operated the lumberyard on B Street, selling lumber and building supplies there from 1936 to 1963. In 1957, Diamond Match merged with another company and changed its name to Diamond Gardner.

In 1958, Diamond Gardner acquired Chaplin Corporation, a research and engineering company at 758 Westbrook St., South Portland. Chaplin had been largely focused on doing work for Diamond Match/Diamond Gardner since the early 1940s.

With this acquisition, Diamond Gardner formed its own molded packaging division and continued operating the plant on Westbrook Street, while retaining most of the Chaplin employees. At its packaging plant, Diamond employees designed and produced a variety of pressed-pulp products, like egg cartons, berry containers, containers for packaging of other products, and paper plates and bowls.

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In January, 1959, Diamond Gardner’s main building at the lumberyard in South Portland was significantly damaged by fire. According to a story in the Portland Press Herald, “Extensively damaged was the 100-foot-long wooden structure at 27 B St., which contained the company’s retail store, offices and lumber storage space … the fire apparently began in the mill part of the two-story building, near the back. Flames quickly spread to the front and to the second floor.”

In freezing weather, the fire department was able to put out the fire and stop it from spreading to piles of lumber in the yard. The company set up a temporary location at 97 Ocean St. while their building underwent reconstruction.

A 1953 Sanborn map showing the layout of the Diamond Match Company lumberyard in Knightville, between A and B streets. South Portland Historical Society image

Another merger in September, 1959, led the company to change its name again, to Diamond National Corporation.

In the summer of 1963, Diamond National began construction of a new retail store and warehouse at 444 Lincoln St., near the Broadway intersection. They moved from B Street to the new building and opened there in November, 1963.

In 1964, the company changed its name once again, from Diamond National to Diamond International Corporation.

Diamond International sold off its packaging plant at 758 Westbrook St. in 1983, to Packaging Corporation of America. The building supply store at 444 Lincoln St. remained in operation through 1989, but closed abruptly that summer.

Note: South Portland Historical Society offers a free Online Museum with over 16,000 images available for viewing with a keyword search. 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 [email protected], or by mail at 55 Bug Light Park, South Portland, ME 04106.

The main building at the Diamond Match yard on B Street was significantly damaged by fire in January, 1959. South Portland Historical Society photo

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

Diamond National Corp (formerly Diamond Match) at 444 Lincoln St. in South Portland. South Portland Historical Society photo

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