Last week we looked at the longtime barber in Willard Square, Warren Wass. Let’s take a look at the grocer who first had that building at 427-429 Preble St. constructed in 1899 – Sherman Willard. Born in 1867 in Cape Elizabeth (now known as South Portland), Sherman G. Willard was the son of George W. and Wilhelmina Willard.

Portrait of Sherman G. Willard in his younger years. South Portland Historical Society photo

There have been a lot of Willards in South Portland. The first Willard to come to this area was Peleg Willard in 1768. His son Jesse was born here in 1770 and they lived here during the American Revolution. It was Jesse’s son, Capt. Samuel Willard, who married Elizabeth Graffam and was the patriarch of one major branch of the Willard family – the family of sea captains who lived in the Willard homestead at the bottom of Deake Street, overlooking the beach.

Sherman G. Willard was the great-grandson of Jesse Willard, through another of Jesse’s sons, John Willard (Samuel’s brother). Sherman married Bessie Mosher in 1893. Their son, Sherman E. Willard was born in 1895.

When he first started working as a young man, Sherman G. Willard was employed as a clerk at the Twitchell-Champlin Company, a wholesale grocer on Commercial Street in Portland, in the late 1880s and early 1890s. He gained experience there that helped him move into a new career as a retail grocer.

By early 1894, he had partnered with Willis F. Strout in a grocery called W.F. Strout & Co., on Preble Street around Willard Square. Willis Strout had originally taken over the grocery store of his father, in roughly the area of 412 Preble St. (where Bathras Market was later located). There were no street numbers when Daniel Strout had his store, however; we have only a rough idea based on the location of his store that is visible on the 1871 atlas. Willis took over the operation of that store when his father died, but he sold it in 1889. So, while we know the W.F. Strout & Co. store was on Preble Street around 1894 and 1895, we can’t be sure of its exact location.

Sherman G. Willard had the large building in Willard Square (427-429 Preble St.) constructed in 1899. His grocery in that building opened in early 1900. Woodbury Collection/South Portland Historical Society.

Around the end of 1895, the W.F. Strout & Co. partnership ended and Sherman Willard continued as a grocer on his own. Again, his store was on Preble Street in Willard somewhere, but with no street number, we can’t be sure of its exact location.


We do know that Sherman had started planning to build a larger, modern store, however. His first attempt to build a store did not come to fruition. In December 1895, he bought the land that was on the northeast corner of the intersection of Preble and Willard Street (464 Preble St.).

It was announced in the Portland Daily Press in April 1896 that, “Mr. Sherman G. Willard has purchased the land on the corner of [Preble and] Willard streets, and will erect a large building at once. The upper stories will be used for tenements, and Mr. Willard will run a grocery and department store on the ground floor.”

While Sherman was running his existing grocery throughout this time, he never did build his planned building on that corner. His wife Bessie died in July, 1896 (she was only 21 years old) and instead of building his new grocery, he sold that piece of land to Emma Simonton in September 1897.

After his wife Bessie died, Sherman married Emmeline Crowell on Oct. 5, 1897. It was heartbreaking once again, however, as Emmeline died in December 1898 – she was only 24 years old.

Portrait of Sherman G. Willard in 1917. South Portland Historical Society photo

The description of that planned building was just what Sherman ended up having built at 427-429 Preble St. a few years later. In December 1899, a story in the Portland Evening Express announced that, “work on the new store building of Sherman G. Willard on [Preble] street is progressing rapidly. Mr. Newell has the contract and is rushing things in order to take advantage of the fine weather. He expects to have it ready for occupancy in about a month.”

Apparently, Mr. Newell was true to his word as a story on Feb. 6, 1900, announced that, “Sherman G. Willard has moved into his new store on [Preble] street, Willard. The store was built expressly for him and is one of the best arranged in the city.”


Sherman Willard completed the purchase of the building in July, 1900.

Sherman Willard ran his grocery, and the Post Office Substation No. 10, from the first floor of that building from 1900 until roughly 1912. During this time he married a third time – to Florence Powell in 1907. Around 1912, he leased the store operation to Daniel P. Cobb. Cobb had his son-in-law Henry Griffin run the store, but Sherman Willard ended up selling the building to Clinton Wendling on Dec. 31, 1914, and Wendling would end up taking over the grocery operation from Henry Willard.

Sherman and Florence Willard appear to have moved around 1912 and were not living in the greater Portland area around 1912 and 1913. We’ve been unable to locate where they were, but they ended up back in South Portland by 1914. Sherman again became a grocer, but now in the Knightville neighborhood. He took over the operation of the Knightville Grocery at 82 Ocean St. from roughly 1914 to 1917.

In 1917 at the age of 50, Sherman left South Portland, moved to Wilmington, Massachusetts, and first signed on as a seaman aboard the cargo ship Hermes on its trip from New York to St. Thomas. At the end of the trip, he returned to Wilmington where he again operated a grocery. He only operated the grocery there for a few years, however; he became ill and in 1921, at the age of only 54, he died. Sherman G. Willard is buried at Mount Pleasant Cemetery with his first wife Bessie and second wife Emmeline.

People’s History of the South Portland Waterfront walking tour

On Saturday, Oct. 7, at 1 p.m., Seth Goldstein from the South Portland Historical Society will offer his People’s History of the South Portland Waterfront walking tour. The tour will leave from the Southern Maine Community College campus and will focus on regional Indigenous history, African enslavement, and Seth’s research on the West Indies trade. The rain date is Oct. 14. The tour is $10 for current members of the historical society; $25 for non-members. Registration is required. To register for the tour, please call 767-7299 or email

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

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