If you could travel back in time to the 1800s, you’d barely recognize the area that is called Meeting House Hill. John Mussey’s farm extended from Cottage Road down the hill to Ferry Village and the waterfront. The First Congregational Church (called the Old North Church back then) was on the north side of Cottage Road, with a growing church graveyard beside it.

We were an agricultural community in those times, with people living in clustered “villages” across the city. Anyone not living in one of the villages would have had a home or farm on one of the main dirt roads through the town. Most of our side streets didn’t exist yet.

Portrait of George W. Brown. In 1900, Brown turned his attention to housing development, focusing much of his efforts on Meeting House Hill. South Portland Historical Society photo

It was George Brown who started buying up land here around 1900 and brought about the development of large areas of Meeting House Hill. Let’s take a look at the life of this interesting person in history.

George W. Brown was born in New York in May of 1850, the youngest of the three children of Joseph and Mary Chapman Brown. Joseph was a merchant sea captain; he died and was buried at sea in 1850. After his death, Mary returned with her kids to her hometown of Damariscotta, Maine. George attended schools in Damariscotta and then Lincoln Academy in Newcastle. His first career was as a grocer in Damariscotta, where he married Emma Hatch in 1876.

Sometime in the 1880s, George moved on to his next career. He and Emma moved to Portland where he got into the business of selling water motors (motors driven by water pressure). As he learned how they worked, George started coming up with new ideas for products.

This interesting chapter in his life was captured in a biography in the 1896 book “Leading Citizens of Cumberland County”:


“[George] invented a combined water motor and mill, which was a grand success. He afterward added to this mill an electric motor, and later combined water motors and dynamos. The sale of these machines led to the handling of other electric contrivances, which were all made by contract. In 1888 a stock company was formed, known as the Belknap Water Motor Company. A large amount of advertising was done, and the company secured orders for its inventions through all parts of the United States.”

One of these inventions was the Cyclone coffee mill, a grinder which became highly in demand by grocers. Another invention of a combined motor and dynamo (generator) was used in small offices where a limited amount of power was needed. The motor could power up to 30 lights.

George W. Brown patented several of his inventions, including this one in 1890 for a grinding machine that combined a rotary motor with a grinding mill. South Portland Historical Society image

With this success, the company was quickly noticed by some of the leading investors in Portland. George Brown brought in a team of investors, including George P. Wescott, E.R. Payson, Seth Larrabee, F.E. Morse, and Megquier & Jones, among others.

In 1890, George and these investors formed a new company, the Belknap Motor Company, with capital of $50,000. The new company purchased all the right, title, and interest of the Belknap Water Motor Company, becoming the successor company. George served as its president and general manager.

In 1892, Belknap’s major supplier, Giant Motor Company, went out of business. To survive, Belknap began manufacturing its own products and the company continued to grow.

George Brown then moved into another field – the supply of electricity.


In 1897, he invested in four existing companies: 1.) the Portland Electric Light Company, which had been originally founded in 1883 and had supplied arc lighting to the city of Portland; although the company no longer supplied electricity, it still held the rights to provide power and lighting to Portland; 2.) the Deering Electric Light Company, which had originally formed to supply power and light to the town of Deering; 3.) the Cumberland Illuminating Company, incorporated by the state legislature in 1887; and Sebago Power Company. George Brown became the president and general manager of these companies and Cumberland Illuminating Company “secured the management and control” of Portland Electric Light Company. Cumberland Illuminating had also leased the hydro-electric power plant of Sebago Power Company (of which George Brown was also a director) at Great Falls, North Gorham. Some of George’s business partners from Belknap Motor Company were also now directors of these electric companies.

Brown was in the news in 1898 when Portland Electric Light petitioned the city of Portland for permission to run underground and overhead wires to supply their electricity to Portland customers. At the time, Consolidated Electric Light Company had a monopoly on power supply in Portland. After a number of interesting, well-attended, and sometimes combative public meetings, Portland Electric Light was given permission to run electricity once again.

The company soon had the power supply running. In December, 1899, however, things went awry when a competitor, Presumpscot Power Company, closed the gates at the foot of Sebago Lake, essentially shutting off Portland Electric Light’s power supply, leaving Portland in the dark. The resulting threats of lawsuits made for quite the fiasco and, as a result, George Brown ended up selling off his interests in the companies and left in May, 1900.

George Brown’s invention of the Cyclone coffee mill brought success and attention to his early company known as the Belknap Water Motor Company. This ad ran in the Chamber of Commerce Journal in July, 1890. South Portland Historical Society image

George took his money and went all out in a new direction – a career in real estate. He partnered with real estate broker, Llewellyn M. Leighton, who already had an office at 53 Exchange St. in Portland.

By October, 1900, they had formed a new company, Suburban Realty Company, with Leighton as president and Brown as treasurer and general manager. They began seeking investors at $10 a share. Their marketing campaign was fierce. Suburban Realty ran large ads announcing that it had purchased a large tract of land in Cape Elizabeth along Cape Cottage Road (Shore Road) and had divided it into house lots. The new development was named Mountain View Park, as the site had views of Mt. Washington. Five new homes, each costing more than $10,000, were reportedly already scheduled to be built. Free electric street lights were promised, along with trash collection. Deed restrictions would ensure that homes to be built had to cost at least $1,500 (a lot of money in that time). It essentially created an exclusive community – no low-income housing could be built on the site. Even architectural plans had to be approved by Suburban Realty. Discounted prices on lots were offered to anyone who purchased at least ten shares in the company.

George Brown had a home built for himself at 9 High Ridge Road in Mountain View Park, where he and Emma lived for 29 years (the street name was later discontinued when it was combined with Ocean View Road). His home was the first home constructed there. One of the other early purchasers of lots was Portland architect, Austin W. Pease, who built his home very close to George’s. They would become close collaborators with George clearly favoring Austin W. Pease doing the drawings for homes in many of his developments.


In 1901, George Brown and his Suburban Realty began a new campaign – this time with a development on Meeting House Hill. They had a subdivision plan drafted in May, 1901, calling it “Brooklyn Heights.” The plan contained over 100 house lots in an area that extended from the northeast corner of Sawyer Street and Cottage Road. The site contained lots along Sawyer Street, Cottage Road and Chase Street, along with two new streets (which became Vincent Street and Bowers Street). Like the Mountain View Park development, they created deed restrictions that required a minimum cost for a newly-constructed house, and architectural plans had to be approved by Suburban Realty. As the company advertised lots and designs for homes, the architectural plans suggested were also designed by Austin W. Pease.

The 1900 design for George W. Brown’s home on High Ridge Road (now known as Ocean View Road), Mountain View Park, Cape Elizabeth. Courtesy image

By the summer of 1902, Suburban Realty began advertising lots for sale in a new development known as Emery Highlands. This contained over 200 lots toward the bottom of Meeting House Hill, along newly laid out streets – Walnut Street, Richland Street and Emery Street.

Emery Highlands was followed shortly by the Mussey farm property that was located just up the hill. It was reported on in the Evening Express on Nov. 18, 1902: “George W. Brown has secured the Mussey property and everybody knows now that something will happen. This is the third big tract said Brown has taken hold of since Jan. 1, 1902, and it comprises more acres than both of the previous purchases, Brooklyn Heights and Emery Highlands, put together. The Mussey farm is by far the most beautiful tract of land for residential purposes in the vicinity of Portland. It has just the right slope towards the harbor and towards the city. It is just magnificent, every lot of it.”

The South Portland Historical Society’s fundraiser ornament for 2023, featuring the Mahoney school building, is now available. All 10 of the society’s landmark-series ornaments can be purchased at the museum at Bug Light Park, open on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you would like to purchase an ornament to be shipped, please call the Society at 207-767-7299.

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

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