John M. Densmore, standing next to his Densmore Milk Farm delivery truck at 951 Congress Street in Portland, circa 1930. Photo courtesy of James Densmore. Courtesy photo

In the 1800s and into the early 1900s, life was very much agricultural in nature for many residents of our community. Documenting the history of South Portland’s farms, and especially milk men, has always been a favorite area of interest for me. I was thrilled to get an email recently from Jim Densmore; Jim is the great grandson of one of our dairy farmers, John M. Densmore, and he reached out after seeing our Densmore milk bottle in the online museum.

The Densmore farmhouse once fronted on the street then known as Payne Road. Streets and street names have changed a lot over the years; the Densmore house faced what is now known as Western Avenue – the section of Western Avenue that turns into Johnson Road at the end of the main runway of the airport. Let’s take a look at what we know about this dairy man who supplied milk to the local area for over 35 years.

John M. Densmore’s house and barn in South Portland in 1936. The farmhouse fronted on what then was called the Payne Road. Courtesy photo

John Morsby Densmore was born in East Noel, Nova Scotia, in 1873. East Noel is a small community that is also known as Densmore’s Mills, named for Frank and Sarah Densmore who settled there around 1772. John was the son of Elijah and Elizabeth Murray Densmore. In 1886, when John was only 13 years old, his family moved to Portland, Maine. After he graduated from high school, he worked for the Thos. P. Beals Co., a manufacturer of spring beds and furniture in Portland.

He married Edith McCullough in 1896, but the marriage didn’t work out. They divorced and, around 1898, John moved to Boston with his mother and his sister, Agnes (his father remained in Portland for about a year, then moved back to Nova Scotia). John lived in Boston for over a decade, working as a motorman (an operator of a streetcar or train).

While living in Boston, John married Lucilla Spencer in 1906 (Lucilla was a nurse and, like John, she was also from Nova Scotia). Their first child, Ruth, was born in 1907 and daughter Doris was born in 1910.

In July of 1910, John Densmore purchased about 50 acres of land in South Portland, along the southern side of Stroudwater. The airport didn’t exist at that time. It wasn’t until the 1920s that a Stroudwater resident, Dr. Clifford “Kip” Strange, cleared some of his land and created a couple of grass runways for his own plane; the “Stroudwater Airport” grew from that, later becoming the Portland Municipal Airport, and then the Portland International Jetport.


Now living in South Portland, John and Lucilla had two more children, Myrtle in 1913 and John E. in 1914.

On his nearly 50-acre property, John M. Densmore operated a dairy farm. The property extended from the house on Payne Road back toward Westbrook Street, along what is now the Jetport Plaza Road today. He kept a herd of Guernsey cattle on his property and bottled and delivered milk throughout the local area. As was common in those times, milk bottles were taken back, washed, and reused. There’s a lot of work to be done on a farm, so the kids grew up knowing all about hard work. His son stayed working in the business through his early 20s before finally leaving to go on a new path.

John’s wife Lucilla died in 1947. After her death, it appears that he no longer operated his milk delivery business. He instead continued with a scaled-back farm operation until his retirement, around 1953. In 1955, the farm was taken by eminent domain by the City of Portland for an expansion of the airport. Needing a new place to live, John bought the house at 45 Carter Street in South Portland. He lived there for the next 10 years, then sold the home in 1966 and moved to his daughter Doris Clark’s home at 72 Fessenden Avenue in South Portland.

John died in 1968 and is buried with Lucilla at Brooklawn Memorial Park in Portland.

A Child’s Christmas in Wales – recital at museum this weekend

We are thrilled for the return of Society member Jack Nordby to the museum this coming Sunday, Dec. 3 at 1 p.m. for his annual recital of the Dylan Thomas holiday classic. “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” is a light, much-loved, almost lyrical tale of childhood Christmas memories. Filled with alliteration, this 25-minute star of Thomas’ work is best heard aloud for the “music” in the words.

Jack has performed this recital for us for many years and it is always a pleasant and relaxing interlude to enjoy on a Sunday afternoon during the holiday season. He recites the story from memory and his rich baritone really brings the characters to life. This is a free event, open to the public.

South Portland landmark ornaments are available at multiple locations

The South Portland Historical Society’s fundraiser ornament for 2023, featuring the Mahoney school building, is now available. All ten of the Society’s landmark-series ornaments can be purchased at the museum at Bug Light Park, open on Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 4pm. A limited supply of ornaments is also now available for sale daily at our two retail partners – Drillen Hardware and Broadway Variety. These stores generously sell the ornaments and collect the proceeds for us; the ornaments are $20 each and can be purchased with either cash or check at those outside locations. If you want to use a credit card, or if you want to purchase four or more of any one ornament, we recommend that you plan to purchase them at the museum. If you would like to purchase an ornament to be shipped, please call the Society at (207) 767-7299 or contact us by email at

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