Monday, December 12, 2005

Old Portland

I have an old late-1800s Portland map up on my office wall. Today I finally got around to looking at it, and found some interesting stuff. For one thing, there used to be a wharf off of Commercial Street called Widgery Wharf. What a great name. Apparently, though I've never noticed a sign for it, it still exists. David Wade, a documentary photographer, did a photo essay on it in 2002.

In his words: "I am particularly fascinated with one old wooden dock, one of the last remaining fish piers that hasn't fallen victim to either old age or recent residential and recreational development. Widgery Wharf is the oldest working wharf in Portland, built in 1774, two years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The wharf plane reeks and creaks of history, with its pilings worn to near nothing by centuries of sea worms, and those other holes where the molasses shed once stood. On moonless nights, boats would surreptitiously slide under the dock with hand augers, bore holes, siphon the rich black syrup into barrels, and slip into the darkness with their sweet plunder. The tanks are gone now, along with the downeast drillers for black gold. All that remains today is the lobstermen, but the memory perseveres among the old-timers whose shacks line the dock.

"Collectively owned by five families of lobstermen, Widgery Wharf is a bastion of Yankee independence, a traditional fishery where men work for themselves, labor hard with their hands, and set out to sea in small craft to make their living. I was struck by the simplicity and directness of these fiercely independent lobstermen, who keep a tradition by hauling traps just as their fathers had before them." Source.

I wonder if, in fact, Widgery is one of the wharves that I have wandered around on with my camera, beguilded as Wade is by the creak of the timbers and the age-old smell of salt.

Another thing I noticed was the Portland Jail was tucked up on the East End, between Madison and Monroe Street, off of Washington Street (now Washington Avenue).

Back Cove, even back then, sported "Base Ball Grounds", though they were over about a block from where they are now, right in back of my office, and Baxter Boulevard didn't exist. In fact, the Portland City Limits ended past the back end of Deering Oaks Park where the railroad tracks and interstate lie today. Anywhere past that line (which ran along Deering Street/Avenue up past Noyes Street and then along Douglas Street) became a part of the Town of Deering, for those of you who are always wondering why the neighborhood around Deering High School is called North Deering.


Chris said...

I thought you'd like this article from the Eastern Argus of Nov. 7, 1828:

An inquest was held before S. Swett, Esq. Coroner, on Tuesday evening last, upon a view of the body of William Pinkham, of Harpswell, attached to a fishing craft, aged about 30. It appeared that on said evening, it being very dark, the deceased while viewing some sky rockets which were displayed that evening, accidentally walked off Widgery's Wharf, where his boat lay, and was drowned. Verdict, accidental death by drowning.

Michelle said...

Sky rockets! I wonder why they were having fireworks (or so I presume they were) in November?

I could make a joke about taking a long walk off a short pier, but that might be in rather poor taste. ;)

Interestingly enough, when I was 16 I left my home (in the middle of the night) and moved intown, and shortly thereafter reports surfaced of the body of a young dark-haired woman found floating under the piers in the harbor -- my mom, of course thought it was me, but luckily for all of us, it wasn't.

Chris said...

In the weeks before and after this accident, there was an advertisement that ran in the Argus:
"KEPT constantly on hand a quantity of SKY ROCKETS and FIRE WORKS, and for sale by JOSIAH PENNELL, Portland."

Mr. Pennell would prepare a fireworks display for the Fourth of July in 1829, held on Mount Joy (now Munjoy Hill). No explanation for the Fourth of November celebration is given.