A Brief History of Portland Maine
Mar 08, 2017 by John Herrigel in Town Reports

In 1658, a group of men and women from the Massachusetts Bay Colony made their way north into the Province of Maine where they established the town of Falmouth. Successfully withstanding much conflict with Loyalist and the Wampanoay Tribe, the city of Portland emerged as the capital of the new State of Maine in 1820. Since its induction, Maine remained a controversial state. It was a key political battleground during the Abolition Movement, and also was the first state to prohibit the sale and use of alcohol for recreational purposes.


 Prohibition was championed by Neal Dow, a Portland resident who also served as state legislator, two-time mayor, and candidate to sit as the US President. Dow had pushed the Prohibition agenda while still storing large quantities of alcohol in a facility within the city. It was said that the hoard was strictly used for mechanical and medical purposes, a detail which was consistent with the law, and also overlooked by most media outlets at the time. Word got out about the alcohol, and on a June afternoon in 1855 around 2,000 people gathered around the building in protest; this would be known as the Rum Riot. A large portion of the protesters were Irish immigrants. They saw Prohibition as an attempt to muffle their culture and they came to lash out. After alcohol prohibiting laws were dissolved, and Neal Dow passed away, his home (on Congress Street) was left to the Women’s Temperance Union, a group dedicated to promoting alcohol-free lifestyles.

 It was during the time of Prohibition when Henry Wadsworth Longfellow gained recognition as one of the country’s greatest literary minds. As he was a Portland Native, most of his works were inspired by life in New England. The cold winters, abounding fauna, and flora are all regular features in his writings. Today, his childhood home still stands just steps from Portland’s Monument Square. Maintained by the Maine Historical Society, it is open to the public throughout the year, and is kept in its original 19th century condition.


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