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Looking Back Through Time: Around Portland Nearly a Century Ago

In 1923 voters of Portland approved a new city charter. As part of this change in the city’s form of government, a tax reassessment was completed in 1924. For this reassessment, every taxable property in the city was documented and photographed.

The 1924 Tax Records Digitization Project is a collaboration between the City of Portland, Maine Historical Society, and the Portland Public Library. We have them to thank for this wonderful look into our past via their collection housed on the Maine Memory Network site.

When you join us at Maine Day Ventures on our Historic Walking Tour, you will begin at Andy’s Old Port Pub at 94 Commercial Street. Here’s a shot of our current starting point nearly 100 years ago.

a vintage photo of an old building

According to the 1924 assessment accompanying the photo, the structure was leased by one tenant “Brewer and Co”; wholesale druggists. Note the train car on Commercial Street; a once-common sight.

Here’s roughly the same view in present day via Google Maps:

a close up of a busy city street

Next we see a historic snapshot of 332-342 Fore Street. A brief outline of the businesses along this stretch at the time (L to R):

Boothby Sq. Hotel Housed in the oldest commercial building still standing on the peninsula today (built 1792). At the time of assessment, it was described as a store and hotel with 22 rooms. Rent is listed as $3/week per room. Its age is simply listed as “very old”.

Seamens Lodging House Owner is listed as Bessie Zeitman. If one looks closely at the shop window you can see “B. Zeitman Lunch”. Described as a store and rooming house with 10 rooms. $75/month. Today the facade shows “Zeitman’s Grocery Store” where the lodging house signage once was.

The Silver House advertises on its window “Steam Heated Rooms to Let by The Day or Week”. It’s described as having 11 rooms and one bath.

Zooming in on the below shot, one can see advertisements on all three buildings for “soft drinks” as this was taken during national Prohibition:


a store in a brick building

Here’s roughly the same view in present day via Google Maps:


a large brick building

The building on the left side of the below shot, the Time and Temperature Building at 477 Congress, was originally known as the Chapman Building. It was built in 1924 and housed Maine’s first indoor shopping center on its ground floor. Originally constructed as a 12-story building, in 1964 two additional stories were added. At the same time, a flashing time and temperature sign was added. The current flashing signage dates to 1999. This signage, in addition to the time and temperature, includes space for broadcast messages, consisting of two lines, each with four characters.


an old photo of a city street

Here’s roughly the same view in present day via Google Maps:


a tall building in a city

And a view of the iconic flashing signage atop the building (Bill Lord/Maine HDTV):


a tall building

Next we stroll down Custom House Wharf. Here’s a snapshot from 1924:


a vintage photo of an old building

The hand-written remarks by the surveyor Albert W. Waterman say “Bldg used as Machine Shop –  Print Shop – Restaurant – Dwelling – Shoe Repair Shop – Fish Shop – Crab Shop – Store and Store Room…”

Here’s an updated shot of the building that now includes amongst its tenants the Harbor Fish Market:


a sign on the side of a building

For the final stop on our then-and-now tour, we head to present day Tommy’s Park. This pocket park back in 1924 hosted multiple structures. This time let’s start with the present day view seen directly below.


a tree in front of a building

Nearly a century ago here’s what the same area looked like.


an old photo of a city street

The Oxford Building, on the left side of the photo at 185 Middle Street, was built in 1880 and designed by John Calvin Stevens. Its right-side ground floor is currently occupied by Bard Coffee. The real estate signage in the background of this photo is where a colorful mural sits today..

At 181 Middle Street was the Regal Kosher Restaurant and Delicatessen.


a sign in front of a building

At 179 Middle Street was another restaurant; this one advertising an “American Dairy Lunch”.


a store front at day

And finally a view of the stores constituting 175-177 Middle Street.


a sign in front of a building

Obviously much has changed over nearly a century in Portland but as evidenced above many of our historic buildings still stand today. Join us at Maine Day Ventures for our daily walk through time and discover the history behind the facades.


Written by Tyler Rushmeyer – Portland History Tour Guide

a man standing on a rocky path

With a background in journalism and a passion for history, Tyler enjoys sifting through the works of those who came before us and exploring the local environs on foot all in an effort to bring together a coherent narrative and context to whichever subject with which he engages. He enjoys passing along his fervor for new information and his “aha” moments to those joining him on his tours or onto his friends and family whether they’d like to hear them or not.

Tyler is a lover of all things music, an obsessive cruciverbalist (it’s a word trust us), player of ultimate frisbee, lover of the hoppiest of beers, an average drummer, traveler, gardener and Simpsons-fanatic.

He and his wife Megan call South Portland their home; find them at Willard Beach tossing a frisbee when you’re in the area.



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