38 High Street

Built ca: 1822-23 by James Crockett

A diminutive Federal in the Danforth Street neighborhood.

(Author’s Note: The current tax information lists the property as 34-36 but we will go with 38 as seen on the entry.)

The pandemic helped make this post possible. Prior to the ‘plague’, the section of High Street, just below the intersection of Danforth, would have been much too busy with traffic during the best times for photographs to make the endeavor advisable. Even on the weekends, the flow of traffic was daunting. The decrease in travel/traffic finally gave me the chance to catch this one.

Clipping from the 1823 Portland City Directory

James Crockett was a mason from Gorham who was 34 years old when he purchased the land for our subject from Elias Thomas in 1820. Crockett paid $600 for the property in over 2 transactions. The 1823 city directory put him here. On March 4 of 1825 James signed his name to a deed selling our subject to Joseph Swift “Esquire” for $3600. 16 days later, James Crockett was dead. He was buried in Eastern Cemetery.

The house is a bit odd in it’s street facade. It measures some 31′ long and is two stories. The gap between the two windows where the chimney stands throws the balance off for what, otherwise, is a nicely scaled building. The main block is 37′ deep with a 17′ x 30′ deep brick ell of the back and a 17′ x 29′ wooden ell of that. Both ells are 2 story.

Joseph Swift was a bank ‘cashier’ for some 30 years. In the modern usage, a cashier is simply someone who takes your money when you purchase a product and any store. It’s usually a low paying, entry level, position. In the 19th century, a bank cashier was what we would call the bank manager. He, almost always he, was the person between the directors and the staff. Although not a position of great wealth and power, it did have it’s perks and usually paid a wage commensurate for someone in the upper-middle class of the day.

Swift was born around 1785. He married Delia Sanford in 1812. They had several children, the records on how many and who they were are not clear. The records do show that a daughter Maria was born in 1816 and died in 1845. Joseph Jr was born in 1817 and died in 1834 and a son William was born in 1827 and died in 1850. 1850 was also the year Joseph and Delia died. No causes of death are recorded for any of them. After the deaths in 1850, the house was leased to a grocer named Edward Shaw for a couple of years. In 1852, 38 High Street was sold to a spar maker who lived next door named John Bradford.

The scar of the late 19th century hood over the door is unpleasant but to be able to see that lovely fan makes it worthwhile.

If anyone deserved to be called ‘old New England stock’, it was John Bradford. Born in Portland around 1810, John could trace his roots back to William Bradford, the long serving governor of the Plymouth Colony. John apprenticed in the ship yards of Portland before venturing out on his own at the age of 20. He married Jane Knight, also born in Portland in 1815, in 1833. They had 3 children 2 of which died in infancy. Jane Knight Bradford died in 1843. In 1853, John married Mary Ann Harris. She was born in Portland in 1821. They had a daughter, Mary, in 1859. In 1872 John and Mary Ann adopted Anne Maude, who was the daughter of John’s son John E born from an illicit affair.

Clipping from the 1858 Portland City Directory. The John Bradford making tools on Union Street was not directly related to the spar maker living on High Street.

John Bradford was Portland’s most active spar maker for over 4 decades. Outfitting over 30 ships a year, he was aid to have spent his winters in the woods hauling out timber and summers fitting out ships. His obituary noted that in his time he

“Has seen his supply of raw material move from Scarboro to Gorham and Bridgton and to Oregon”.

Bradford was very much a man of his day. He served in various roles in city affairs including a stint on the common council and, not surprisingly, was a long time surveyor of masts and timber. He invested in the St Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad seeing that it would both increase has access to raw materials and increase demand for ships to carry the products the railroad was to bring to the port. He was proven correct on both counts. He retired from business in 1883 but remained active in local affairs until his death in 1896. His obituary took a complete column in the Portland Daily Press for January 25, 1896.

These windows seem tall for the style and period. These may have been redone in the Greek Revival period but the current mouldings are not of that period. Charles Q Clapp installed windows taller than this in the McLellan houses up the street in the mid 1820s so there is some local history for redoing the windows. That being said, I still have a suspicion that they are original.

After John’s death in 1896, Mary Ann Bradford moved in with Elizabeth and her husband Herbert. 38 High Street passed to Anne Maude 1909. Who lived there in the interim is somewhat hazy as the street number wasn’t fixed until 1914. A former stonecutter named Freeman Ames and his wife Lizzie were here form 1908 to 1910 when he died. I know, another death attached to the house.

38 High Street in 1924. Maine Memory Network

38 High Street became a rooming house in the early part of the 20th century. Anne and her husband lived on Danforth Street. He sold insurance. They did not live here. In 1922, she sold it to a Russian émigré who worked for a clothing store named Louis Winstein. He sold it 3 months later to Ivy Buswell. Ivy lived here with her stepfather Henry Austin. in 1930, she listed her vocation as ‘running a boarding house’. On that census, Henry worked as a lumber surveyor. They had a lodger named John Jameson who worked as a carpenter. The 1926 city directory listed 38 High Street as a lodging house run by Ivy, Her clientele must have been somewhat short-term as there were no other residents listed but Ivy and Henry.

The masonry could use a repointing.

This is the point where things get a bit odd. In 1922, prior to selling our subject to Ivy Buswell, Louis Winsetin took a $3500 mortgage with the Maine Savings Bank. The note was payable in 1 year. The existence of this note was noted in the sale to Ivy. She added 2 more mortgages which were subsidiary to the original note. The first was at the time of purchase to Louis Winstein for an undisclosed amount. The second note was in 1931 to the tenant, John Jameson, for $300. The paperwork for this note cited the two others which showed the primary note having a balance of “not more than $3300” and the second having a balance of “not more than $3000”. In 1933, the Maine Savings Bank foreclosed on 38 High Street.

In 1942, 38 High Street was sold by the Maine Savings Bank to Constanze O’Brien. She was a Maine native who was married to Francis O’Brien. Francis was a Portland native who’s life story is a book in itself. He was a merchant mariner who became a union activist and communist. He is best remembered as a noted antiquarian bookdealer. In 1994, the Maine Irish Heritage Center interviewed Francis about his life. He died that same year.

38 High Street is a single family home. It is a listed building in the West End Historic District. The condition is good. It is owned by Francis and Constanze O’Brien’s daughter.

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