104 Park Street and the Park Street Row

Built in 1835/36 for the Trustees of the Park Street Proprietary. William Dyer & Joshua Haskell masons. Simeon Rice carpenter.

A Greek Revival row house in Park/Pleasant Street Neighborhood.

John Neal said they looked like “a factory” but he was a difficult man.

Part of Neal’s ire seems to have come from his belief that his plans for a series of row houses on State Street, of which he built 2 out of granite, were used for the Park Street row. He claimed a couple of his ‘partners’ pulled out at the last minute and soon became involved in the Park Street Proprietary. And there is a resemblance to be seen in the 2 units that Neal built for himself. In the end, John Neal’s plan fared no better than the Park Street Row. But, that’s another story.

John Neal’s row houses on State Street. Maine Memory Network

The Trustees of the Park Street Proprietary was founded in 1835. The 4 original members were:

  • James Cahoon. Cahoon was a Vermont native who started in Portland as a merchant in the 1820s. In later years he was involved in railroads, shipbuilding and served as Mayor of Portland.
  • Oliver Dorrance. Oliver Dorrance was a dry goods merchant who was born in Kennebunk.
  • Martin Gore. Gore was a Portland native who made and sold hats
  • Marshall French. French was a grocer who worked out of the same store as Dorrance. He was originally from Turner Maine.

The trustees purchased the land for the planned development from John Gray of Boston in 1835 and 1836. They paid $22,000 for the property. Gray’s father, William, was a prosperous Salem merchant who had purchased it in the early part of the 1800s. John and his siblings inherited it after William died in 1825. I do not find evidence that any member of the Gray family ever lived on or near the street that would bear their name.

John Neal’s concerns aside, the Park Street row house are quite similar to rows being built in Charlestown & Boston MA and New York City in the same period. Each unit was a block of 3 bays in width and 3 stories in height. As built, the development encompassed 14 units on Park with 3 units each on Gray and Spring Street. The Gray Street row was demolished in 1965. The bricks are fairly uniform and laid in a running bond. The lintels and sills of the windows are sandstone and portals are of granite & sandstone. The window openings are very simply trimmed.

The story of our subject starts in October of 1837 when Marshall French sold lot #12, with the “buildings thereon” to the City Bank for $5000. The bank held it until 1842 when it was sold, for $2500, to an oil dealer named Robert Robison.

The timing of these events is not coincidental.

Following the Jacksonian Bank War, a financial ‘panic’ and following depression forced much retrenchment, altering of plans, and outright failures, that covered the period of 1837-1842 when a sustained recovery began. The ‘boom’ of the mid-decade, when money flowed freely, was quickly followed by the most intense ‘bust’, and first real depression, the nation had seen. Keep in mind that the federal government did not issue currency nor did it exert any control over any organization that did. Business, by and large, was transacted with gold and silver or ‘hard’ currency. Most banks did issue their own bills of exchange and bonds. The City Bank of Portland was no different.

Portland Merchants Exchange ca 1845. Maine Memory Network

The City Bank was granted a charter by the Maine Legislature in March of 1836. A month later, the state deposited $200,000 into the bank as part of it’s share the surplus returned to the states by the federal government. In early the bank had received permission to increase it’s stock capital by $200,000. Things started well. By mid-1837, things were not so rosy. The annual state bank tax deadline was missed and a forbearance was requested and granted. The directors placed evermore ads in the local papers requesting capital installments from the stockholders. One has to wonder if Marshall French actually got his $5000 in hard currency.
If it was in bank notes, those were losing value by 1840 when they were trading at a discount of 15% at Boston banks. Here in Portland though, John Proctor, who would go on to become one of Portland’s earliest real estate brokers, took the notes at par in his grocery and West Indies goods market. The bank tax was missed again in 1841 and another forbearance granted. That bill was never paid. In January of 1843, 9 months after selling 104 Park Street, the directors surrendered the charter of the bank to the state of Maine.

Clipping from the Feb 01 1843 Eastern Argus.

Robert Ilsley Robison was recently married when he purchased 104, then 42, Park Street from the City Bank in 1842. He had married Jane Northam earlier that year. Robert, born in 1808, was a Portland native while Jane, born in 1814, was from Newport Rhode Island. Their first child, Jane, was born in 1843 and Mary followed in 1845. In August of 1846, Jane died of ‘dropsy of the head’ or Hydrocephalus. She was 3 ½ years old. In 1860, Mary died of ‘bowel inflammation’ at the age of 15.

After losing their sole surviving child, it is understandable that Robert and Jane Robison would seek a change in their situation. Suddenly, the 5 story house on Park Street would seem too big and full of painful memories. To that end, the ad above appeared in the Eastern Argus in early March of 1861. It ran for about 6 weeks.

Portland City Directory 1863

When James McCobb and his family moved into 104 Park Street is not clear but by 1863 they were in residence as seen by the city directory for that year. He purchased it outright in 1866.
James Thomas McCobb was born in a big Georgian home in Phippsburg Maine in 1812. His family was well known for shipping, law, and government. James followed suit graduating from Bowdoin College in 1829. He studied law with an Daniel Williams in Augusta before moving to Portland in 1845. He and Sarah Sawtelle, the daughter of a Norridgewock attorney, were married in 1838. They had 2 daughters and 2 sons between 1841 & 1851. McCobb served in the Maine Senate in 1855 and as mayor of Portland in 1856. Along with his law practice, McCobb was the long-time treasurer of the Portland Gas Light company.

James T McCobb from 1877 engraving of Portland Mayors. Maine Memory Network

James McCobb died of kidney disease in August of 1882. Sarah continued to live at 104 Park Street until her death from pneumonia in 1900. Their daughters continued here until 1909 when they sold it to Alfred Brinkler & William Strong.

Alfred Brinkler was born in Ramsgate, England in 1880. He graduated from the Royal College Of Organists in 1899. He immigrated to the US in 1902 and was naturalized in 1913. 1913 was the same year he married Beatrice Banks. She was the daughter of a US Marine surgeon. They had a son, Bartol, in 1915. Brinkler was an organist and chorister. He served for in that role at St Luke’s Cathedral for over 50 years. He was the City of Portland’s municipal organist, playing the mighty Kotzschmar Organ, from 1934 to 1952.
William Strong was born in Hartford Vermont in 1858. Strong was a clerk at the Portland Savings Bank. William Strong was the treasurer of St Luke’s for many years. Strong died of pneumonia in 1939. His will bequeathed his ownership share of 104 Park Street to Alfred Brinkler.

Perhaps the most interesting addition to the interior of 104 Park Street is a pipe organ. Built by the Hope-Jones Organ Company, it was installed for Alfred Brinkler in 1909. Brinkler used the organ for practice, recitals and instruction. It is in perfect order and I was privileged to hear the owner play it in April of 2023. There is also a smaller console organ and a baby grand piano in the room.

Beatrice Banks Brinkler died after a prolonged illness on March 16, 1961. She was 76 years old. Alfred continued to live at 104 Park Street through the 60s and into the 70s. In June of 1970, he sold our subject to the current owners. He moved into an apartment at 88 Park Street. On the night of December 20 1971, Alfred Brinkler and Malcom Cass, an optometrist and student of Brinkler, were struck by a car while crossing Stat Street. Cass was treated for his injuries and released that night. Brinkler was admitted to Maine Medical Center. Alfred Brinkler died on March 3, 1972 having never left the hospital since December 20. He was 91 years old. Tributes for him came in from across the globe. A set of windows in the clerestory of St Luke’s Cathedral were dedicated to the Brinklers in 1972.

As noted, the current owners purchased 104 Park Street from Alfred Brinkler in 1970. Their combined interests, he plays the piano and she has a long history in historic preservation, makes the home a logical choice. With enough space to raise a family, it has made a perfect long-term home for the pair. They will soon face the prospect of having to sell the property to, hopefully, someone who will respect the historic integrity and value of 104 Park Street for future generations. As it is the only unit of the project that was never turned into apartments, boarding rooms, or condominiums, and having retained much of it’s original fabric, the loss of this home would be tragic in a way. When one includes the fact that the current owners are only the 7th in the entire history, the amazing nature of 104 Park Street becomes even clearer.

104 Park Street in listed as a single-family residence. The condition is very good.

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