Home Doll market A Window to the Past – Willard Square in the 1950s

A Window to the Past – Willard Square in the 1950s

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I grew up on Thompson Street, just one house from Willard Square. As you approached the plaza, the first thing you noticed was “the blinker,” a flashing yellow light on metal candlesticks with a square concrete base. It actually acted as a small roundabout and made snow clearing difficult in winter.

There was a traffic light in the middle of Willard Square. A sign on the light said “drive on the right”. The traffic island was removed in 1964 and stop signs were posted on Preble Street and at the end of Pillsbury and Thompson streets. Herbert Pray Collection / South Portland Historical Society

Going south on Preble Street, there were three shopping spaces on the right (427-429 Preble St.).

The first was Mr. Elliot’s watch store. Next was the Wass Hair Salon and the third was a Beauty Salon. I’ve never ventured into the latter, but Wass’s Barber Shop was a regular stop for all the kids in the neighborhood. When you were very young there was a booster for the barber chair. As we grew older, every time he finished cutting our hair, he splashed Bay Rum on our necks.

I have worked in the Caribbean for over 20 years checking various samples of Bay Rum, looking for that exact scent. Not that I wanted to wear it, but they say smells can trigger memories. I found products from Trinidad that most closely resembled what he was using.

Mr. Wass had a number of clients from the many ships that regularly visited Portland during this time. From these sailors he amassed a collection of bottled ships. Rick Dobson, who grew up next to Mr. Wass on Day Street, and I have often wondered what happened to this beautiful collection.

Across the street were also three commercial spaces (412-420 Preble St.). The Cleaves Market was the largest and by the end of the decade it was sold to the Bathras family with old George taking care of the deli and meat cutting, and Mrs. Bathras taking care of the box.

They lived above the store and their children, Lisa and Tim, both attended schools in South Portland. Next to Cleaves Market was Beane’s Pharmacy. The store had a marble soda fountain and beautiful wood and glass cabinets in the back. As kids we loved having a root beer float, called Rochester. The third was a small store, Richardson’s. Mr. and Mrs. Richardson lived on Lowell Street and were always nice to all the kids who came by for their great selection of penny candy.

Richardson Market, 420 Preble St., Willard Square, circa 1945. Richardson Collection / South Portland Historical Society

Across the street was Dumont’s. The family lived at the end of Pillsbury, next to the fire station. Mr. Lucien Dumont, Sr., ran the store and his wife Phyllis raised their two children, Lucien and Dick.

I remember the Dumont store had a large collection of candy, as well as many kinds of soft drinks and snacks like chips and popcorn, and a large beer cooler in the back of the store. The old soda fountain was no longer in use, but newspapers were spread out on its counter.

Further south on Preble Street was the Rice store in front of Cobb’s Greenhouse, then Flynn’s on the corner of Willard Street.

Willard Square was a hub for buses – at the time, everyone was shopping in Portland. The city bus stopped and picked up in front of Richardson’s and on the way back fell at Dumont’s. Summer visitors came to the beach from Portland by bus. The bus turned around and waited between trips at the end of Elsmere Avenue, so summer beach patrons could get off Willow if they got off in the plaza or get off Willard if they got on last. block.

The fire station was a center of activity in the neighborhood. He organized a bingo on Tuesday both for fun and to raise money for the neighborhood. My father, Raymond Dewey, was a volunteer firefighter and drove Engine 2. He took it upon himself to throw a big Christmas party for the kids in the neighborhood. He organized entertainment and secured donations so that every child who attended the Christmas party received a bag of goodies. The bag would still include a candy cane and other candy and could have a coloring book and crayons for the younger ones or a toy truck or doll for the older ones.

I remember Holsum Bread always providing small, delicious bread samples for each bag. There were old grainy 16-millimeter cartoons, followed by a movie, “The Little Match Girl”.

Then Santa Claus would deliver the presents. I spoke to Steve Doyle about these parties because his father, Archie, was also one of the organizers. Steve told me that growing up he remembered a Halloween party, so I had probably aged from those events by then.

The flashing light was removed and stop signs were added to the driveways. Beane closed its doors and became a warehouse for a plumbing company. Richardson closed and Dumont was demolished to make way for a house built on the site. The Bathras store remained a local institution for decades to come. Rice’s store soon closed, but Mr. Flynn continued into the 1960s. The former Beane’s Drug Store and Richardson’s Store are now home to Scratch Bakery. Wass Barber Shop and Elliot Watch Shop are home to Willard Scoops.

What is very satisfying for those of us who grew up there is the rebirth of the square and the neighborhood. We all knew we had the best neighborhood in Greater Portland. It just took a while for the rest of the community to adjust.

To note: The South Portland Historical Society actively researches and documents local history. If you enjoy reading about the history of South Portland, please lend your support. A one-year family membership costs just $ 25 and supports our mission to preserve local history.

Donations can be made through our online museum website at https://sphistory.pastperfectonline.com, or if you prefer to donate by check, please make it payable to South Portland Historical Society and mail it to us at 55 Bug Light Park, South Portland, ME 04106. Thank you. If you need to contact the company, we can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 207-767-7299.


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