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Stroudwater Historic District

Portland City, Cumberland County, ME

The Stroudwater Historic District [‡] was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

The village of Stroudwater, a section of the City of Portland, occupies the western bank of the tidal Fore River at its headquarters where it is joined by the Stroudwater River. The Stroudwater Historic District encompasses the original Stroudwater settlement within the present village. It includes some thirty residences from the Colonial, Federal and Greek Revival periods which still stand on the gentle hills sloping down to the Fore River; the local burying ground; the sites of the former mast landing, mills, tanneries and shipyards which supported the inhabitants; and the section of the Cumberland and Oxford Canal which runs along the eastern bank of the Fore River opposite the village.

Three periods of growth formed the village of Stroudwater and gave it its character. The first period was the permanent settlement, begun in 1727 by Colonel Thomas Westbrook, mast agent for King George II of England, who moved there from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. (Previous settlers had abandoned their sawmill on the Stroudwater River during the 1680's in fear of Indian attacks.) Colonel Westbrook built roads on which to haul the mast timbers, a landing from which to launch them down the Fore River to Portland where they were shipped to England, a huge bridge across the River for the only road to Portland from the south, a garrisoned house for protection from the Indians, dams, saw mills and the first paper mill in Maine. His activities drew workers and other wealthy business venturers; the community had a busy beginning.

The next major period of growth for Stroudwater came after the Revolution. Attracted by trading possibilities, new settlers came. Lumber was sawn and exported, carried by vessels built in new shipyards on the banks of the Fore River; stores were opened; a tannery built. The shipping trade expanded during the war between England and France. Prosperity ended with the Embargo Act of 1807. After the commercial depression resulting from the War of 1812, business improved gradually. As in the past, the leading members of the Stroudwater community were involved in the business and social affairs of Portland. General Lafayette and President Monroe were entertained in Stroudwater homes when they visited Portland. New life returned to Stroudwater with the 1830 completion of the Cumberland and Oxford Canal. (The Canal, which is still clearly visible, runs inland from Stroudwater to Westbrook where it follows a course beside the Presumpscot River to Sebago Lake and from there to Long Lake in the interior of Maine.) The canal opened up new sources of lumber and raw material. The shipyards were busy again. A bark mill powered by tidal current was built by the Great Bridge, tanneries operated and a new sawmill was built on the Stroudwater. Seven locks were operated between Stroudwater and Westbrook. Manufactured goods and groceries were carried from Portland to the interior. The canal functioned as a vital supply line for thirty years and Stroudwater flourished with it.

The Atlantic and St. Lawrence Railroad, built through several towns in Oxford County and completed in 1853, took away a considerable portion of the canal's traffic. The completion of the Portland and Ogdensburg Railroad from Sebago to Portland in 1870 was the death blow for the canal. The canal closed and Stroudwater's livelihood was taken away. The railroad bridge prevented vessels from sailing down the Fore River. The last ship was launched in 1859. Workers sought jobs in Portland and Stroudwater became a residential community.

Stroudwater was not swallowed up by Portland's industrial expansion after the Civil War, nor by the further expansion after the World Wars. The few modern residences which have been built within the village are completely dominated by the original homes. The mast roads have become highways. Their pattern is unaltered, although traffic is increasingly heavy. Other modern homes are now spread out in the countryside around the village and the Portland International Jetport borders it on the southeast, but these surroundings, except for their noise, do not intrude on the village. Stroudwater remains a unit, an intact example of a Nineteenth Century Village, increasingly threatened but as yet not irreparably damaged by the modern world.

Several of the residences included within the Stroudwater Historic District are outstanding examples of the architecture of their period. The George Tate House has received recognition as a National Historic Landmark. The Thomas Means House, the Francis Waldo House, the Samuel Fickett House, the Martin Hawes House and the Dr. Jeremiah Barker House are of an equally exceptional quality. The other homes, built by less wealthy owners, are never the less of a high architectural quality.

Stroudwater stands today as a rare example of a Nineteenth Century village. There are few instances in Maine or any other New England state where such a self-contained community has survived scarcely altered to the present day. The pattern of the village's growth is visible in the sequence of its architecture. Although the commercial enterprises carried on in the village are no longer in existence, their sites are clearly evident. It is possible today to see the interrelationship of these activities and the homes and to imagine the dynamic life of the village.

Stroudwater played an important role in the development of Maine. The ingenuity and enterprise of her inhabitants helped to build Maine into a rich and prosperous state. Many Stroudwater residents became important figures. Colonel Westerbrook was active in New England political circles. George Tates lumbering operation was the largest in Maine before the Revolution. Archelaus Lewis served in the Continental Army. James Means was a member of George Washington's Life Guard and the first Senator from the District of Maine in 1807. Jeremiah Barker was an innovative doctor respected throughout New England.

Adapted From: Mary-Eliza Wengren, consultant, Greater Portland Landmarks, Inc., Stroudwater Historic District, Cumberland County, Maine, 1973, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Street Names
Congress Street • Garrison Street • Waldo Street • Westbrook Street