African-American Owned Buildings in early 20th Century on Munjoy Hill, Part 1

By Julie Larry

Julie Larry, Greater Portland Landmarks' Directory of Advocacy, and some skilled volunteers are researching properties on Munjoy Hill and many are part of Portland's African-American history. In 2017 Portland's African-American historic resources were named to our Places in Peril list.  While there are several neighborhoods rich with these historic resources, recent development on Munjoy Hill heightens our awareness of the buildings in this locale and all we have to lose. As more research is done we will update this blog with highlights.  For now, here are brief stories of three of the more than twenty buildings owned or associated with African-Americans on Munjoy Hill in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century.  

From the mid 19th century onward the neighborhood on Lafayette and Merrill Streets was home to a number of Portland’s black residents, many of whom worked on Portland’s waterfront or in nearby businesses. While some black residents were native to Maine, many were from Canada, particularly from Nova Scotia. Others came to Portland from Guadaloupe, Jamaica, Cape Verde, West Indies, Portugal, and other states like North Carolina, Virginia, New York, Wisconsin, and Georgia. The men worked as seaman, waiters, janitors, stewards, cooks, clerks, hotel porters, house painters, and laborers. While many women stayed home, others worked as laundresses, seamstresses, housekeepers, and elevator operators.

46 Lafayette Street (formerly 24)

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In 1850 William J Jones purchased land from Harriet Peterson on Lafayette Street. US Census records indicate William was born in the Danish West Indies and came to the US through Canada. He became a naturalized citizen in 1892. His widow Mary [Elizabeth] remained in the house at 46 Lafayette Street after his death. She lived in the dwelling with two of their three sons, Alfred, Edward and Abraham. William J Jones worked variously as a mariner (1850-1869), a cook (1875), a wood and coal dealer (1885-1888), and a laborer (1880, 1890-1891). In 1899 Mary deeded the house to Abraham and two lots at 44 and 46 Lafayette Street.

In 1922 the dwellings were purchased by George Simms. His family had been living in the dwellings since 1916 according to street directories.  George was a clergyman at A.M.E. Zion church on Monument Street who was born in Washington DC. He lived in the dwelling at 46 Lafayette with his wife Lila, a native of South Carolina, and four of their children.

 19 Merrill Street (rear)


The one-and-a-half story home at 19 Merrill Street was the original dwelling on this lot, built before 1852.[1] A second house was built 1884-1914  in front of this dwelling at the sidewalk. The rear dwelling was for many years occupied by Eliza Mckeel Franklin Nepean. Eliza McKeel (1812-1884) was the daughter of Margaret Freeman of Brunswick (b. c1882). In 1844 in Portland she married her first husband William Henry Franklin of Maryland, a seaman. By 1852 she was widowed and living at 19 Merrill Street, then numbered as No. 9.  She married her second husband William Nepean in 1853. William was born in Pennsylvania, worked as a steward and shoemaker, dying in 1878. They adopted a daughter Mary Ellen and a son Labyron Wilmot, who worked for many years as a steward on a private car for the Maine Central Railroad. Mary Nepean married first to James Scott, a paper hanger in Springfield, MA in 1873. She married second to Walter Richey in 1890, the same year he immigrated from Canada. When Eliza died of cancer in 1884 the house was willed to her two adoptive children and L. Wilmot gave his half to his sister Mary and her husband Walter. Mary and Walter lived for many years in the rear dwelling on the lot. In 1924 Walter is listed as the owner of both dwellings on the lot.  Mary died in 1916 and Walter died in 1933, leaving the houses on Merrill Street to his second wife Evadora.

65 Merrill Street

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The one-and-a-half story home at 65 Merrill Street on the corner of Quebec Street was for nearly 50 years the residence of the Love family. Willis Love (1849-1933) was born in Virginia. In 1870, at just 20 years old, Willis was living in Alexandria, Virginia and working as a waiter. By 1875 he moved to Portland and worked variously as a painter and waiter while living on Washington Avenue. In 1879 he married his wife Eliza Taylor, a widow who was born in Nova Scotia, and they moved to a rental at 56 Merrill Street on Munjoy Hill. For several years in the 1880s Willis worked on Portland’s waterfront as a seaman. The couple had four children, Alice, Harry, Willis Ardon, and James. In 1904 while Willis was working as a janitor at the Elks Club on Congress Street, he and Eliza purchased the house at 65 Merrill Street from the Sparrow family. Willis worked as a janitor and waiter for the Elks for many years, as did his son Willis Ardon. Willis Ardon Love died at just age 31 in 1914 from Typhoid Fever. Their son Harry, an electrician, and his family lived nearby at 49 Merrill Street. After Willis’ death in 1933 his widow Eliza and  daughter Alice, a seamstress, lived in the house until Alice’s death in 1950. Her surviving brothers then sold the house to the DiBiase family.

[1] It appears on the 1871 map of Portland in the Atlas of Cumberland. A dwelling set back from the street near the corner of Turner and Merrill Streets also appears on the 1851 Walling map of Portland, so the dwelling was probably built during Eliza’s marriage to William Franklin. No original deed was found in Eliza or William’s name.