The offices, museum, gift shop, and exhibit and lecture halls of the Maine Historical Society are housed here, at what is now 489 Congress Street, a building completely renovated in the 1980s. From at least the early 1880s until the 1950s, 489-497 Congress Street was a large block that contained innumerable businesses, doctors, and halls over the years. From the 1890s until the early 1930s, the Ancient Order of Hibernians had their headquarters at 491 ½ Congress, known as Hibernians’ Hall or simply Hibernian Hall.
489-97 Congress Street, variously known as the Morton Block and the Brown Block over the years, was composed of Turnverein Hall (497 Congress), harness shops, a candy manufacturing and confectionary company (489 Congress), restaurants, and doctors’ offices throughout the 1880s-1890s.
By the mid-1890s, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, a national Irish-American fraternal society founded in New York in 1836 and in Portland in 1876, operated a hall at 491 ½ and briefly at 493 ½ Congress Street. Divisions No.1 and 2 of the local AOH met here at the time. In 1895, Michael T. Ragan, a letter carrier, and T. J. Flaherty, were the presidents of Divisions 1 and 2, respectively. The AOH had “halls” on the 3rd and 4th floors.
By 1905, Division 1 had relocated to 10 Free Street, while Divisions 2 and 3 still met at 491 ½ Congress Street (Hibernian Hall), as did the County Board, the Hibernian Knights (Company B), and the Ladies’ Auxiliary of the AOH. Mrs. Henry O’Connor was president, Mrs. P. F. Buckley was recording secretary, and Miss Mary Hudner was treasurer of the Ladies’ Auxiliary (Div. 1), at the time. They met on the 2nd and 4th Fridays of each month.
The Catholic Total Abstinence Society of Portland also met at Hibernian Hall, as is evidenced from an October 10, 1896 issue of the Eastern Argus. They met on October 9th at the hall to celebrate “Father Matthew Day,” with an assembly, dancing, and a “fine programme by well known local talent” under James Waters, chairman of the committee of arrangements. Father Theobald Mathew was a mid-19th century Irish temperance lecturer and leader.
From 1900 until the late 1920s, the Ancient Order of Foresters of America, a Catholic fraternal group organized in Portland in 1889, met at Hibernian Hall. In 1925, the Foresters, Court Falmouth, No. 2, was led by John J. Murphy, chief ranger, with John T. Curran as secretary, and Michael T. Ragan as treasurer.
In 1918, Division 2 of the Hibernians was meeting at Hibernian Hall, while other AOH groups were still at 10 Free Street. The Ladies’ Auxiliary to Div. 2 also met at the hall, with Mrs. Emily Whelan as recording secretary.
By 1925, the County Board and both AOH Divisions 1 and 2 were meeting at Hibernian Hall. Div. 1 was headed by Mark Costello, president, with Florence C. Sullivan as secretary, and Patrick McDonough as treasurer. President Henry O’Connor headed Div. 2, with Thomas J. Murphy, treasurer, and R. H. Whitmore, secretary. By 1930, the AOH shared the building space with the short-lived Canadian Club of Portland.
In 1952, the block contained Day’s Jewelers (which operated here until the 1980s), The Tie Shop, Kennedy and Company (grocers), Importers Outlet (dry goods), H. E. Murdock Company (opticians), and interestingly, at 495 ½ Congress, the Catholic Lending Library.
The local AOH became defunct about 1940 and did not return to Portland until the mid-1970s. Daniel O’Connell O’Donoghue Division (Div. 1), the only remaining AOH group in the state, meets every month at St. Patrick’s Church Hall in Portland. From 2003-2006, they met at the Maine Irish Heritage Center (St. Dominic’s), where they will again meet in the future, after the renovation of that building.
Around the corner from the Maine Historical Society is Brown Street, where the society’s parking lot is situated. From 1894 until 1904, Miss Winifred J. “Winnie” Hargadon (1842-1914), a County Sligo native, operated a boardinghouse here, at 41 Brown Street. The building was owned by James Cunningham the contractor. In 1900, Winnie’s place had four boarders and an Irish-born servant named May Burke. Her brother Michael and family resided with her for several years. During this time, Michael Malia, John Toomey, and Edward Carr (and families) resided at the rear of 41 Brown. By the mid-1930s, many of the dwellings on Brown Street had been demolished and 41 Brown had become a filling station and parking lot.
RELATED SITES: Maine Irish Heritage Center, Longfellow House, St. Patrick's Church