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East Commercial Street

East Commercial Street
Jul 05, 2017

The eastern end of Commercial Street was long a mecca of restaurants, saloons, shops, and various businesses, many of which were owned and operated by Irish emigrants or their descendants. Even today, at 72 Commercial, we find “Ri Ra,” a popular Irish restaurant and pub.

At 1 Commercial Street, on the corner of Commercial and India Streets, many restaurants, saloons, and lodging houses were located over the years. As early as 1866, it was the location of Bradley’s Hotel and grocery, owned by James Bradley (1829-1901), a County Derry native who was the antithesis of temperance czar Neal Dow. According to his obituary in the Daily Eastern Argus (19 August 1901), he “was as much a monument to the Maine Law as Neal Dow, although they stood on opposite ground…Mr. Bradley was in the liquor business when General Dow started on his crusade. He believed that he had as much right to sell liquor as General Dow had to sell leather and he spent all his substance and died a poor man in the effort to secure legal support for his belief.” At one time Bradley was worth $50,000 and when as a large wholesale liquor dealer he had stock on hand worth $35,000 at the time of the enactment of the Maine Law, he “defied the authorities to touch him.” They not only touched him, they seized his entire stock. Bradley fought them every step of the way, bringing his case right up to the U. S. Supreme Court, but to no avail.

James Bradley was later proprietor of the American House and in his final years operated the “Klondike” oyster house at 21 Commercial Street with his sons James and Patrick.

The Bradley Hotel was the site of a murder case in 1869 that drew considerable attention and, by happenstance, created one of the most prominent temperance leaders in the 19th Century, Francis Murphy, founder of the Blue Ribbon Army, somewhat of a predecessor of AA.

In September 1869, Francis Murphy, a liquor dealer and proprietor of the hotel, tossed one Patrick Murray of New Brunswick, who was drunk and belligerent, down the hotel stairs. Murray had harassed a woman he thought was his wife and when he tried to get into her living quarters at the hotel, Murphy confronted him and tragically the man died from his fall. Murphy was convicted of manslaughter in October and bail set at $5000, which was later reduced to $2000. He was later acquitted, but while in jail, had a religious awakening and took the pledge to never drink again. Captain Cyrus Sturdivant, a temperance lecturer, befriended him in jail and became a great benefactor and supporter. Murphy was emotionally distraught at being incarcerated while his wife Eliza and four young children were at home in acute distress.

Francis Murphy, a County Wexford native, came to America when he was sixteen, married at the age of twenty, and settled in Portland, where he and his brother James operated saloons and boardinghouses and sold rum and beer retail.

After his conversion, Murphy became a gospel temperance evangelist; his first public appearance was in Portland April 2, 1871. In the next thirty years he preached temperance throughout the United States, Canada, Great Britain and Ireland. After 65, 500 signed the pledge in Pittsburgh in 1877, he formed a “blue ribbon” society where members were presented with a blue badge. It became the “Blue Ribbon Army,” and in many ways was an antecedent to Alcoholics Anonymous. Francis died in Los Angeles in 1907, aged 71.

The International Hotel was located at 1 Commercial Street by 1881 and operated for a number of years. For many years, nearby saloons included that of Patrick Keating, Thomas Keating, John Sheridan, John Conlon, Andrew Eagan, Michael Toomey, and James Bradley. By 1900, it was the poolrooms of Richard E. O’Brien. About this time, Patrick J. Connors ran a boardinghouse at 3 Commercial. From the early 1900s until the 1920s, 1 Commercial Street was variously the boardinghouse of Patrick H. Herbert (who also had a restaurant at nearby 6 India Street), the restaurant of George R. Muir, the variety store of Mrs. Henrietta Williams, the poolrooms of Michael Howard, the Maine Power Truck Company, and the restaurants of Matthew Donoghue, Pauline Zimmerman, and Benjamin Bukwald. In the 1930s, the site was the Ocean View House (lodging), followed by the Grand Trunk Tavern and Grand Trunk House by 1940. The Grand Trunk Railroad Depot was conveniently located nearby.

The site remained the Grand Trunk House until the mid-1950s. About 1962, local Irish-American Edward L. Manning opened “Eddie’s Shamrock Café,” and the spot was a popular hangout for Irish and non-Irish alike until the mid-1980s.

Nearby 7 Commercial Street had a long history as well. Patrick Keating (1826-1908), a native of Ireland, operated a saloon here from at least the late 1860s until about 1901. Many a “liquor seizure” was made at Keating’s. Pat was a railroad employee soon after he came to Portland during the Irish Potato Famine. His obituary stated that he was “a kind hearted man of the most generous impulses.” Pat was survived by two sons, Thomas F. Keating, an attorney, and Dr. James E. Keating, as well as by two daughters. Another son, Dr. John H., Holy Cross College and Bowdoin grad, died in 1891 at age 32.

Author Matt Barker
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