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Neal Dow Memorial House

Neal Dow Memorial House
Jul 19, 2017

Leaving Sacred Heart Church, a quick walk up Mellen Street brings you to Congress Street and the nearby Neal Dow Memorial House, a Colonial brick home built in 1829 for Neal Dow, the “Czar of Temperance” who had countless run-ins with the local Irish community.

Neal Dow (1804-1897) was the son of a Portland Quaker family and entered his father Josiah’s tanning business, from which he realized handsome profits. He was a volunteer firefighter and elected chief engineer of the Portland Fire Department in 1839, a position he held for many years. At the age of only twenty-three Dow became a founding member of the Maine Temperance Union and his life’s work was assured. The Union argued over the issue of wine and Dow became a leader of a splinter group of the union, which advocated total abstinence. He spent many years demanding that only teetotalism and prohibition were the true tenets of temperance societies; he also tried to put through a law prohibiting the retailing of ardent spirits. Dow and his cold water army were successful in a prohibitory law put into effect in October 1846, but the law proved ineffectual as many, including merchants and lawyers, saw this as very bad for business and opposed it with all their power.

Dow, a Whig, continued his astute political maneuverings, and was elected the mayor of Portland in April 1851. He “authored” a prohibition bill submitted in May to the Maine State Legislature that was soon passed (the so-called Maine Law). It became the first true prohibition law in the country; it outlawed the sale or manufacture of alcohol except for medicinal or mechanical reasons. Mayor Dow became known as the “Napoleon of Temperance,” among other epithets, and within a few years many more states passed similar prohibition laws. Dow would spend the rest of his life traveling Maine and the country, as well as Canada and Great Britain, lecturing on prohibition and teetotalism. And he was at all times a bane to that part of the Irish community who sold booze.

As early as 1846, Neal Dow had encountered Phillip Quinn, the Donegal-born owner of the “O’Connell House” on Fore Street in his fanatical war on rumsellers, especially Irish rumsellers. Quinn, called “one of the most incorrigible Rumsellers in this city,” declared that Dow was trying to make a beggar of him from all the fines he had to pay out due to infractions of the liquor law (see “The Irish Community and Irish Organizations of Nineteenth-Century Portland,” Matthew Jude Barker, “They Change Their Sky: The Irish in Maine,” 2004).

Dow had innumerable face-offs with the infamous McGlinchy clan of Portland, a large County Derry family that controlled a good part of the illegal liquor trade and realized more profit than most in the business, especially after brothers Jim and Patrick opened their own breweries. But the most colorful of Dow’s antagonists was perhaps the legendary Irish bootlegger and brothel owner Kitty Kentuck.

Kitty Kentuck was in fact Mrs. Margaret Landrigan, born in County Cork about 1810, probably the daughter of a family named Callaghan; she went by at least six aliases over the years. Kitty emigrated to New Brunswick in the 1830s, where she and her husband Patrick Landrigan, a mason, had two sons Dennis and Michael. They migrated to Portland in the 1840s, where her husband was arrested for assaulting her and later left her. Margaret began to sell liquor on the sly, being convicted for numerous liquor offenses between 1846-1851 (an experimental prohibition legislation had been enacted in 1846). By late 1850 she was already being referred to as “Mrs. Catherine Landrigan, alias Kitty Kentuck.”

Catherine Landrigan, listed as a trader, mortgaged property in 1851 on Hancock Street from John Neal, the prominent lawyer, author, editor, and civil rights advocate and cousin to Neal Dow. He received payment in full ($900) on the mortgage in 1852. Kitty went on to purchase many other pieces of property. She was also repeatedly before the Judge for liquor offenses and on many occasions John Neal defended her. A case in January 1852 became a cause célèbre as John Neal and Neal Dow attacked each other in the newspapers, all on account of Kitty, who Neal recalled as “a poor, but generous, kind-hearted Irish woman,” but who Dow claimed was the keeper of “a notorious groggery” which gave Portland police more trouble than any other place in the city. Neal, believing she was innocent, maligned by a “drunken vagabond,” secured her release after signing a $300 bond, along with his brother-in-law and two personal friends. Neal Dow was livid, claiming in a letter to the newspaper (anonymously) that “Kitty has some remains of beauty left, and shows that she was once very handsome; her friends were truly friends in need.” John Neal, never on great terms with his cousin, counterattacked in the papers. The cousins would both remember this incident in their respective autobiographies as one of many bones of contention between them (see “The Saga of Portland’s Unsinkable, Irish Kitty Kentuck,” Matthew J. Barker, Portland Magazine, December 1996).

Kitty remarried to a mariner named George Touro and continued to bootleg, as well as run a sailors’ boardinghouse and brothel. In March 1863, she was adjudged guilty of operating a House of Ill Fame and sentenced to two years in the State Prison, but did a lesser sentence in the local county jail. An extant bawdy song tells of the pleasures one could enjoy at Kitty’s, with one verse reading, “We go down to Portland city, At the hour of twelve at night, There you’ll see my charming Kitty, Washing her feet by candlelight.” Civil War Major John Mead Gould wrote that the lyrics were “said to be known to every deep sea sailor that could sing a song” (see “Kitty Kentuck,” Irish-American Files, Maine Historical Society). Burned out during the Great Fire of 1866, Kitty erected a shanty on Hancock Street, where she was found dead on her floor September 15, 1866. Her son Michael Landrigan was arrested for her apparent murder, but was later discharged and disappears from the records.

Neal Dow went on to a second term as mayor (1855), but after being implicated in the infamous Portland Rum Riot of June 1855 (see Site No. 20), his image was tarnished for many. The Maine Law was repealed in 1856. Dow redeemed himself as a semi-hero in the Civil War, being promoted to a brigadier general (1862) and spending eight months in Confederate prisons in Richmond and Mobile, including the notorious Libby Prison, after being wounded and captured following the Siege of Port Hudson (1863).

Although Dow had severe differences with many of the Portland Irish, he, like innumerable other wealthy Portlanders, employed a slew of Irish domestic maids. Between 1850-80, Irish women named Mary Maguire, Mary Toole, Margaret Colham, and Mary Smith lived and worked at the Dow House, with rooms in the attic. One can only imagine what they thought or secretly felt about their boss. Of course, the real boss would have been Dow’s wife, the former Cornelia Maynard who died in 1883.

By the time of the 1870 census, General Dow had amassed a fortune of $105,000 in real and personal property in his business as a tanner and currier, as well as in lucrative land investments. His old enemies John Neal and James McGlinchy had done exceedingly well themselves, with estates valued at $80,000 and $100,000, respectively, in 1870. McGlinchy, much to Dow’s dismay, continued to operate saloons and breweries until his death in 1880.

Dow, who a visiting Anthony Trollope called “the Father Mathew of the State of Maine,” referring to the mid-19th century Irish temperance leader, continued his war on Demon Rum. He founded the National Temperance Society and Publishing House with James Black and others in 1865. Dow was later the National Prohibition Party’s candidate for President (1880), but came in fourth place. Republican James A. Garfield won the election.

Neal Dow, somewhat mellowed with age, eventually became friends with some local Irish, including Republican attorney William H. Looney, erstwhile city solicitor, who he even attended Mass with once. A man named Flannagan was his servant and coachman in his final days (see “The Prophet of Prohibition, Neal Dow and His Crusade,” Frank L. Byrne, 1961). The Napoleon of Prohibition continued to lecture on temperance and the ills of society, including the Irish Land Question, until his death in Portland on October 2, 1897, aged 93, carping to the end on the profligacy of rum dens he was never able to eradicate in the Forest City.

The Neal Dow House, now on the National Historic Landmarks register, is home to the Maine Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (membership about 200), who today conduct tours of the home. Their operational hours are currently Monday-Friday, 11am-4pm.

Related sites: James McGlinchy House, Monument Square, Gorham's Corner, Central Fire Station, East Commercial Street

Author Matt Barker
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