The time that Portland swallowed a neighboring city to steal its voters

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Hello! Every seven days, for the rest of the year, This Week in Portland History is bringing to light a person or event from the city’s past.

On a winter’s day in 1899, the city of Deering vanished from the map of Maine. It was eaten up by its hungry neighbor to the east, which wanted its land and its Republican voters.

A bill approved by Legislature in Augusta, and signed by Gov. Llewellyn Powers, forcibly annexed Deering to Portland on Feb. 6, 1899. Its municipal courts were dissolved, its city offices rendered redundant and its high school was taken over by its biggest local rival.

A woman leaves the Post Office at Deering Center on Stevens Avenue in 1897. Deering became part of Portland in 1899. Maine Memory Network item 20279

A woman leaves the Post Office at Deering Center on Stevens Avenue in 1897. Deering became part of Portland in 1899. Maine Memory Network item 20279

Portland was hemorrhaging Republicans, who had long ruled the city, to Deering’s upscale suburbs. It’s tree-lined neighborhoods were very attractive to city businessmen who could now ride the quick and efficient electric trolleys to their jobs downtown. Meanwhile, working-class, Irish and Italians — allied with the Democratic Party — were making gains on the peninsula. In an effort to retain control, Republican city leaders set their sights on Deering.

The year before, on March 7, 1898, Portland voted overwhelmingly to annex Deering. The next day, Deering voters rejected the same proposal. So, Portland lawmakers looked to Augusta for help, and got it, in the form of forced annexation.

A bird's-eye view map of Deering from 1886 includes various points of interest. Deering became a part of Portland in 1899. Maine Memory Network item 35626

A bird’s-eye view map of Deering from 1886 includes various points of interest. Deering became a part of Portland in 1899. Maine Memory Network item 35626

At that time, Deering was less than 30 years old. It was born when the town of Saccarappa split into Westbrook and Deering in 1871. Later, it incorporated into a city in 1892. The Oddfellows Block at Woodfords Corner was Deering City Hall.

Its motto was: Deering, city of homes. Its property tax revenue must have looked delicious to Portland, too.

Portland, long squeezed into its narrow peninsula and left with no land left to develop, gained 9,381 acres in the deal, from Back Cove to the Presumpscot River. It also inherited 7,500 taxpaying residents.

Maybe Portland can use this same tactic again. Budget problems got you down, Mayor Strimling? Maybe we could annex Cumberland Foreside or Shore in Road Cape Elizabeth.

Just sayin’.

Disclaimer: I’m not a historian. I owe everything I know to the dedicated research of those who have come before me. These character sketches and historical tidbits are assembled from multiple (often antique) sources and sprinkled with my own conjecture. I’m happy to be set straight or to learn more.

The city of Deering, Maine vanished with the stroke of Governor Llewellyn Powers' pen on Feb. 6, 1899. From that day on, Stevens Avenue was a Portland city street. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

The city of Deering, Maine vanished with the stroke of Governor Llewellyn Powers’ pen on Feb. 6, 1899. From that day on, Stevens Avenue was a Portland city street. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

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Troy R. Bennett

About Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.