Veranda Street

img_0110I’ve lived close to Veranda Street for 34 years, and in that time it has gone from being an in-between residential and commercial street to its current status as a developing foodie semihaven. I’ve never been able to ascribe a specific character to Veranda Street, except for one word — gutsy.

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Back Cove shining in the distance.

I’m not even sure why I think of it that way. I think part of it is the nuts-and-bolts makeup that the street used to have, bolstered by its few businesses that included¬† Espan’s Quick Lunch — a diner aficionado’s diner — and Quattrucci’s variety store, maker of robust and tasty Italian sandwiches. The street’s residences are mostly fairly attractive apartment buildings. I-295 runs alongside and across Veranda Street, and there’s a constant hum of traffic.

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Looking from Veranda toward Presumpscot Street.

But “bustling” is not a word I ever would have associated with Veranda Street. And yet there was a time when that word probably applied, according to what I’m reading in the book “Deering: A Social and Architectural History” (William David Barry and Patricia McGraw Anderson, Greater Portland Landmarks, 2010).

After the first version of the Martin’s Point Bridge was built, Veranda Street was the way people got from Tukey’s Bridge to Falmouth Foreside and Martin’s Point. Martin’s Point for a few colorful years housed the Verandah Hotel, a hangout for celebrities of the time such as Longfellow and William Cullen Bryant. The Verandah apparently became known as a “rum hole” that stayed open all hours because, being across the city line, it could. I don’t actually know if Longfellow and Bryant habituated the hotel after it became a rum hole. Let’s say they didn’t. Sometime after the Verandah burned down, the U.S. Marine Hospital was built at Martin’s Point, and the building remains, as part of the Martin’s Point Health Care system.

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This house has been under renovation for years. I’d like to know its history.

Because of factors including the presence of major employers such as B&M Baked Beans and the Grand Trunk rail facility, a lively residential neighborhood and small downtown, with stores and services, developed in the early 1900s along the street. Owners of businesses associated with the sea, like the prominent Russell Shipyard, lived in the neighborhood. In fact, I just figured out which house the Russell Shipyard owner lived in, and will insert a photo later.

Later on, a neighborhood landmark was Espan’s Quick Lunch, in business from 1948 to 2007. All the years it was here, I meant to stop in and have breakfast or lunch, but I only did it once. You might think “Espan’s” is a weird name. I always did, too, and finally read in the Press Herald that the owners meant to name the diner something else (I can’t remember what and can’t find the story), but the name came out wrong on the sign they had made, and they just kept Espan’s (those are probably my kind of people).

Veranda Street didn’t change for years after I moved here, and now it’s changing quickly. Sometime in recent years, two new restaurants opened across from each other on Veranda Street, one of them in the old Espan’s building. They’re aptly named Veranda Thai and Veranda Noodle Bar.

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Veranda Thai — used to be Espan’s.

Veranda Street’s foodie insurgence had started a few years before, though, when Beal’s Ice Cream opened up in a building that had clearly been an ice cream place years before, but had been forlornly empty all the time I had been here. A couple of years ago, the Other Side Deli opened at the Falmouth end of the street, in Quattrucci’s old location, and now we have Union Bagel where for years there was a failing (that’s a guess) pizza place.

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Someone planted and has cared for this trumpet vine,which is twining around a utility pole. I always looks forward to its orange blooms.

Sometimes, especially in the summer, the Washington Ave. end of the street is packed with parked cars, presumably restaurant-goers and ice-cream eaters. That feels very different from the Veranda Street of not so long ago

Martin’s Point is about a mile from my house and my doctor is there, so I walk to appointments. From that end of Veranda, you can look out over the water at the islands in front of you, my neighborhood to the right, and Martin’s Point on the left (the right side is shown below).

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Veranda Noodle and Beal’s at sunset.

Wild Deering Center

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Mayor Baxter Woods

I love the idea of worlds that lie between and behind city streets, and Deering Center is a perfect place to see that.

Stevens Avenue is a busy, trafficky street. Take a few steps in a couple of different directions, though, and you’re on dark forest trails or gazing at a chain of little ponds nestled between woods and the graves of some of Maine’s most prominent citizens.

There’s kind of a sacred aura about Mayor Baxter Woods — the trees are tall and there isn’t much undergrowth, so just about everything you see is starkly vertical. Here and there the light streams in; otherwise, it’s dark. There’s a lot of silence — sometimes. Sometimes, though, what you hear is the sounds of happy canines reveling in their time off the leash — leashes aren’t required in Baxter Woods.

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Hartley Street runs alongside Mayor Baxter Woods.

Walk straight ahead through the woods and you’re on busy Forest Avenue. I didn’t do that the other day, though. I veered onto a path to my right and came out onto Hartley Street, one of several streets that Portland Mayor James Phinney Baxter established and named after his children, after he bought the estate of former Congressman and railroad executive F.O.J. Smith. Baxter sold another part of the estate to the Roman Catholic Diocese and retained the third part as woodland.

Baxter’s son, Maine Governor Percival Baxter — for whom nearby Percival Street is named — gave the wooded part to the city in 1946 to honor his father.

Kitty-corner to Baxter Woods is Evergreen Cemetery, a vast expanse of imposing monuments and simple slabs commemorating the existence of Mainers famous

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Entry to Baxter Woods from Percival Street

and not-so-famous. Walking there, I always feel physically gripped by the poignancy of human lives that come and go. Nostalgia rises up in me for other people’s lives. Once, though, I saw a very old stone marked “Hattie,” and felt a particular pang, because my mother, whose name was Hattie, had died a few months before.

I’ve come across the graves of people I actually knew (though none very well), and it feels strange to think of them, so recently alive, resting in this place that’s so redolent of dignified eternity.

To the side and back of the cemetery lies a thick border of woods criss-crossed by trails. I like to walk that woods, and will do a separate post on it. At the edge of the cemetery are several ponds, where some kind of wildlife can usually be seen. I saw many ducks and a heron — possibly a great blue? I’m not sure of my herons.

Farther down Stevens Avenue, toward Brighton and actually located on Leland Street, there’s another little patch of woods, confusingly named Baxter Pines. It’s a lovely spot, though so small that you’re always aware of that you’re in the middle of a residential neighborhood. But actually, that’s part of the charm for me of these urban havens.

 

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Pond at Evergreen Cemetery

 

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Walking the tracks

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The end of Arcadia Street

The view above, the end of Arcadia Street, is what gave me the idea of writing about what lies between and behind Portland’s streets. I’m fascinated by dead-end streets — the ending really isn’t “dead,” in my opinion. It can be an open door to sights I’ve never seen and experiences I have to go “out of my way” for.

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Arcadia Street runs off Veranda toward Presumpscot Street. Part of this neighborhood faces the outflow of the Presumpscot River, though it’s hard to see through the houses and foliage. Come fall it will be easier.

The other part of the neighborhood — this part — runs down to the railroad tracks that in the last couple of centuries were heavily used as transport between here and Canada. The Grand Trunk roundhouse and other buildings still stand on Presumpscot Street, though they’re used as offices and for other purposes. According to my reference, “Deering: A Social and Architectural History” (William David Barry and Patricia McGraw Anderson, Greater Portland Landmarks; 2010), Presumpscot Street also was the site of railroad-related industrial facilities including a grain elevator (not sure if there was more than one), stockyards, and a rendering company.

So I’m guessing it wasn’t as pleasant to walk along the tracks then as it is now.

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These days it’s all quiet once you cross the narrow strip of trees from Arcadia Street to the tracks. The back of Presumpscot Street is right there ahead of you, but nature has made its inroads on the in-between strip. Well, except for the occasional auto part discarded beside the tracks.

The beauty of this spot is subtle. It’s the appeal of the giant human footprint fading out as nature takes over. To either side of you, the human population has plenty going on, but you’re in the middle, out of the fray, gazing at goldenrod.

I’ve approached these tracks often from the Sherwood Street side, through a peaceful wooded area with a cemetery where my neighbors from the 18th and 19th centuries are buried. I’ll post about that some other time. I’ve also walked the short distance to the dramatically beautiful end of the tracks at Casco Bay (see “Fish Flakes, Anyone?”). This current walk is not flashy, not spectacular in any way. I just like it.

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Looking toward the Veranda Street overpass

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The names are all here

IMG_1118Martin’s Point juts out into Casco Bay right beside the outflow of the Presumpscot River. Facing the water, you can see another little peninsula — my immediate neighborhood — on the right, ocean and islands straight ahead, and Martin’s Point Bridge and Mackworth Island to the left.

IMG_1123It’s an expanse of ocean, distant islands and sky, interrupted by a line of dark trees that shade a peaceful walkway along the steep banking down to the shore. The view must have been a big attraction for guests at the Verandah Hotel, built on the point in 1846. Well, maybe in the beginning the guests cared about the view. The Verandah became known more for the all-hours, seven-day-a-week access to alcohol that it provided (because it was over the city line) than for its restful setting, according to my current reference, “Deering: A Social and Architectural History” (William David Barry and Patricia McGraw Anderson; Greater Portland Landmarks; 2010).

IMG_1127The poor Verandah didn’t last long — it succumbed to fire in 1851. The next occupant of the Point was the U.S. Marine Hospital — still an imposing presence today — which housed seamen in need of care. Now called the “Historic Marine Hospital,” the building is part of the Martin’s Point Health Care complex occupying the site.

I see I’m sliding into a historical perspective here — my intention for this blog was to talk about the quirky and beautiful parts of Portland. History was to be just a side note to provide context. But once you start reading about what happened somewhere, it’s hard not to talk about it!

On my walks, there’s nearly always something I find amusing. I actually shouldn’t find this amusing (and it’s kind of poignant, too. And I’m ONLY amused because of the song, which was one of the backdrops of my youth. I’m not callous, really!), but — if you’re my age or thereabouts, you may remember the song “The Sinking of the Reuben James,” lamenting the demise of the first U.S. warship lost in World War II. The version that became popular was sung by the Kingston Trio (which put me off from the song a bit, even though it was written by my idol, Woody Guthrie). If you remember the song, probably what comes to mind is the chorus, which I won’t post for copyright reasons, but which asks the listener if they knew anyone on the Reuben James, and if so, who they were. That’s probably enough to get the phrase going around in your head like a nice little earbug!

IMG_1125Well, the names of everyone who died are listed on a memorial to the Reuben James here at Martin’s Point. It always surprises me slightly to come onto this memorial, located in deep shade along the walkway. The ship was based in Portland, and many of the crew were from this area. The last names include familiar local names.

So that’s Martin’s Point. The walkway there is a small haven along busy Route 1. I’ve stayed after medical appointments to imbibe a little dose of serenity. Then I walk the mile or so home along Veranda Street — historically a busy thoroughfare from Martin’s Point Bridge to Tukey’s Bridge and a neighborhood of shipyards and blue-collar workers, as well as the more wealthy individuals who made livelihoods from the sea. I guess that’s another post!

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The Historic Marine Hospital

Henry and Susan’s benches

 

Just a half-mile long, Capisic Pond Trail is a world away from and cozied right up to the streets that bound it.

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Capisic Pond Trail was a revelation to me the second time I walked it. The first time, a year or two ago, I was drawn by the wild (or garden-escaped) pale-lavender beebalm and the cozy wooded sidepaths to the sun-dappled rippling brook that runs out of the pond.

But I didn’t see much of the pond. Hardly anything. I could catch a glimpse of what I thought might be it, but it looked to be filled with aquatic plant life and blended in with everything else that was green.

This time, though, the water was clearly there beyond masses of wildflowers, wild grasses, and aquatic plants. It was a bright, sparkly day, and the pond was a cheery sight. As I got to the Capisic Street end of the trail, here’s what I saw:

 

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Honestly, I don’t know why I didn’t see this the last time. I did walk the entire trail — I thought.

I walked a little way up Capisic Street to the bridge over the upper end of the brook and the pond — for some reason, I hadn’t thought to do that before. From there you look out over the pond, the trail, and to the left, a large, imposing-yet-comfy-looking home and yard inhabited by some very lucky people.

According to my current reference (“Deering: A Social and Architectural History,” Patricia McGraw Anderson and William David Barry; Greater Portland Landmarks), there was a kerfuffle in the mid-1800s because “tripes” were washed in the stream above the pond in the summer, and then in the winter ice was harvested from the pond. Tripe is stomach lining from various farm animals — I’ve heard of it being from cows, and I really only know this because my father liked it; it was always a joky topic in our family. I guess using ice that tripe had been washed in didn’t do much for the stomachs of the humans in the area!

IMG_1092Here and there on the trail you come across a bench with someone’s first name on it. I saw Henry, Susan, and Harvey. It tugged at my heart a little bit to see these — my guess is that the little plaques are a way to remember or pay tribute to the donors’ loved ones. It’s a lovely thought — sit on Henry’s bench, absorbing the beauty all around, and think about what Henry meant to you and how he still lives in your heart and in his connection with everything else. Or sit on Henry’s bench and think about someone else that you care about.

Capisic Brook runs out of the Fore River, and the pond is bounded by Capisic, Lucas, Macy, Harvey, Presnell, and Machigonne streets, Brighton Avenue, and Sandy Terrace. It’s right in people’s back yards, in the middle of our city.

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Fish Flakes, anyone?

Sort of like canned tuna, but different

 

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B&M, former purveyor of fish flakes

Tracksaugust2I just accidentally deleted all the text I wrote. So I’m reconstructing it! Aaaagh. Oh, well, it was probably too wordy anyway.

Today I did one of my regular walks, down the old unused railroad tracks that run under Veranda Street and I-295 and down past the B&M baked-bean factory to the out-of-commission trestle that used to cross to the Eastern Prom. I often walk in the other direction on the tracks, and that takes me between Presumpscot Street and the streets in back of Veranda Street. That’s another post, which I’ll be doing soon!

The section that I walked today is bounded by the Maine Yacht Center, Sherwood Street/B&M/Tukey’s Bridge, and the ocean. To me, the view from the tracks is one of the most beautiful in Portland. It feels like you’re heading out to the middle of the water, and everything above and below is blue. Today there was a lot of green and gold, too.

I¬† bought two books on Portland history, hoping to intersperse an actual fact here and there. The one I’ve started reading, “Deering: A Social and Architectural History” (written by William David Barry and Patricia McGraw Anderson and published by Greater Portland Landmarks) is absolutely fascinating. I hadn’t realized that in the late 19th century, all of Portland not on the Peninsula was a separate town named Deering. I’d vaguely wondered why such disparate parts of town had the name Deering (Deering Center, East Deering, North Deering), but I guess I didn’t wonder enough to find out why.

So, B&M. According to the book, the company started out in the mid-19th century packing sardines. Early in the 20th century, its products included baked beans, chowder, and — canned fish, or fish flakes! According to an early 20th-century ad reproduced in the book, fish flakes were meant to make fish convenient (maybe that was a boon to mid-westerners), and they could be used to make creamed fish, fish souffle, and codfish balls. All of which I like.

However, although I respect B&M’s noble history as a pioneer of the canning industry, I just can’t get with fish flakes. Maybe it’s the name, but the idea of opening a parchment-lined container of mushy fish (it would have to be mushy, I think) sounds bad, despite the fact that the ad says the flakes are “as fresh and flavory as on the day taken from the ocean.”

I do enjoy the aroma of baked beans that wafts through the neighborhood, though.

Photo slideshow, below.

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Windsor Heights I

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The end of my street

The old name of my neighborhood is Windsor Heights. About 20 (?) years ago the city put a sign labeling it as such at the entrance to the neighborhood. The deed to my house shows it as being in Windsor Heights. But otherwise I don’t think the neighborhood, which consists of a tiny peninsula, has been commonly called that in years. I tried to ferret out some history by searching online, and came up with almost nothing using the keywords “Windsor Heights.”

We used to jokingly call it “Deering Foreside.” Well, we thought it was a joke — but I just did a search and was amazed to see a bunch of sites calling it that in all seriousness. I also noticed that someone called it an “upcoming trendy neighborhood” — jeez, how did that happen? “Modest” is one word I’ve always used for it. “Beautiful” is another.

Our small complex of dead-end streets is bounded by Veranda Street, I-295, and the ocean. A couple of the streets were cut in two when I-295 was built, and if you walk down Veranda Street you can see their other halves, which are now separate streets with different names. I wish I could see what the neighborhood looked like when you could get into it via several streets, instead of just Kensington.

When I first moved in nearly 34 years ago, someone told me there had been a boatbuilding company in the neighborhood, and for years you could see a large old piece of equipment on the little pebbly beach that’s kitty-corner from my back yard. I’ve just ordered a book from the Maine Historical Society titled “Deering: A Social and Architectural History,” which apparently focuses on the off-peninsula (non-downtown) areas of Portland. Since my walks have been mostly in these outlying neighborhoods, I’m hoping I can learn more about the history of these places, including my own neighborhood, and use some of that information here.

The photo at top shows the end of my street. You can’t see the Maine Yacht Center, but it would be on the right (maybe that’s why it’s an “upcoming trendy neighborhood”?). Below is the neighborhood, and my street, seen from the opposite angle — taken from the railroad tracks that run between the marina and B&M Baked Beans. I think the tree almost in the center is the tree in the photo above. My house, which is set back from the street, is hidden by foliage and other houses toward the left.

I’m going to write more about Windsor Heights, which is why I called this post Windsor Heights I. Every street has a different character and a different view of the water and the islands.

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My street from the railroad tracks between the marina and the baked-bean factory