Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Dressers of Scarborough Maine

(ABOUT 1900)

The Dresser Road in rural western Scarborough is about 8/10 of a mile long, and was home to the historical Dresser family (originally from Rowley, Massachusetts) for over 150 years, from about 1735 to 1900.

The earliest record of the road being named Dresser Road that I have found to date would be a property deed dated December 1880 from Dominicus Libby to Sarah Jane Temm.

A history of the Dressers of Scarborough:

Around 1735, Nathaniel Dresser (1683-1749) migrated north from Rowley, Mass with his wife Elizabeth (1689-1736) and his son Richard Dresser (1713-1783) to the fertile farmlands of Scarborough.  Elizabeth died shortly after arriving.  Nathaniel was killed by an Indian on Scottow's Hill near the home of Leonard Libby.  Neighbor David Libby killed the Indian that did the deed. Nathaniel is reputed by the Scarborough Historical Society to have been the last person killed by Indians in Scarborough.

The same year that Nathaniel died, his son Richard married Mindwell Munson of Scarborough.  They had six children, most of whom moved to neighboring Buxton:

-Mary Dresser married neighbor Elijah Libby, but she died young, and had no descendants.

-Mindwell Dresser married neighbor Elijah Libby after her sister died.  No descendants there, either.

-Richard Dresser moved to neighboring Gorham and married Temperance Hamblin.  They settled in Buxton with two sons, Joseph and Richard, Jr.

-Mark Dresser moved to Buxton, married Nancy Holbrook, and had twelve children. 

-Paul Dresser also moved to Buxton, and married Sally Holbrook (sister to Nancy!), and had at least eleven children.  Paul's son, Alfred Metcalfe Dresser (1807-1870) married his first cousin Martha Andrews Dresser (Mark's daughter).  This meant that Martha and Alfred were double cousins.

-Wentworth Dresser (1762-1842) was the only one in the family to remain in Scarborough.  He married Sophia Holbrook (sister to Nancy and Sally, mentioned above).  They managed the farm on Dresser Road.  They had eight children, all but one whom relocated to other parts of Maine:

1. Daniel Dresser moved to Saco, and married Sarah Libby of that town.  Their only child, Ira Dresser, relocated to Cincinnati, Ohio.

2. Sarah Dresser-Dewey-Smith also moved to Saco, and had four children with two husbands (both from Vermont).

3.  Ira Dresser married Nancy Smart and also moved to Saco, where they had eight children. Ira was a clothier at Saco Clothing Store, according to this ad from 1856.

4.  Robert Dresser married Sophia Rose and moved to Portland, where they had nine children.

5. Lydia Dresser married John Blake and moved to Portland, where they had five children.

6.  Israel Dresser married Elizabeth Banks and moved to Castine, and later Brewer, Maine, and had well over a dozen children.

7. Joseph Wentworth Dresser married Eunice Deering (daughter to Samuel Deering of Gorham).  They had five children and relocated to Kansas around 1855.

8. Josiah C. Dresser (1816-1868) was the youngest child of Wentworth, and the only descendant of the Scarborough Dressers to remain in Scarborough.  He kept the Dresser Road farm going.  He married Lydia Moulton, and had three children in Scarborough:

-Emma Dresser (1853-1872) died young at age 19.

-Melville Dresser (1851-1885) married Ella Smith, and remained in Scarborough, but had no children.

-Wilbur Dresser (1848-1925), pictured above, kept the Dresser Road farm going.  He married his neighbor Sarah McLaughlin (part of the Scotch-Irish clan that migrated to Cumberland County and were early founders).

Wilbur expanded the farm's business around 1893, and got into dealing hay, straw, ashes and bale ties.  He kept an office at 12 Moulton Street in Portland for some time, and was also named Postmaster of West Scarborough in 1888.

By 1896, Wilbur expanded his business enterprises into real estate, and became a popular broker in Scarborough and all around Greater Portland.  His company, W.F. Dresser & Sons was now located at 80 Exchange Street.  This company managed the purchase, sale and mortgage of a variety of Cumberland County properties from after the Civil War through to the end of the Depression.


In 1896, Wilbur also happened to be the Administrator to the Will of my 2nd great grandmother, Sarah Jane Temm, four years after her death.  In 1920, he also sold some land on Gorham Road to her son, John Henry Temm.

Wilbur left Scarborough just prior to the turn of the century.  He bought 220 Payne Road, just over the South Portland line, and they were there for the 1900 and 1910 Censuses.  For the 1910 Census, they had a servant, Eugene Foye.  Wilbur's exodus from Scarborough marks the end of a long era of Dressers living the Town.

To be closer to the burgeoning real estate business, Wilbur moved the family to Portland just prior to the 1920 Census, to their new home at 1181 Congress Street in Libbytown district.  The house was razed many years later to make way for the 295 Overpass and ramps.

Below is a brief account of Wilbur's five children:

1.  Ira Hunt Dresser (1879-abt 1957) worked in trucking/moving, and lived in Portland.

2.  William Watson Dresser (1881-1946) became president of W.F. Dresser & Sons upon Wilbur's retirement.  William kept the business going until his death, at which time he was merely a lodger and widower living on Neal Street, and running the business out of 22 Monument Square starting in 1940.  In 1915, William was elected as exhalted ruler of BPOE Lodge 188 in Portland.  His brother Perley followed him ten years later.

3.  Perley Chase Dresser (1885-1960) also lived in Portland, and was treasurer of W.F. Dresser & Sons.  He married Alice Barbour.  When his brother William died, he ran the family business until his own death in 1960, which signaled the end of the family real estate business, which had begun around 1895.  In 1925, Perley was elected exhalted ruler of BPOE Lodge 188 in Portland, as his brother had before him, but held the post for over 25 years.

4.  Leon Wentworth Dresser (1894-1967) also lived in Portland, and worked as a bank teller at Chapman National Bank.  He later was a partner in Millett Fish & Dresser (later Millett Rittenhouse & Dresser).  He and his wife, Phyllis Trefethen, had one child, Richard W. Dresser in 1925, who married Mary Libby and moved to Boston around 1949 to attend business school at Boston University - and apparently stayed in that area.

5. Helen Dresser (1902-1996) last seen in the 1920 Census, she probably married, but I cannot seem to find any records for her after that point.

The Scarborough Dresser family is buried in Dunstan Cemetery in Scarborough.  There are no living descendants in Scarborough.  Their presence in Scarborough lasted from around 1735-1900, and the road they lived on is still named for them to this day.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Clarke Bars

about 1960

My grandfather, Frank Clarke, was, among other things, a moonshine dealer in the Greater Portland area during Prohibition and afterwards.  The basement of the old house on Payne Road in Scarborough was a haven for illegal 'white lightning' production.  Many in the family were unaware of this side hustle.  My mother spoke of her father Frank loading up the back of his truck with produce and meat from the family farm, and jars of root beer, all for sale, and underneath the blanket there was always a row of bottles of the Clarke "home brew" for sale to places like the St. Regis Hotel in Portland and some of the merchant seamen houses along the waterfront, which were referred to by my mother as "houses of ill repute".

The tradition of Clarke liquor dealings carried through to three of Frank's children, all siblings to my mother, and all of whom have passed away.  It is no coincidence at all that they were also three of the heaviest drinkers in the family.  They each managed and owned a number of bars throughout their lives.  Each of these bars was successful in its own laid back, neighborly way.  They were not fancy places, but typically very friendly dive bars, sometimes in seedier parts of town.


My Uncle Billy, once he finished up with the Navy, settled in Sanford Florida with his family, yet ultimately moved to Meridian Mississippi in the late 60's.  While there, he opened up small and informal local bars around town.  One of his bars caught on fire (need to get this story).  Another of his bars, the "Bar-B-Q Pit" was in Lauderdale, and is now known as "Jimmy's Pub & Grub", but appears to have now closed down.  One thing Uncle Billy always said was "Let's go on down to the bar and tell some lies!"



These two buildings pictured on 8th Avenue in Meridian were both bar businesses owned by my Uncle Billy.  The one on the right was always known as Bill's Lounge.  The one on the left wasn't owned long by Billy, since he sold it to his sister Florence Clarke-Brewer, for $1.00.  This bar (Flo's Lounge) is still in business, with a new name and ownership ("Suga Shak").  It has been cleaned up nicely inside, but still has a decidedly humble feel to it.



(ABOUT 1980)

ABOUT 1975

My aunt Florence, whom I only met a few times, I really connected with.  She was a fun loving lady, but a big fan of the beer.  As mentioned above, she bought Flo's Lounge (still in business today) from her brother for $1.00, and ran the bar for over fifteen years.  She died in January 1987 in a tragic car accident on Route 39, having been hit by a drunk driver.

The sign above declaring that it's Miller Time at Flo's Lounge, was still up on the wall until at least 2012.  She was a very popular lady, and the patrons of the current bar still remember her when I spoke to them during my visit in September of that year.  As of 2017, the bar is under different ownership and name, but it was fun to meet these new owners during my visit there, and tell them about the history.

(ABOUT 1960)

My aunt Marilyn was always known by her very appropriate nickname, "Butch", or if you were my Grammy Clarke, you would call her "Putchy".  She lived in Boston most of her life.  She was a tough character, and was reputed to have beaten up a few cops in her day.  Aside from her rough exterior, she was a sweet lady to her family, and did anything necessary to take care of her own.  Basically, if I were ever in a fight, and Butch were there, I'm certain I wouldn't have to lift a finger, and the other guy would end up in the hospital.

I got to stay with Aunt Butch a couple times when I was in a summer program at Boston University.  I have fond memories of her loving, giving nature, and also of her pirate-like language.  I remember her driving me home to Maine from Boston after one visit, and she sang along with the radio while I slept in the front seat.  Her terrible, off key, singing kept me entertained as I drifted off to sleep.  Looking back on that time, I wonder if she had been driving under the influence of beer...



For many years, she was a regular at Clock Tavern at 345 West Broadway in South Boston, a bar which at the time was owned by Irish nuns, believe it or not.  The Sisters lived upstairs from the bar.  Around 1990, when the sisters were getting on in age, they sold the bar to Butch.  Butch oversaw a massive renovation of the bar, knowing all the while it was a competitor with the very popular, and swankier, Shenanigan's Pub next door.  She opened the pub early, at 8:00 a.m., and stayed open until about 11:30pm, every night, when other bars would close much earlier during those days.

The Clock was her passion, and she was a very popular bar owner and bartender (and frequent bouncer!).  The draw of the Clock was in its simplicity.  It was the quiet, seedier dive bar you went to with your friends to play darts and pool, listen to the jukebox and drink cheap beer.

My Uncle Billy, my Aunt Flo, and my Aunt Butch are very much missed by our family.  If they were still here today, I would definitely be interviewing them for this blog page.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Clukey Fire of 1949

The tragic story of George F. Clukey of Vinegar Road, Scarborough, is part of the eerier fabric of the Town of Scarborough.  Mr. Clukey was a neighbor to my grandparents, Frank and Emily Clarke, who lived around the corner from him on Payne Road.

On March 21, 1949, a terrible fire quickly consumed the single-story Clukey shanty house on Vinegar Road near the Payne Road intersection.  Mrs. Marjorie Clukey and her two daughters had reportedly escaped the blaze in time, but unfortunately, her husband, dump picker and WWII veteran George F. Clukey, perished in the blaze. 

On the evening of the 21st, Mrs. Clukey went to the police immediately after the house fire to file an arson warrant against her husband.  She testified to the police that there had been an altercation, and that George had been flinging kerosene all over the walls in a drunken rage, and that she had run from the house to get away from him, also stating that she didn't see him go back into the house.

Young children later exploring the burned building discovered his charred remains, along with the family dog lying dead next to his head.  George's wife Marjorie (along with her two brothers) identified the body only by witnessing the belt buckle and ring still stuck to the body

The fire left nothing but ash.  Mrs. Clukey and her two children had only the clothes on their backs, and stayed at a neighbor's house.  Mr. Clukey's death was ruled accidental.


My mother (then aged nine), and her parents remembered having been interviewed by police and the local papers not long after the fire.

Two days after the fire, the police arrested neighboring pig farmer Robert B. Curlew for setting the blaze, with the motive of being an "admirer" of Mrs. Clukey.  Mr. Clukey's body was then reexamined for potential evidence of manslaughter.

The suspicion of Mr. Curlew was triggered by none other than Mrs. Clukey, who had claimed she saw Mr. Curlew strike her husband and set fire to the home.  This was contrary to her testimony of the day of the fire whereby she claimed she saw her husband set fire to the home.

In her secondary testimony, she claimed that her husband was angry that Curlew had taken Mrs. Clukey for a ride in his truck to get slab wood, and that the altercation proceeded from there, with Curlew taking a one gallon glass jug of kerosene and hitting Mr. Clukey on the head with it, and then setting the house on fire.  Questioning revealed that Mr. Curlew had a romantic interest in Mrs. Clukey.

After many witnesses and neighbors were questioned, the county attorney obtained testimony that eyewitnesses had seen Curlew arguing with Mr. Clukey outside the Clukey house about an hour before the fire broke out, and that they heard a loud thud, screaming, dog barking, the fire breaking out, and the sound of Mr. Clukey breaking a window and yelling for help.  They also mentioned that Mrs. Clukey had brought her two children over to be watched by a neighbor prior to the argument.  The neighbors didn't help Mr. Clukey escape, since the authorities were not contacted at the time of the fire, but their eyewitness account helped the police determine that the death wasn't a suicide after all, and that Mr. Clukey wasn't likely the one to have committed the violence.

One week after the blaze, on the 28th, Mrs. Clukey was then deemed to be within suspicion of felony charges.  She was questioned repeatedly about the events, and about her recanting of testimony, while the pig farmer remained in jail.  It was at that point that they arrested Mrs. Clukey for being an accomplice to murder.

28 MARCH 1949
Mrs. Clukey's testimony included allegations that her husband had beat and neglected her and her children.  Two years prior, on February 14, 1947, she had filed a warrant charging her husband of non-support of his wife and child, and he was arrested by William Chase of the Scarborough Police.  Quite a Valentine's Day present...

Her testimony further alleged that she had planned the murder with Curlew for several weeks prior to the killing, and that her request for an arson warrant against her husband immediately after the fire was part of the strategy to make the murder look like a suicide.  She also admitted that, as her husband lay there with his head injury and Curlew spread the kerosene around the shack, she regretted her actions and swore to her dying husband that she wouldn't "marry Bobby."

She also admitted that Curlew had begun providing for her and her children months prior to the fire.  She viewed him as a nicer man to whom she was indebted.  The prosecutor in the case insisted, however, that Mrs. Clukey was merely leading Curlew on, giving him false hope of a marriage with her, in the hope that he would assist her with the killing.

Mrs. Clukey was held for a month in jail while awaiting the grand jury decision.  In the meantime, Curlew's case was continued five times, and took several weeks to resolve.  His case didn't come up for two months, not until May 23.  According to the prosecutor, a mere $60 would have paid for the divorce that would have extricated Mrs. Clukey from her marriage.  It's unlikely that she would have been able to afford it, though.  To that end, Curlew reportedly had offered to pay $2 per week for the divorce fund.

The jury in Curlew's case, which was difficult to secure given the popularity of the case and the number of 'talesmen' out there looking to tell lies, was sequestered for two days and nights in the Falmouth Hotel on Middle Street in Portland, as the case continued.  It was believed that the case would go on for at least a week.  Fifteen witnesses were called to testify against Curlew, including Robin and James Clukey (brothers of the deceased), Roy Chandler, Harry and Florence Richardson, and Harold and Louise Moulton, all neighbors of the deceased.

Among the witnesses was Mrs. Clukey herself, who quoted Curlew as saying to her, on the night of the murder "Don't worry about him, if he comes home drunk, you can hit him with a club or a jug or a gun butt and set fire to the place and make it look like a suicide."

The verdict came back quicker than expected.  Bill Curlew was given two to four years in the State prison, while Mrs. Clukey was given two years at the Skowhegan Reformatory.  Marjorie's two daughters were to be raised in foster care.  In 1958, nine years after the murder, Marjorie married Forrest "Boy" Tedford of Portland (originally from VT), and they lived at 92 Danforth Street in the West End.  For some reason they remarried in 1980.  Her husband Boy died in 1990, and Marjorie died in 2003 while living at 128 Grant Street.  It's unclear if she ever reunited with her daughters, or if they perhaps had been given different names due to the scandal.  Mr. Curlew died in 1990.

On Christmas of the year following the murder, George Clukey's parents and siblings posted the following "IN MEMORIAM" in the Portland Press Herald:

In February of 1950, about one year after the murder, the Town of Scarborough seized the Clukey property on the basis of back taxes having been owed since 1947 in the amount of $11.25.

Vinegar Road

As mentioned above, the site of the murder was in Mr. Clukey's shanty home on Vinegar Road in Scarborough.  Around 1800, the road was sardonically given its name due to the vinegar operations of Nehemiah Libby.  Libby had lived on the road (on the property later owned by George Pilsbury) and produced the town's vinegar.   He would use the road to transport his kegs to market, and took ownership of the road in this manner, which was met with much objection from the townspeople.  Those objecting to Libby's ownership of the road began calling it Vinegar Road as a joke (according to Libby Family in America (1881)).

In March of 1951, however, exactly two years after the Clukey murder, the Town of Scarborough elected to extend the road - making it expand from the Saco line to the Payne Road, and also to change the name of the road to "Holmes Road", which was already the name of the other part of the road.  I wonder if this name change was due to the scandal.  Hearsay from a Scarborough resident in 2011 tells the story that a property owner on Vinegar Road at the time had believed their home would be viewed as more valuable if the road's name was changed, but many local residents still referred to it as Vinegar Road for many years afterward.

Copycat Killing?

Shortly after the news of the cause of the fire was published, a Portland woman named Mrs. Madeline Ladrigan of Portland was found burned to death by kerosene in the cabin of woodsman Louis H. O'Brion off the Hardy Road in Falmouth.  The two were having an affair while the woman's husband was in Boston, and were drunk on whiskey and beer.

The Cumberland County Sheriff's office treated the Ladrigan case and the Clukey case as a double investigation.  The Ladrigan case was settled within a week, however, when the autopsy revealed the large amount of liquor consumed, and the kerosene stove having been on since she had been cooking dinner.

Whatever George Clukey did to his wife, he did not deserve to be burned to death.  It's a sad and eerie story, and will always be a part of Scarborough's history.

(formerly part of Vinegar/Holmes Road)



The Libby Family in America

Maine Marriage Records

Maine Birth Records

U.S. WWII Army Enlistment Records

U.S. Census Records

Portland City Directories

Portland Press Herald Newspaper

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Nathaniel and Mather Peck, Revolutionary War Patriots

Nathaniel Peck (1723-1780), my fifth great grandfather, was a teamster, landowner, and a fifer from Lyme, Connecticut, who fought in the Revolution as a member of Captain Joseph Hubby's Company in Colonel John Mead's Company Regiment.

His parents were Joseph Peck and Susannah Griffin, both from historical colonial families.  The Peck family had been native to Hartford Connecticut since the mid 1600's, and had been in Lyme since the late 1600's, originally stemming from London, England.  Susannah had been born on Long Island, but her father was Jasper Griffing of Lyme, Connecticut, who had also lived in Marblehead, Massachusetts, but was of uncertain origin prior to 1648.

Nathaniel married Lucy Mather in 1744.  Lucy's family had been in Lyme since around 1660.  Her great grandfather, Samuel Mather, had emigrated from Liverpool around 1640, and settled in Dorchester, Massachusetts.  His son, Richard Mather, had moved west to Lyme around 1660.

The newspaper published the following concerning Nathaniel's death:

Connecticut Gazette 20 Jul 1781

To Be Sold at Public Vendue

For Hard Money
The estate of Nathaniel Peck,
Late of Lyme deceas'd, confisting of one Tract
of Land of about 50 Acres with a Manfion House
and Barn thereon, in first Society of Lyme
and is well fituated for Trading or Tavernkeep-
ing. Also 40 Acres of Wood Land near adjoin-
ing the Abovefaid 50 Acres. Alfo a fmall Par-
cel of moveable Eftate. The Sale to be at the
Manfion House aforefaid, on the 14th day of
August next.
Mather Peck, Execeutor
Lyme, July 11, 1781 

Nathaniel and Lucy's son, Mather Peck, (1749-1823) also fought in the Revolution as a private in Lieutenant Colonel Hail's Co of the 2nd Connecticut Regiment commanded by Col. Quebulon Butler.

He was married three times, to Esther Coult, Rhuhama Howell, and Azubah Watrous. His first wife, Esther, was daughter to John Coult, also a Revolutionary soldier from Lyme...and my sixth great grandfather.

Nathaniel and Esther's son, Esther Peck, was my 4th great grandmother. She married Niles Phelps, son to Samuel Phelps, also a Revolutionary patriot from Lyme. Esther and Niles were great grandparents to Niles Martin Clark.

Mather was simply found dead in his bed one summer morning, of no apparent illness, at age 74. He and his family are also buried at Duck River Cemetery.