Union Soldiers, and Velocipede Riders, Once Gathered Here

A by-the-numbers look at Portland’s Mechanics’ Hall, newly minted as a “nationally significant landmark building.”

Mechanics' Hall, Portland, Maine
Photo by Irvin Serrano
By Sarah Stebbins
From our February 2023 issue

164

Age of Portland’s Italianate Mechanics’ Hall, designed by the city’s first native architect, Thomas J. Sparrow, for the Maine Charitable Mechanic Association. The group formed in 1815 to support skilled craftsmen, then known as mechanics. Constructed of brick and Biddeford granite, the building features a trio of arched front windows with keystones engraved with the arm-and-hammer symbol of labor and the heads of Archimedes and Vulcan.

19

Number of member-supported libraries in the U.S., which includes MCMA’s, located on the tin-ceilinged second floor. Before the advent of free public libraries, in the 19th century, these organizations gave working-class folks access to books. Today, anyone can peruse the MCMA’s tomes on the skilled trades, arrayed on ornate wood-and-wrought-iron stacks, and members can check them out.

1861

Year Mechanics’ Hall opened its fourth-floor dining room to Union soldiers preparing to ship out; scratches from their bayonets are visible on a low ceiling. After the Great Fire of 1866, the building became popular with entrepreneurs, who rented rooms while the city rebuilt. Charles Porter Kimball, a maker of big-wheeled, chain-less velocipedes, opened a “riding academy” on the second floor.

$1.8 million

Cost of replacing the Hall’s deteriorating clerestory roof, which threatens the building’s structural integrity. Last fall, the National Register of Historic Places designated Mechanics’ Hall a “nationally significant landmark building,” opening up federal funding opportunities. Fundraising is ongoing to cover the total cost.

May 2024, Down East Magazine

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