Maine: An Encyclopedia
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Gorham

Location Map for Gorham

Location Map for Gorham

Year Population
1970 7,839
1980 10,101
1990 11,856
2000 14,141
2010 16,381
Geographic Data
N. Latitude 43:50:29
W. Latitude 70:42:46
Maine House Dist 26,27
Maine Senate District 30
Congress District 1
Area sq. mi. (total) 51.3
Area sq. mi. (land) 50.6
Population/sqmi (land) 324.5
County: Cumberland

Total=land+water; Land=land only
Gorham Population Chart 1800-2010

Population Trend 1800-2010

Medal of Honor

Medal of Honor

Congressional
Medal of Honor

Civil War

EDWARD N. WHITTIER

Shops in Downtown (2013)

Shops in Downtown (2013) @

Sign: Welcome to Gorham (2014)[GOOR-uhm] is a town in Cumberland County, incorporated on October 30, 1764 from Gorhamtown Plantation.  In succeeding years, it annexed land from Standish (1831, 1839) and from Scarborough (1864).

Gorham Historical Society (2013)

Historical Society (2013) @

First Parish Congregational Church (2013)

First Parish Congregational Church (2013) @

First called Narragansett Number 7, it was granted to men who had fought in the Narragansett War of 1675 and to their heirs.  In the early 1700’s, according to George Varney,

The first clearings were made by Captain John Phinney of Plymouth blood, who with his boy paddled up the Presumpscot River and fixed upon Fort Hill for his home. There were Indians living in wigwams nearby, but for two years this was the only white family in the township. The oldest daughter [traveled] to and from Portland, rowing a boat and carrying bags of corn and meal around the falls.

Others arrived a few years later, including a Mr. Bryant, “but in 1746 Bryant was killed in his field, his house was assailed, five of his children were killed and scalped, and the mother taken captive and taken to Canada.”

By 1763 the “French and Indian Wars” had ended with the Treaty of Paris, allowing a more peaceful environment for the area.

House on South Street (2013)

House on South St. (2013) @

Old Cemetery, South Street (2013)

Old Cemetery, South St. (’13)@

Stephen Longfellow, a U.S. Representative and father of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, was born in Gorham in 1776.

Gorham Campus, University of Southern Maine (2001)

Gorham Campus, USM (2001)

Gorham Academy, founded in 1803, became the Western State Normal School, the University of Maine at Gorham, and now the Gorham Campus of the University of Southern Maine (USM).

Downtown Gorham (2013)

Downtown Gorham (2013) @

Downtown Gorham (2013)

Downtown Gorham (2013) @

By its presence the University helps Gorham to retain its character as a classic “downtown,” while adapting to contemporary trends.

The Academy Building and the Art Gallery (formerly the Free Meeting House) are historic properties that allow the University the opportunity to contribute to the cultural vibrancy of the community. [See more about them in the National Register descriptions below.]

IOOF near Downtown (2013)

IOOF near Downtown (’13) @

Downtown Gorham (2013)

Downtown Gorham (2013) @

Old School in Reuse (2013)

Old School in Reuse (2013) @

The home of former governor Percival P. Baxter has become a museum of Indian artifacts and rare coins. Gorham was also the childhood home of Ellen White, co-founder of the Seventh Day Adventists. Frederick Robie, born in Gorham, was governor of Maine in the 1880s. The Old Robie School is named in his honor.

Old Robie School (2013)

Old Robie School (2013) @

Charles Robie Memorial Gym (2013)

Charles Robie Memorial Gym (2013) @

Beginning in 1950, the town has experienced continuous and substantial population growth.  By 2010 it became the fourteenth largest community in Maine.

Form of Government: Council-Manager

Additional resources

Dickey, Edna Frances. Fifty Years of Gorham, 1936 to 1986. Gorham, Me. E.F. Dickey in conjunction with Gorham’s 250th Anniversary Committee. c1986.

*Maine. Historic Preservation Commission. Augusta, Me.   Text and photos from National Register of Historic Places: http://pdfhost.focus.nps.gov/docs/nrhp/text/xxxxxxxx.PDF and http://pdfhost.focus.nps.gov/docs/nrhp/photos/xxxxxxxx.PDF

Academy Building: 73000111.PDF
Art Gallery: 72000071.PDF
Baxter House: 79000135.PDF
Dyer Estate: 98000307.PDF
Gorham Campus Historic District: 78000171.PDF
Gorham Historic District: 92001298.PDF
South Street Historic District: 88000398.PDF

McLellan, Hugh D. History of Gorham, Me. Portland, Me. Smith & Sale, printers. 1903.

Quinn, Rodney S. Gorham During the Great Depression. Belleville, Ont. Epic Press. c2002.

Scholl, Josephine Manchester. Chronology of Great Falls 1764-1934. Sebago Lake, Me. J.M. Scholl. 1985. (Portland, Me. Printed by Portland Lithograph Co.)

Society of Colonial Wars in the State of Maine. The Fort at Gorhamtown: 1744-1764. Maine. The Society. 1930.

Varney, George J. A Gazetteer of the State of Maine. 1886. pp. 253-255.

Willis, Bertha Bridges. The Way it Was in Gorham. Gorham, Me. B.B. Willis. c1986.

National Register of Historic Places – Listings

Academy Building

Academy Building (2001)

Academy Building (2001)

[Gorham Campus of University of Maine at Portland-Gorham] In 1802, the citizens of Gorham petitioned the Massachusetts Legislature to establish an academy in Gorham. On March 5, 1803, the Governor of Massachusetts approved the act. The Gorham Academy was incorporated and a board of trustees named. It was an accomplishment to have such an educational institution located in Gorham. At the time, there were only six other incorporated academies in,Maine. In 1904, Samuel Elder of Gorham was contracted to build the Academy, the plan having been fixed by a building committee. The Academy was dedicated on September 8, 1806, and opened on September 9, 1806. Funds to operate it came from the students’ tuition and the sale of wildlands granted to it by the legislature. The Gorham Academy was at first a male preparatory school, then co- educational, then male, then female. In 1856, it again became co-educational as the Gorham Seminary. It was closed in 1877. Students attended the State Normal School which opened on the hill behind the Academy in 1878. The Academy had served its purpose well, educating many Maine citizens.*

Art Gallery

University Art Gallery Building (2001)

University Art Gallery (2001)

[Gorham campus of University of Maine at Portland-Gorham] Originally the Free Meeting House, it was built because the Handel Singing Society of Gorham needed a place to sing after their break with the Hayden Society. The Handel Society provided musical accompaniment for any group holding services in the Meeting House, which was used until the 1840’s by many religious groups. In 1844,  it was sold at auction to Toppan Robie, a prominent citizen of Gorham. He gave it to the town in exchange for the old Town House on Fort Hill, allowing the town to use the Meeting House for as long as town meetings were held in it. As the new Town House, the building served well until 1960 when It reverted to the heirs of Toppan Robie, who then gave the building to the state.

Now the University’s Art Gallery, the original Meeting House was well proportioned. Its interior, though unpretentious, must have been light and spacious. The Greek Revival entrance porch gives the building a somewhat heavy appearance, masking the original simplicity of the exterior. However, it was a good solution to the problem of giving the building the public dignity necessary for its use as the town meeting place. This exterior appearance and the large unbroken interior make the building well suited for its current use.*

Baxter House

The Baxter House (1978)

The Baxter House (1978)

[South Street] The Baxter House was built by Isaac Gilkey, a well-known local carpenter-builder, around 1805. Dr. Elihu Baxter, who established himself as a good citizen and a faithful and successful physician, bought the house in 1812. He lived there for about 20 years with his wife and four children.

After Dr. Baxter died the house was sold. James Phinney Baxter, son of Elihu, later purchased his former home in 1907 and had it moved to its present site. James’ son, Percival P. Baxter, who lived in the house, was twice Governor of Maine. On September 23, 1908, James P. Baxter donated the Baxter House to the Town of Gorham as a museum in honor of his father, Dr. Elihu Baxter.* [Frank A. Beard photo]

 Dyer, Isaac E., Estate

Gorham Isaac Dyer 3[180 Fort Hill Road] With a large transitional Greek Revival/Italianate style frame house, several outbuildings, and landscaped grounds, the Estate is an important example of a turn-of-the-century Gentleman’s Farm. The architectural characteristics of the house indicate that it was erected sometime during the 1850s. It was purchased in 1888 by Isaac Watson Dyer (1855-1937) who, at the time, was a resident of Baldwin.

A graduate of the Bowdoin College class of 1878, Dyer attended Harvard Law School 1880-1881, after which he established a law practice in Portland. He was elected to the Maine Legislature in 1885, and from 1890 to 1906 served as the U.S. District Attorney in Portland. In 1887, Dyer married Mary L. Nye; the following year they purchased the property in Gorham. At that time the farm consisted of three parcels of land containing about 126 acres, 44 of which surrounded the house.

Gorham Isaac Dyer 5 Gorham Isaac Dyer 2


The Portland Press Herald on February 15, 1937 noted:

The death of Isaac W. Dyer removes a Portland figure of note who truly might be called one of the “Old Guard.” He was a conservative who rejoiced in the turmoil of his earlier days when he had been a dominating force in state politics; he was a conservative in his daily life and opinions, a believer in the more old-fashioned and formal etiquette of an older generation; he was a conservative in his distrust of many of the more modern devices of government and notions of political science; he was a conservative, in short, of what is usually called “the old school.”* [Kirk F. Mohney photos, 1997]

Gorham Campus Historic District

University of Southern Maine, Gorham Campus (2001)

University of Southern Maine, Gorham (2001)

The Campus District comprises seven architecturally significant buildings, dating from the early 19th through the early 20th centuries. The Campus has been the site of educational institutions since the Federal period.

Incorporated in 1803 by the Massachusetts Legislature and Governor, endowed with unincorporated townships, Gorham Academy, built with funds from selling some townships, opened its doors to 33 men in 1806. The following year women were admitted. A Female Seminary dormitory was completed in 1837, and in 1838, the Gorham Female Seminary became a separate school from Gorham Male Academy.

In 1847, the Seminary became known as Gorham Academy and Teachers Institute. By 1861 the two institutions united as the Gorham Seminary. This Seminary officially closed in 1877, since the proliferation of public high schools reduced the pool of applicants for private academies.

In 1878, with state and local support, the Western Maine Normal School opened in the old Academy buildings and the new Corthell Hall. In 1897, Robie Hall, named to honor prominent Gorham citizen Frederick Robie, was dedicated. Robie had served eight terms as a state representative, six of them as Speaker, and had been Governor from 1883-1887.

The Normal School curriculum expanded in 1911 to include industrial arts. Its name changed in 1945 to Gorham State Teachers College, becoming the second oldest teachers college in the state. Art and music education were added to the expanding curriculum in the 1950s. The College became accredited in New England in 1960, and nationally in 1964. It is now part of the University of Southern Maine.*

Gorham Historic District

The Gorham Historic District is an irregular L-shaped area of twenty-five acres located along College Avenue, Main, Maple, School, and State Streets in the village center. While it is predominantly residential in character, the district’s eastern edge contains a concentration of significant commercial, fraternal, and religious buildings. Architecturally, the district’s resources reflect a wide variety of stylistic forms popular from the turn of the eighteenth century through the 1930s. Predominant among these are one and two-story Federal and Greek Revival style buildings, along with a substantial number of structures exhibiting Italianate style detailing. There is a single Queen Anne building and a handful of Colonial Revival houses including a pair of “square houses.”*

Among  buildings included in the district, with photos above, are the First Parish Congregational Church, the Gorham Historical Society, those captioned “Downtown Gorham,” and “IOOF near Downtown.”

McLellan House

Hugh McLellan House, 140 School Street, Gorham (1972)

Hugh McLellan House, School Street (1972)

The McLellan House is the oldest brick house in Cumberland County and possibly the oldest in the state. Until 1965, it was owned and lived in by the descendants of the original builder, Hugh McLellan, who authored History of Gorham, Maine.

He and his wife Elizabeth were among the first settlers of Gorham, arriving around 1740. The site on which they built their home was the scene of several skirmishes with the Indians. The bricks were made from clay in the nearby brook. The house was completed in 1773.

The exterior looks much today as it did originally, but with the “modernization” of the roof and door alterations. The McLellan House is a stately brick dwelling of the Colonial Period, simply designed. The major ornamentation is in the brickwork itself: the bonding patterns and the arches over the windows.* [Donald E. Johnson photo]

Stephen Longfellow House

[Longfellow Road] The Stephen Longfellow House is significant for its fine and rare Georgian interior, which is similar to the Tate House in Stroudwater, only a few miles away. Stephen Longfellow and his descendants, who were the immediate ancestors of the poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, were community leaders.

Gorham Longfellow House 2 Gorham Longfellow House 1

Stephen Longfellow, great-grandfather of Henry, was a Harvard graduate who had been a schoolmaster in Portland, purchased the Gorham farm in 1775 when his home was burned in the fire resulting from British Captain Mowatt’s naval bombardment of the city. His son, 25-year old Stephen, Jr., also came with a wife and family.

Evidently Stephen, Jr. inherited his father’s talents. He started a successful law practice and became active in town affairs. Gorham history says that he had “industry, perseverance and uprightness” and that “he was modest and unassuming.” He was repeatedly elected selectman. He was judge of the Court of Common Pleas, a representative and then senator in the General Court of Massachusetts, a member of the first Board of Overseers of Bowdoin College and one of the first trustees of Gorham Academy.

In his old age he was a well-known figure on the streets of Gorham since he persisted in wearing 18th century dress with a cocked hat and knee britches.

One of his six children, also named Stephen became a lawyer and served one-term in the U.S. Congress, refusing to run for reelection. He settled in Portland, married Zilpha Wadsworth, and became the father of the famous poet. The young Henry spent his vacations while growing up at his grandfather’s farm and was doubtless influenced by the old man. It is said that he wrote his first poem there, a teenage product known as “Mrs. Phinney’s Turnip” which does not appear in his collected works.* [Frank A. Beard photos, 1984]

South Street Historic District

Gorham was organized along a grid pattern that had been surveyed as early as 1751. South Street is the main north-south axis. Its junction with east-west Main Street became the focus of the commercial district. The residential area on South Street was historically separated from the commercial center by way of a cemetery and school lot. See photos “Old School in Reuse” and “Old Cemetery, South St.” above.

The South Street District is a narrow nearly rectangular area of about nine acres. It is composed of twenty buildings, the majority of which are of frame residential construction. Facing each other from opposite sides of South Street, these buildings embody a picture of architectural cohesiveness that clearly illustrates the development of a late 18th and early 19th century neighborhood.

Houses in the South Street Historic District; John Farnham House at right (2013)

Houses in the South Street Historic District; John Farnham House at right (2013) @

With only a few exceptions, the components of the district are wooden frame structures built between about 1790 and about 1840. Despite this fifty-year period there is a remarkable consistency in the overall form of the buildings. The rhythm of the district is achieved  through the shared use of materials and scale where two-story houses dominate, and in lot sizes and setbacks. The repetition of this siting pattern from house to house and from one side of South Street to the other establishes an important physical aspect of the streetscape.*

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