Past Perfect, 1980: What’s in a Name?

William Barry was a resident of North Street back in 1980. We were really grateful when he offered to write articles about the history of the Hill for the Observer. Barry was working as a reference librarian at the Portland Public Library, a position in which he now serves at the Maine Historical Society.

His articles were among the most popular items we published. We will be featuring more of Barry’s work in the coming months. For more information about Barry check out his interview published in the Portland Press Herald back in 2012 , following the publication of his book, The Wilder Half of New England, which is a great read.

Following is a piece by Berry taken from a 1980 issue of the Munjoy Hill Observer as part of our Past Perfect series looking back on the history of the Observer.


The Hill in History: What’s in a Name?

For a neighborhood that is so large in area, so rich in pride, and so strong in its ethnic make-up, it is curious that Munjoy Hill has received so little attention in regard to its history and development. Some facts are known, while others await careful research to be uncovered. It is hoped that these articles will stimulate others to explore the past. Should readers discover errors or omissions in my work I would appreciate knowing about them. Such scrutiny is the best way possible to achieve an accurate picture.

Perhaps the place to begin is with the name. This derives from George Munjoy (about 1626- 1680), who settled at Falmouth Neck (now Portland) in 1659. His house was located on land formerly belonging to George Cleeves, near a brook east of Hancock Street (in the area of Newberry St.).

Historian William Willis describes Munjoy as, “a man of education and enterprise, and who united with these advantages the command of capital, which enabled him to exercise an extensive influence over the prosperity of the place.” Indeed he purchased land on the peninsula, along the Presumpscot River, and eventually built a large farm on the north side of Long Creek (in the vicinity of Portland Jetport).

George also constructed a garrison at the lower end of the Neck (the area now known as Eastern Promenade). In 1676, Indians allied with King Philip destroyed the little Falmouth settlement. Thirty-four settlers were killed or captured, with Munjoy’s son John among the dead. The elder Munjoy escaped and apparently resided in Boston until his death in 1680. Much of his land was later deeded to his wife Mary Phillips Munjoy. In 1865, Willis noted, “The name is extinct in this country, and no monument remains to perpetuate the name of Munjoy, but the hill in this town, on which he first fixed his residence.”

In the years that followed the passing of George Munjoy, his monument, the hill, underwent a series of name changes. While George always spelled his name “Munjoy,” other members of the family used “Mountjoy.” For many years the citizens of Falmouth termed it Mount-Joy, Mountjoy, or even Joy’s Mount. Abel Bowen’s map of Portland (1823), with the hill and upper end of Congress Street being labeled “Mount-Joy.” D.G. Johnson’s map of 1831 employs the same spelling. An article in the Eastern Argus of 29 October 1830 and one in the Portland Advertiser of 2 November term it “Joy’s Mount.” The

Advertiser of 14 July 1831 used “Mt. Joy” instead. Edward H. Elwell’s Portland and Vicinity (1881) spells it “Munjoy’s Hill” but notes it was more popularly “The Hill.” Indeed, it was not until the late 19th century that the numerous corruptions of the name ceased and Munjoy Hill became the official designation.

- William David Barry